Rollerball is a classic science fiction film from 1975. Scorpion Releasing has just given us a new Blu-Ray edition of the movie, which provided me with a reason to revisit a cinematic tale I hadn’t seen in years.
Rollerball is set in the year 2018. the future for the time it was released. It’s actually scary how close the vision came to our reality in some ways. Government’s have fallen, being replaced by mega-corporations running the world. While we still have governments, the “too large to be good for society” corporations are very much a driving force in how things work today.
In Rollerball those corporations control the media, and thereby the message. Most of that message is propaganda designed to control people psychologically. Again, that’s not all that far off from what the real world looks like now.
You might ask what the Rollerball of the title is. It is the world sport. Imagine roller derby on steroids. It’s very violent and brutal. It’s also a sport in which no one can excel and dominate. That is until Jonathan (played by James Caan) comes along.
Jonathan thrives in the game arena, becoming a star for his talent. That success also earns him the attention of corporation, and they want him to retire. They make it clear that they have provided him with a life of luxury, and they consider it his duty because of that to do what they say and walk away from the game.
Jonathan doesn’t want to retire, and that decision sets him on a path of discovery that finds him questioning pretty much everything about the society in which he lives. It also sets him into a power-play with the corporation who wants him gone and begins escalating the situation, including changing the rules of the game to make it even more violent in an effort to get him out.
I have to say that I missed the metaphor in that aspect when I saw the movie in the past. Looking at it now it seems a bit right on the nose. The people in power make the rules. When you start to excel, they change those rules to make it harder for you to get ahead. As blatant as that metaphor is, it’s a real tribute to the film-making that I never “got it” until now.
The cast all deliver solid performances. The script is clever and unfolds in a brilliant way that allows your understanding to gradually grow just as Jonathan’s does.
They did a brand new 4k scan of the film for this release, and the movie does look great. The one complaint I had is about the sound. The quiet parts of the movie are extremely quiet, which forced me to turn up the volume to hear a lot of the dialog. The loud parts, then, blast out making it feel like the windows of my house might blow out from the sonic onslaught. The result was that I had to have to sound-bar remote in hand constantly, taking away from the movie experience just a little. I wish they had done some normalization on the sound to the movie.
This comes with a number of bonus features including the usual interviews and the like. A featurette that goes into the history of blood sport all the way back to the gladiatorial games was the best of the bunch. Even so, I’m not sure that’s something I’ll be coming back to a lot. That’s generally the case with bonus features, though.
All in all, they have done the movie justice with this new release. I hope it puts the film in front of new audiences who have never seen it before. The messages of the movie are probably even more important today than they were in 1975. I can tell you that this release also has the ability to allow people familiar with the movie to revisit it and perhaps gain new understandings of it. Most importantly, though, it’s also entertaining. Gary Hill