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The year is 2018. There is no crime and there are no more wars. Corporations are now the leaders of the world, as well as the controllers of the people. A violent futuristic game known as Rollerball is now the recreational sport of the world, with teams representing various areas competing for the title of champion. The defending championship team, the Houston team led by the determined ten-year veteran Johnathan E., is looking to repeat as champions. However, Bartholomew, the sinister corporate head, wants Johnathan to retire, even though he is the most respected athlete of his time. Johnathan's rebellious quest will not come out with complications, both for him and his teammates, after he decides to continue playing despite Bartholomew's threats.
In a futuristic society where corporations have replaced countries, the violent game of Rollerball is used to control the populace by demonstrating the futility of individuality. However, one player, Jonathan E., rises to the top, fights for his personal freedom, and threatens the corporate control.
Watched this as a kid and was totally engrossed in the game, really wanted to play Rollerball for real although I'm a lousy skater (maybe I could have ridden one of the motorbikes?). Reputedly the cast and crew actually did play Rollerball (presumably with penalties, substitutions and time limits rather than the ultimate no holds barred version we see at the end?) in between takes and really got into it. I wonder if there's any film of that? In the 70s 2000AD magazine had a comic strip 'inspired' by Rollerball where the players wore jetpacks which is about the only way you could make the game more exciting.<br/><br/>What makes it special though is that it's not just a glorification of a brutal futuristic sport but a study of the role of the individual in a civilized society. Thomas Mann would recognise the concept although he probably wouldn't have included motorbikes in it. The future is depicted as a quasi-benign dictatorship as Plato always advocated. We have no wars, no crime, no poverty, corporations run the show and conflicts are confined to the boardroom and stock exchange. People are free within the system as long as they don't question the established order. Some have described it as fascist but actually it strikes me as more communistic, the individual sublimated for the sake of the greater good. However mankind never changes so an outlet is needed for aggression and populist entertainment. Hence we have Rollerball. Problem is in a society which values conformity Jonathan E has become an individualistic superstar and that threatens the whole nature of society. <br/><br/>Great performance from James Caan and equally great from John Houseman who isn't exactly the villain, it's very subtle on his part, you can't really be sure who's right or wrong in all this (noticeably Houseman's character doesn't want Jonathan to have an 'accident'). Also like Shame Rimmer as the team manager, the obedient corporate stooge who tells it as it is but still cares about his team, trying to prevent an injured Jonathan E from going back out to probable death during the final game (the New York manager noticeably succeeding in doing the same for one of his players). Fantastic music too, the classical influence contrasting with the sheer brutality of the game. And it is still shocking after all these years, the scene where the injured player slides down the rink leaving a bloody trail behind him still makes you cringe. You're so happy that Jonathan spares the final New York player and then goes on to score the final point, to him it's still all about the game rather than the violence. <br/><br/>No offence to Star Wars but it rather killed the more thoughtful sci-fi we had in the 1970s, Silent Running, Dark Star, Logan's Run, THX 1138, Westworld, Solaris, The Omega Man etc. <br/><br/>The only bad thing is Jonathan's trip to the the computer bank in Geneva which is utterly baffling.
One of the grimmest and most effective projections of the corporate future, Rollerball is unrelentingly dark in its portrayal of a high profile athlete(Jonathan E.- James Caan) who begins questioning the assumptions holding his world together. Jewison's visual flair is fully evident in this film, not only during the stomach churning Rollerball sequences, but also in the film's many textured close-ups which reveal the inner states of character's vaguely distressed with their shallow surroundings but still complacent due to material comfort and narcotic sedation. The corporate fuedal structure of the culture isn't explained in detail, rather the viewer is immediately thrown into Jonathan's world. We're not quite sure how the global corporations retain control because Jonathan and the rest of the citizens don't seem to care. Gradually we learn more of the executive ruling class as Jonathan begins probing the layers of the corporate hierarchy. Rather than explicitly and clumsily explaining away everything, Jewison shows the nature of this future world through visual metaphors and startling vignettes. The most memorable of these occurs when a throng of young executives, after a night of inebriated decadence, spend the dawn running through a field, randomly firing a high powered laser gun at trees and setting them on fire. This film is moody and cerebral from start to finish, opening with "Tocatta En Fugue" booming on the soundtrack while the deadly rollerball track is prepared and closing with a haunting, ambiguous close-up that lingers long after the film has ended.
The players on roller skates can use force against one another but to attack a motorbike rider or a roller skater who has fallen to the ground is a foul and punished by three minutes out of the arena. If injured a player can be rescued by medics and replaced by a substitute. a5c7b9f00b