Rollerball (1975 film)
Theatrical release poster by Bob Peak
|Directed by||Norman Jewison|
|Produced by||Norman Jewison|
|Screenplay by||William Harrison|
|Based on||"Roller Ball Murder"
by William Harrison
|Music by||André Previn|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$30 million|
Rollerball is a 1975 science fiction sports film directed and produced by Norman Jewison. It stars James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn and Ralph Richardson. The screenplay, written by William Harrison, adapted his own short story, "Roller Ball Murder", which had first appeared in the September 1973 issue of Esquire.
In the film the world of 2018 (referred to in the tagline as "the not too distant future") is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston, which deals with nominally peer corporations controlling access to all transport, luxury, housing, communication, and food on a global basis.
Society is now free of war, famine, and disease. In exchange for their obedience to the corporations, they have abandoned much of their freedom. The elite of society are issued privilege cards and waste their time in shallow, meaningless pursuits, bolstered by pills that provide a sense of well-being, and the privileged are also assigned companions. The chief entertainment is that of the professional sport of Rollerball.
Rollerball is a violent, globally popular sport around which the events of the film take place. It is similar to Roller Derby in that two teams clad in body armor skate on roller skates (some instead ride on motorcycles) around a banked, circular track. There, however, the similarity ends. The object of the game is to score points by throwing a softball-sized steel ball into a goal, which is a magnetic, cone-shaped area inset into the wall of the arena. The ball is put into play by being launched from a cannon at the top of the track. Rollerball is a full-contact sport in which players have considerable leeway to attack opposing players in order to take or maintain possession of the ball. The player in possession must hold the ball in plain view at all times; the opposing team plays defense and acts to prevent scoring. Each team has 10 players on the track, seven skaters and three bikemen riding motorcycles to which teammates can latch on and be towed.
Rollerball teams, named after the cities in which they are based, are owned by the various global corporations. Energy Corporation sponsors the Houston team. There appear to be various divisions or classes of teams, as with soccer and baseball, as Jonathan refers to a new player on the Houston team as having been called up from the Manila team, but this is never explicitly stated.
The game is a substitute for all current team sports and for warfare. While its ostensible purpose is entertainment, Mr. Bartholomew, a high-level executive of the Energy Corporation, describes it as having a "distinct social purpose": to show the futility of individual effort.
Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the veteran star of the Houston rollerball team. He has become the sport's most recognizable and talented player. After another impressive performance against Madrid, Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), chairman of the Energy Corporation, announces that Jonathan will be featured in a "multivision" broadcast about his career.
Bartholomew tells Jonathan that he wants him to retire. He offers the rollerballer a lavish retirement package if Jonathan makes the announcement during the special. He then preaches the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, never explaining why he must retire. Jonathan refuses, and requests to see his former wife Ella (Maud Adams), who had been taken from him some time earlier by a corporate executive who had wanted her for himself.
Suspicious of a forced retirement, Jonathan goes to a library and asks for books about the corporation and history. He finds all books have been digitized and "edited" to suit the corporations, and are now stored on supercomputers at large protected corporate locations.
Rollerball degrades into senseless violence as the rules are changed to force Jonathan out. Houston's semi-final game against Tokyo has no penalties and only limited substitutions. The brutality of the match kills several players including Houston's lead biker, Blue. Jonathan's best friend and teammate, Moonpie (John Beck), is left in a vegetative state. Despite the violence, Houston is victorious and will play New York for the world championship.
Bartholomew hosts an executive teleconference to discuss the game's future. They decide that the Houston–New York game will be played with no penalties, no substitutions, and no time limit in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to play, will be killed during the game. The conference reveals why Jonathan must retire: Rollerball was conceived not only to satisfy man's blood lust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's popularity and longevity as a player threatens this purpose.
Jonathan makes his way to Geneva to access the world's central supercomputer, known as "Zero." While revered as the repository of all human knowledge, Zero is flawed, which is revealed when the librarian mentions that Zero has "lost" the entire 13th century. Jonathan's goal is to find out how the corporations make their decisions, but the result is indecipherable computer double-talk.
Afterwards, Jonathan receives a visit from his former wife Ella, who has been sent to convince him to retire and to make it clear the coming game will be "to the death." Jonathan decides, despite the dangers, that he will play.
