by Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.
Just picked up "Rollerball" on DVD. I saw the movie in the theater when it debuted in June of 1975, owned the CBS/Fox videotape for at ten years, and rented the previous Image laser disc when it was released in the early 1990's.
I think this is the first time "Rollerball" has been letterboxed on video. It appears to be about 1:85.1. (A pan & scan version is included on side #2 of the disc.) The picture and colors are bright, sharp and firm. None of those qualities apply to the videotape, and the Image laser disc wasn't that much of an improvement. MGM/UA's DVD is a vast improvement over previous versions. All I can say is that by far, this is the best version of "Rollerball" I've seen on my television set. I'd say it looks better than when I saw at the movies, it's that good.
To be fair, there's a handful of scratched frames, and one scene looks like a frame or two are missing on an edit. It's clearly showing it's nearly 25 year old age. But overall, it's still a damn clean image.
Briefly, the story concerns a not too distant but highly unlikely future, where a handful of corporations have replaced the governments of the world, and run the planet in the name of profit. (Interestingly, the back sleeve notes state that film is set in 2018, but director Norman Jewison's audio commentary states that even he doesn't know when it's supposed to take place.
In any case, it's a future with no more hunger, no more want, but not much individual freedom. Cities are devoted to a single mass-industry. Chicago is the food city, and Houston is the energy city (Perhaps San Jose is the computer hardware city, and Seattle is the software city <G>).
Each city has a "Rollerball" team, a stylized team sport that combines elements of football, hockey, roller derby and motorcycle racing. It is on Houston's team where the sport's dominant player, Jonathan E. (James Caan) plays. Unfortunately, in an impersonal world, the dominant sport can't have a dominant player.
John Houseman plays the head of the Energy Corporation who has determined that Jonathan E. must retire. As he says "The game was designed to show the futility of individual action." Naturally, Caan's character, at the height of the game, doesn't want out.
There is fascinating commentary by director Norman Jewison on one of the alternate audio tracks, a featurette on the making of the film, chapter stops, and a neat little booklet that clips into the inside of the front cover of the keepcase. This is the first DVD I've purchased with a CD-like booklet of the film. With a bunch of color photos, history of the production, cast notes, and other neat stuff, it's a nice touch for a $24.99 DVD.
Mssrs. Kubrick, Lucas and Speilberg have each made more impressive science fiction films than "Rollerball", but it's still an important movie. It's certainly watchable on several levels: as an action movie, with plenty of motion and violence; as a "1984-ish" warning about an oppressive future; and as a character study of one man against the system.
If you're a fan of the movie, you'll want to rush out and buy this disc. Considering the number of extras included, for its low price, it's one nifty package.
|1975, 129mins, Rated R.||Languages: English (Dolby Digital) & French (Dolby Surround).
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish.
Letterbox (enhanced for 16:9 TVs) and Pan & Scan
All you wanted to know about this film at the Internet Movie Database
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