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Rollerball (1975)

by on 2014/01/04

Rollerball (1975)“I don’t mean to resist. I’m just trying to understand.”

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With Rollerball, I was expecting something gladiatorial and, although that expectation was met, I also found as much Whip It (2009) as Death Race (2000) in this speculative drama.

A tale of the near future, as envisioned in 1975, the movie posits a world divided up into familiar geographical regions, controlled by corporations instead of states. (We know it’s the future because of the antiquated fonts.) In theory, everyone shares an equally idyllic life – though some prove more equal than others, naturally – provided they follow the rules. In practice, however, few seem truly happy.

The popular outlet for pent-up aggression is rollerball, a sport largely inspired by roller derbies, featuring elements of racing, football, and hand-to-hand combat. When a popular player becomes synonymous with the game itself, and threatens to upset the social order, the overlords change the rules to bring him down.

Canadian director Norman Jewison oversees stars James Caan, John Houseman, and a virtual cameo from Maud Adams (that rare actress to appear in multiple James Bond movies) through this uneven conspiracy.

More interesting in its ambitions than in its execution, the staging, trappings, and production values suggest Logan’s Run or THX 1138 and have trouble competing with post-Star-Wars expectations. Furthermore, the sports segments, if occasionally visceral, are both rare and overlong. They are, in turn, separated by long stretches of “character” based frustration. A portentous orchestral and pipe organ score supports this impression, with only a dated funk party segue to add a dash of variety.

That said, I felt Rollerball’s cautionary glimpse into the influence of corporations was worth a viewing, less for its overt true-cost-of-luxury message than being asked to consider: What happens when someone is told to stop doing what suits, profits, and pleases them, especially without a reasonable explanation?

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Rated R

125 minutes

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