Tuesday, 24 March 2015


I've got to be honest, Rollerball is another 70s favourite that passed me by. For some reason I never got around to watching it, despite being a big fan of leading man James Cann, and the terrible reviews must have put me off the Chris Klein (who's he again?) remake. Rollerball explores the popularity of violent entertainment and the power of the media - it takes some time in doing it too. It also casts a cautious glance at society gone mad, presenting the near future - where war is all but extinct - in an excruciatingly dull manner.

In a corporate-controlled future, conflict is a thing of the past. The only bursts of violence you'll find are inside the Rollerball arena, where a brutal contact sport pits players in a battle of life and death. James Caan (The Godfather, Thief, Misery) plays Jonathan E., celebrated captain of the Houston Rollerball team, whose prowess on the track has earned him celebrity status. The powers that be want him out of the game but Jonathan isn't ready to give up his day job just yet. 

Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof) had never directed action before this, but surprisingly, after a less than electrifying opening gambit, it isn't the action sequences that let him down. The sport scenes, particularly those in the second half of the movie, are fast-paced, well shot and predictably gory. Not as gruesome as you might expect in this day and age, but back in 1975 audiences were a little less jaded. Rollerball hits hardest on the track, but too much time is spent outside the stadium.

John Houseman is Bartholomew, a leading Houston executive, who plays the part in much the same way as Jewison directs; slow, deliberate and painstakingly dull. He's a great actor in other films, but Rollerball becomes a bit of a chore whenever he's on screen. He's not really the problem, it's the despairingly sombre screenplay written by William Harrison that causes most of the problems. A film in which all the world's problems have been taken away at the expense of individual freedom should be ripe with invention, but Harrison's script doesn't dig deep enough and Jewison's camera lingers on nothingness for far too long. 

As always, Arrow Films has put together a spectacular package including audio commentaries with both director Norman Jewison and writer William Harrison, alongside a brand-new interview with Rollerball star James Cann. Other extras include featurettes in which various crew members revisit the original locations used in the film, and stuntman Craig R. Baxley discusses the challenges and dangers of being one of the Rollerball bikers. The new edition will also include archive bonus material.

Caan looks bored for the most part, as do most of the actors involved, and considering the material at their disposal, you would expect a little bit of light relief to be thrown in for good measure. Not so. Harrison's script takes itself far too seriously for that. Rollerball has it's fans but I'm not one of them - even the Rollerball matches outstay their welcome. With a plodding script, phlegmatic characters and very little to say, Rollerball exists in a future this viewer can do without.

Rollerball is released on Blu-ray in the UK on March 23, 2015.

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