Rollerball is 40 years old this year, and is another of those classic movies which Arrow are bringing to the small screen with the Special Edition Blu-ray treatment.
Set in the near future, Jonathan E (James Caan) is the king of the Rollerball game – a game where, in the future, there are no wars and no poverty, because Rollerball takes its place. However, Energy – the company who seem to everything, want Jonathan E to retire, and he thinks something is afoot. After all, why retire your big hitter?
As I say, I hadn’t seen this before watching it on this new Blu-ray Special Edition, and I was expecting wall-to-wall rollerball in-the-round action, but after an initial 20 minutes or so of just that, we then get a lot of faffing about for the best part of an hour as discussion takes place about Jonathan E’s enforced retirerment and it turns into an exercise of everyone staring at their own navels from then on.
There are two more games to be played, however, and Norman Jewison directs all three superbly, but inbetween I was having to prop my eyes open with matchsticks as it doesn’t half plod on.
That said, I did enjoy the moment when it feels ahead of its time as it deals with ruthless corporations and how corporate society takes over from community – elements which are prevalent in today’s society but won’t have been around the time of the film’s release. Perhaps a rewatch of the film is in order, as I was initally expecting more action and less drama.
Also, outside of the arena there are some great visions of the future such as how libraries are only stocked with edited versions of books – which is sort-of true since there are now less books as the Tories have closed many of the libraries. There’s also a super-computer with AI and an advanced cooling system, so advanced that it can still effect “computer says no” many moons before it became a catchphrase. Seeing Ralph Richardson in charge of this machine was brilliantly played and hilarious. Some of the buildings featured look incredible, and you can find out more about those in the extras.
And in the future, videos come on a thin computer disc, giving four screens to watch – one as big as those screens of today, with wireless streaming of the whole kit and caboodle linking to every room in the house. Actually, that’s quite scary if your house in the 1970s is dominated by four times as many TVs as the present day!
When Rollerball is great, it’s brilliant, and the game – where players are encouraged to inflict gross injury on a rival, even if it means several piling in unfairly on one – reminds me in part of the ’80s videogame Speedball, which I played on the Atari ST. The playing area was more like a football pitch, but it was Rollerball in essence. Worryingly, the action in the game in his film also leads to punch-ups in the audience, everyone pushing and shoving, bringing on another potential Hillsborough tragedy.
Kudos also goes to the great classical music pieces proliferating this movie, particularly Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which opens proceedings. I was playing air piano while watching this…
Go to page 2 for the presentation and the extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.