Taking Care To Not Get Lost In The Spectacle: Our Review of ‘Rollerball’ (’75) on Blu-Ray

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies by - June 18, 2016
Taking Care To Not Get Lost In The Spectacle: Our Review of ‘Rollerball’ (’75) on Blu-Ray

It’s just one of those things, when the universe runs out of a good thing…you just have to quietly hope that it’ll up and make some more.  Renewed for a second pressing with our friends over at Twilight Time, the penultimate dystopian piece of science fiction Rollerball (1975) still packs one hell of a punch as our past future’s get to look closer and closer to our actual present.

In the year 2018, and war has been replaced by a game, a gladiatorial spectacle of violence that keeps the masses entertained and the population numb and anesthetized to what those in power are doing around them.  In the middle of it all is an athletic champion; Jonathan E (James Caan) who is adored by the masses  and whose individualism goes against the design of the worldwide corporate leadership who keep everything in check.  These corporate executives want Jonathan to retire, but Jonathan has his own ideas as he starts to see the world as it actually is.

It’s not the flashiest movie, and to be fair it was never meant to be but Rollerball is a cold social commentary on society that resonates in just as many ways as it did back then as it does today.

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Coming off of his run of award winning musicals with Fiddler On The Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar we get the 180 degree turn of spectacle from director Norman Jewison.  As joyous and colourful turns into cold, grey and unforgiving we are transported to what is in many ways a faceless future, where nothing matters and our hopes and dreams are taken away from us for a sense of comfort and personal safety, removing the individual spirit.  Jewison taps into this exceptionally well as in the scenes inside the Rollerball arena are only about the faceless masses chanting Jonathan’s name at a fever pitch, and when outside of it people seem borderline high or drunk with a glassy “who cares” kind of look on their face just waiting to be told where to go and what to do.  The screenplay from writer William Harrison puts us into the arena and into the mind of a man; our penultimate hero Jonathan E who sees the world around him on the brink of a unique kind of insanity and he just might be the only person who can do anything about it.  It all plays out in a slow, but incredibly satisfactory reveal that is brought to life by the underrated icon that is James Caan.

At the age of 35, there is no doubt that James Caan is now at the height of his acting powers with movies like Brian’s Song, The Godfather, The Gambler & Funny Lady all now in his rear view mirror and in this critics humble opinion it just might be his best performance.  He wears the skin of a world weary gladiator with such aplomb and ease that it feels like he was born to play the type.  He knows that the world that has been built around him is crumbling and being taken from him at every turn as he sees loved ones become the ‘property’ of corporate executives and friends die on the playing field and he’s sick of it.  It’s the story of a man finding his power as an individual to inspire millions and take away the decision making power from those who only use it to benefit themselves.  The great John Houseman makes a great foil for Caan here as the corporate executive who is desperate to get him out of the game that he made so popular before he realizes the kind of power that he has over the population that tune in to watch him play every week.  It makes for a fun on screen duel of psychologies and it unfolds in an incredibly entertaining fashion as we are never quite sure what Jonathan is going to do, until he actually does it.  The likes of Maud Adams, Ralph Richardson and a few other familiar faces get sprinkled throughout but the bulk of the narrative is carried by Caan and Houseman and they do so gloriously.rollerball-1975-featured-pic

To draw comparisons with sports from today is fairly easy but the message of Rollerball still rings true as we have to make sure that we don’t lose perspective and make sure that the game or the sport doesn’t consume us outside the field of play.

The HD transfer on the BD looks quite well and the special features on this release include an Isolated Score Track, a feature length audio commentary track from Norman Jewison, a feature length audio commentary with screenwriter William Harrison, an archival featurette from its initial release entitled From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle an extended making of from its initial DVD release called Return to the Arena: The Making of Rollerball, TV spots along with theatrical trailers.

The only place you can purchase this Blu-Ray from is directly from the Twilight Time website right here, while supplies on this limited new run last.

This post was written by

David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.