Although the first draft of the script was considered by many to be very good and even superior to the original film, director John McTiernan didn't like it because it focused more on social commentary, while he thought that audience would like to see more of the Rollerball scenes. This is why he had the original script to be completely re-written several times and made sure that it focuses more on WWE-like showmanship, including crazy costumes and stunts.
The movie was filmed in about 15 weeks, between July 24th and November of 2000. McTiernan's first cut which was over two hours long was test screened in Las Vegas around April or May of 2001, and it got very negative response from test audience. Release date was then pushed forward from May to 13 July of 2001 by MGM in order to test the movie again, hoping that they would find the right audience for it.
Harry Knowles from Ain't it Cool News was invited by McTiernan on test screening of the film in Long Island sometime after the first test screening, and in his review of the McTiernan's original cut Knowles said that movie is bad but at least it's unapologetic hard R film with lot of nudity and some really brutal violence in Rollerball scenes, but even as a workprint it was obvious how badly the action scenes were edited and story was bad. "The 'Rollerball' edit I saw was one of the worst films I'd seen in my life. There was jeering in the theater," Knowles said. Knowles was also one of the people who read the original first draft of the script (one that McTiernan rejected) and he said that it was amazing script which solved all the problems of original film.
Following the negative test screenings, MGM ordered massive re-shoots and re-edits to be done on the film in the summer on 2001. Shortly after the test screenings, MGM appointed a new head of marketing and distribution, Robert Levin, who convinced McTiernan to let go of the summer release date. This would give the studio more time to devise a better marketing strategy and allow McTiernan to do re-shoots and to re-edit the film for a PG-13 rating, in an attempt by studio to get wider audience to see the film. Release date was then pushed again from August all the way to February of 2002, due to all the post production work causing delays. McTiernan shot two weeks of additional footage in fall of 2001 to clarify certain scenes, especially the film's ending, and also cut down the violence and all the nudity.
On the orders by MGM studio, around 30 minutes were cut out of original rough cut of the film and entire ending was re-shot and changed. Some of the cuts were made because MGM thought that movie was "Too Asian". In original ending, Petrovich gets killed by Sanjay and Jonathan and Aurora take the plane ride back to US, during which Jonathan says that he will continue playing the Rollerball game in US, and how he is part owner of the game.
Some of the scenes that were cut for PG-13 rating, but were never put back even in later DVD and Blu-Ray so called R rated versions of the film, include lot more blood in all the Rollerball scenes and parts like skulls getting smashed, bones getting broken, teeth flying out... Scene where Aurora is topless and walks towards Jonathan in the locker room originally didn't had shadow over her (this was added in post production to cover her up for PG-13 rating), their sex scene was also longer, and so was their conversation while they are laying down in sauna. Some of the other similar edits that were done on more graphic scenes in the film include digitally replacing blood spurts with sweat.
Some of the action scenes were also longer in original cut and/or edited differently or re-shot, like for example the opening scene in San Francisco which was partially re-shot after original version of it was considered to be too confusing due to the editing.
Infamous night vision sequence was actually a re-shot version of the scene. After realizing that they shot original version of the scene to look too dark, filmmakers had to return and re-shot entire sequence, delaying the movie's release for six months. But due to the budget issues this scene couldn't be finished properly so it was decided to add green visual tint to the scene to make it look like it's night vision, even though it makes no sense for why would this scene have that look.
Original score by Brian Transeau was also removed because it sounded "Too Arabic" and was replaced with new score by Eric Serra. Also, some of the other music was changed or removed from the first cut of the film.
This was not the first time that McTiernan was involved in some troubled production. One of McTiernan's previous films, The 13th Warrior (1999) also had problems with bad test screenings of his director's cut, which lead to writer Michael Crichton taking over directing the re-shoots and re-edits of the film. See more