Rollerball (1975) – 3 out of 5
I’m not entirely sure if I’ve actually watched the original Rollerball in its entire entirety. I recall seeing bits and pieces here and there and I won’t rule out that I might have seen it with my Dad years and years and years ago on an old VHS Tape (kids, ask your parents what the hell a VHS is) but I don’t have much memory of it beyond it starring James Caan and roller skates. Recently, I decided to watch it (probably for the first time from beginning to end—like I said, I can’t remember if I’ve done this or not) and take in this cult classic from the 70s.
|They have to leave the rink because Couples Skate Rollerball is about to start.|
In the near future of 2018 (well, it was a distant future when it came out in 1975…also, we have only 3 short years for this future to come true, so get on it!), the world is controlled entirely by giant global corporations (actually, we might already have this future locked and loaded) and they strive to eliminate all forms of individuality. The masses are entertained by a game called Rollerball (the game is also used to eliminate the need for war). The game is played by two teams on roller skates on a circular track. The object in this brutal game is to score points on their opponents (so, basic sports) but the game can get deadly. One of the most famous stars is Jonathan E. (James Caan). He’s been in the game long enough and played great enough that he is a celebrity and recognized everywhere. This kinda goes against the idea of eliminating individuality so it is decided that Jonathan must retire. The only problem is that he isn’t ready to. So, the corporation will make him retire; either willingly or permanently.
|Call it my women's intuition but I think this guy is bad and up to no good.|
Rollerball is a cult classic beloved by those who adore the 70s Sci-Fi dystopian futures that were the rage in film. Being that this (probably) was the first time I watched this film from beginning to end, I can’t say that I’m going to join the group that loves this film. Overall, I didn’t think it was horrible but I didn’t think it was great either.
|"I've heard rumors of a skate that has all the blades in a row. That is just silly|
nonsense so get that shit out of your heads now!"
Old reviews of this film praise James Caan’s performance as Jonathan E. and, while I think Caan is a tremendous performer, I wasn’t really that blown away with his performance. He doesn’t look like he cares that much about the film and spends most of the time entering scenes awkwardly with an uncomfortable smile. For a majority of the film, he looks like he wants to be anywhere BUT the set and the performance doesn’t hold a candle to what Caan has does in many other films. Too many times in the film, Caan comes off like a man who stumbled into a situation where everyone is speaking a language he doesn’t understand and he just stands there with a weak smile on his face and is occasionally nodding in an attempt to make it appear he has some clue to what is happening around him. Sure, there are times that he isn’t doing this and is giving off a tremendous performance—like his refusal to be pushed out of a game and a scene where he spits words at the corporation-provided concubine—but, for the majority of the time, I saw an actor who looked like he wasn’t comfortable at all and it was slightly amusing but horribly distracting.
|I'm fairly curtained Caan wasn't paid for the film and did it as a favor or|
possible obligation in a contract he once signed.
Watching Rollerball now, the action scenes during the games come off extremely tame. The action isn’t cleanly crafted with well executed stunts and isn’t filmed in a way that really brings the viewer into the chaos that often. Add in the natural clumsiness that comes with roller skates (it’s hard to look graceful on those things and not look like you are constantly flailing around in an attempt to not fall on your ass) and you have the game sequences come off looking very raw and less polished than what we would get in films in this day and age. I’m not trying to knock these sequences at all because they are the real highlight of the film and are fun to watch but with the limits of camera technology at the time (and the existence of roller skates) they have the habit of very definitively dating the film. However, the stunt men in this film did do a tremendous job of making this sport look hard hitting and insanely difficult (I would be the guy clinging to the wall as my skates constantly try to come out from under me)—in fact, the stunt performers did such a job that this became the first film where stunt persons were credited and have been credited ever since. Prior to Rollerball, the work of these brave men and women who put their bodies on the line in order to get the shot and have dorks like me amuse myself while I eat pizza and cake in the dark on the couch went uncredited.
|"Crap, guys! I split my pants reaching for the ball."|
While the story is pretty simple, it’s quite effective with its metaphors of denial of individuality and corporate control over the populace and how they use their influence to craft wars—which are, in the case of this film, done in the form of Rollerball. However, I did find much of its presentation of the future to be a bit laughable. At its core, all dystopian society films and total control utopia stories can be very silly if look into them too deeply but a society that uses a sports game (that I have to remind you is done on roller skates) in order to remind the people of society the, as one corporate executive in the film puts it, "futility of individual effort." In a way, that makes sense because sports are a team effort and, lest we forget, there is, in fact, no "I" in team. However, we all know how obsessed we get with sports in our societies and we all know the level of hero worship that comes with teams and single players. So, in the end, Rollerball’s reality works for the film but I still found a lot of it and its details to be chuckle-inducing.
|"Hey, I'll meet you by the giant tea cup building!"|
Rollerball is not bad. It’s not the best Sci-Fi film from the 70s I’ve seen and I had a hard time not laughing at a lot of the stuff in the story. However, the game sequences are nice (but I still can’t overlook how silly people look on roller skates) and I kinda get why it’s a cult classic and why people think it’s great. I just don’t agree with them…but that’s okay because I don’t have to and they don’t have to agree with me. Peace on Earth achieved!