Release Date: June 25th, 1975
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Written by: William Harrison
Based on: Roller Ball Murder by William Harrison
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Ralph Richardson
United Artists, 129 Minutes
“The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort.” – Bartholomew
Rollerball was remade in 2002 for some reason. Never, ever watch that version. Watch this one. This one is the only version that matters and even though it feels like a typical ’70s retro future picture, it still has more style, spirit and heart than that soulless recreation. Plus, this one stars James Caan and not Chris Klein, that really nice and sensitive guy from the American Pie movies.
I’m a big fan of the ’70s version of what our future was supposed to be. Because of that, I love the look and vibe of this film. It shows a bleak and gritty future ruled by corporations. It has an almost post apocalyptic vibe with a strong ’70s aesthetic. In a lot of ways, this film really works well being paired with Death Race 2000 due to its themes and visual style. Although, it isn’t as fun or as brilliant as Death Race.
James Caan plays Jonathan E. It sounds like a ’90s R&B singer or a character from a Tommy Wiseau movie but he is the world’s most badass rollerballer. His life is controlled by the corporation that owns his team and runs the government. He’s told to retire and he doesn’t want to. So Jonathan E. decides to fight back and figure out who makes these decisions and why.
The film’s story has an interesting premise but it really doesn’t have much else. The narrative is pretty boring, generic and dry. There isn’t a lot of excitement in the film’s plot and this would be a completely forgotten film if it weren’t for the sport element.
The rollerball matches are the highlight of the film. The sport is an interesting concept, as it takes the core of roller derby and ups the ante in every way. It even adds in motorcycles. There are three of these matches in the film and they’re the parts I love where the rest of the film just sort of gets in the way. However, I guess you need a plot to have a reason to have the movie. The plot just doesn’t measure up.
James Caan was convincing and did well with the material. But even he couldn’t salvage the uninteresting filler.
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000, Logan’s Run, Silent Running, The Warriors.