21st Mar2015

‘Rollerball’ Blu-ray Review (Arrow Video)

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Pamela Hensley, Barbara Trentham, John Normington, Shane Rimmer, Burt Kwouk | Written by William Harrison | Directed by Norman Jewison


We live in an age where remakes take movies from the past and look to modernise them, sometimes changing them completely.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes it ends up in a complete shambles, dumbing down what the original stood for and losing the whole point of what they were trying to replicate.  This is the case with Rollerball, a cult classic which suffered the bad remake treatment.  Thankfully in this review though I’m looking at the original film which is being released by Arrow Video on Blu-ray, so from this point on we can forget the remake even existed.

In a future controlled by corporations war is a thing of the past and the only conflict is Rollerball.  Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the best player in the league, unbeaten and rising to a high level of popularity with the fans, for a time this is profitable but soon becomes a problem leading to the corporate sponsors deciding it is time for his retirement.  Resisting this suggestion he soon finds himself in a battle for his personal freedom and choice against the corporate control who have power over everything in his life.

While the film may take the name of the sport,  Rollerball stands for in truth is less about the violence in the game and more about what Jonathan E. represents to society.  In the Corporate world a champion is a symbol that symbolises individuality in a world where to be an individual is looked down on,  They want the team to be the focus not one unbeatable symbol of individuality.  This is not good for the corporation and not to be permitted.  When Jonathan looks past the thin veil his own success he sees a world that has been manipulated by the corporations to control not only society but everything about the man himself, when the only thing left in his life is Rollerball what else has he got?

William Harrison creates a world in his writing which is cold and merciless, not only in the game of Rollerball but also the dystopian nature of the corporations.  They build up players like Jonathan E. and control everything about them, even controlling their relationships they are permitted to have.  In leaving Jonathan with nothing in his life but Rollerball then choosing to force his retirement, what do they expect him to do?  They do tempt him with options for retirement and a happy life, but this is no doubt just to get rid of him, it’s not good business to keep the promises they tease him with.  The only thing that interests them is keeping control over the population, not past stars that have no purpose to their success.

James Caan plays Jonathan as a quiet but aggressive character who shows violence not only in the games but in his life too.  There is an unlikable edge to the aggression he shows, but he also has qualities that are admirable, especially his desire for freedom and need to finally remove the shackles that hold him to the corporations.  He may have given up everything in the past for Rollerball, but when they try to take that away from him that is when his strength kicks in, he is a symbol of freedom and that is why he is dangerous to the status quo the corporations have in place.

One thing that is noticeable about Arrow Video’s release of Rollerball is the quality of picture, it really is impressive and adds to the enjoyment of the movie especially during the high-octane battles in the arena.  Looking at the special features on the Blu-ray included are two commentary tracks, one by director Norman Jewison and the other by writer William Harrison both offering plenty of details about the film’s creation.    A brand-new interview with James Caan is also included as well as a look at the making of the film, and a revisit to where the Rollerball games were shot in Munich are included.

Rollerball is a film that actually looked at society and provided a commentary on the effect of corporations on our personal lives.  It is a movie about personal freedom and control and the strength of spirit of humanity.  Rollerball in this form (not the remake) still stands up today because of how we can relate to the symbolism that is uses and it’s focus on how capitalism affects society .  A true cult classic and a very good Arrow Video release, this is a must have for fans.

**** 4/5

Rollerball is available on Blu-ray in the UK from March 23rd.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

Comments are closed.