Movie Name: Rollerball
Studio: United Artists
Release Date(s): June 25, 1975
MPAA Rating: R
The world is ruled by corporations and the world’s most popular sport is a dangerous game called Rollerball. Rollerball’s most popular player is veteran Jonathan E. (James Caan) for the Houston team. When Jonathan E. is pressured by the Energy Corporation chairman Bartholomew (John Houseman) to retired from Rollerball, Jonathan E. begins to question what he’s not being told but not following corporate orders could be deadly.
Directed by Norman Jewison, Rollerball is a sports, action, sci-fi thriller adapted from a short story “Roller Ball Murder” by William Harrison which first appeared in Esquire’s September 1973 issue. The movie was well received by critics and movie-goers and has become a cult classic.
Rollerball is a weird movie. It feels very grindhouse, but it also has a high production quality that is not normally associated with grindhouse films. It has a good cast, a strong director, and some great imagery. Rollerball is almost an anti-grindhouse grindhouse film.
Rollerball is a dystopian story. On the surface, it is a sports film (albeit an imaginary sport), but the movie becomes a story about political commentary. The corporate world rules and the idea of a player becoming more powerful is dangerous. This is ironic in a day and age where companies like Apple are king, but they are “working” with people like the Kardashians and YouTubers to make them more recognizable that most political leaders.
Caan is good as the brawler who finds himself thrust into a world of unintentional poltical intrigue. He was built to play and then didn’t know how not to play. John Houseman is a great corporate leader with his booming voice and the movie has a nice supporting cast with Moses Gunn, Pamela Hensley, Maud Adams, Ralph Richardson, and John Beck.
The movie hasn’t entirely held up well visually. It feels like a pretty low budget movie that is almost a grindhouse film, but the cheapness doesn’t make it endearing. The actual Rollerball feels pretty low-key compared to some of the extreme sports of today and it feels like it could actually be more violent…and try to forget the cheesy laser gun shooting.
Rollerball is a good film, but it hasn’t aged entirely well. Rollerball is backed by a good story and has the stylish look (for the period). The lasting endurance of Rollerball shows that there is something compelling about the film. This led to a remake of Rollerball in 2002 with a more modern look…but Rollerball (2002) proves that modernization isn’t always better.
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