The final match quickly loses all semblance of order as the players are injured or killed. The crowd, ecstatic at first, gradually become more subdued as the carnage unfolds and the game devolves into a gladiatorial fight. Jonathan is soon the only player left on Houston's team, while a skater and a bikeman remain from New York. After a violent struggle in front of Mr. Bartholomew, Jonathan dispatches the skater and takes the ball. The biker charges, but Jonathan counters, knocking him to the floor. He pins the biker down and raises the ball over his head, then pauses. Refusing to kill his fallen opponent, Jonathan gets to his feet and painfully makes his way to the goal, depositing the ball inside, scoring the game's only point.
Jonathan skates around the track in silent victory. The coaches and fans of both teams chant his name, first softly then louder and louder as he skates faster and faster. Mr. Bartholomew exits the arena hurriedly, possibly fearing a riot as the chant of "Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!" becomes a roar. The film ends on a freeze frame of Jonathan's face, as the beginning of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor plays over the scene.
- James Caan as Jonathan E.
- John Houseman as Mr. Bartholomew
- Maud Adams as Ella
- John Beck as Moonpie
- Moses Gunn as Cletus
- Ralph Richardson as Librarian
- Pamela Hensley as Mackie
- Barbara Trentham as Daphne
- John Normington as Executive
- Shane Rimmer as Rusty, Team Executive
- Burt Kwouk as Japanese Doctor
- Nancy Bleier as Girl In Library
- Richard LeParmentier as Bartholomew's Aide
- Robert Ito as Strategy Coach for Houston Team
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Rollerball's arena sequences were shot at the Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle in Munich. This hall was selected because it was the only sports arena in the world with a near-circular profile, which the production could take over and re-dress for shooting.
The then-new BMW Headquarters and Museum buildings in Munich, Germany appear as the headquarters buildings of Energy Corporation at the Olympiapark, Munich. A number of scenes were also filmed at Fawley Power Station, near Southampton. The sequence where Jonathan E. visits Geneva to consult with Zero the computer concerning corporate decisions features exterior shots of the Palace of Nations.
Recognizing their contribution to the film's many crucial action sequences, Rollerball was the first major Hollywood production to give screen credit to its stunt performers.
The game of Rollerball was so realistic the cast, extras, and stunt personnel played it between takes on the set. At the time of the film's release, Howard Cosell interviewed Norman Jewison and James Caan on ABC's Wide World of Sports, showing clips from the film and with the two of them explaining the rules of the game. Audiences who saw the film so loved the action of the game that Jewison was contacted multiple times by promoters requesting the "rights to the game" be sold so that real rollerball leagues might be formed. Jewison was outraged, as the entire point of the movie was to show the "sickness and insanity of contact sports and their allure."
Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is performed on organ by Simon Preston during the opening title sequence; it is heard once again at the end of film's final scene and over the first section of the end credits, bookending the film. The Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto, and the Largo from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is also used to establish tone, mood, and atmosphere for certain scenes in the film. The classical music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn, who also wrote the "Executive Party" music for the movie.
The film earned $6.2 million in theatrical rentals at the North American box office.
All science-fiction can be roughly divided into two types of nightmares. In the first the world has gone through a nuclear holocaust and civilization has reverted to a neo-Stone Age. In the second, of which "Rollerball" is an elaborate and very silly example, all of mankind's problems have been solved but at the terrible price of individual freedom.... The only way science-fiction of this sort makes sense is as a comment on the society for which it's intended, and the only way "Rollerball" would have made sense is a satire of our national preoccupation with televised professional sports, particularly weekend football. Yet "Rollerball" isn't a satire. It's not funny at all and, not being funny, it becomes, instead, frivolous.
TV Guide gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, saying that "the performances of Caan and Richardson are excellent, and the rollerball sequences are fast-paced and interesting." James Rocchi of Netflix said in his review that "the combination of Roman Empire-styled decadence and violence mixed with a vision of a bizarre, loveless corporate future is evocative and unsettling."
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Science Fiction Film
In 1977 Caan himself rated the film 8 out of 10, saying he "couldn't do much with the character."
In 1985, IJK Software produced a game called "Rocket Ball" for the Commodore 64 computer, with the scoring rules based on the game in the movie. Then in 1989, Microïds published an unofficial successor called "KillerBall" for the Atari ST, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, and MS-DOS.
In 1997, Z-Axis Games was developing an official Rollerball video game adaption based on the film As part of MGM Interactive video game showcase lineup , The video game's promise to recreate the action of the futuristic game played in the movie. Set ten years after the events of the film in the 2098 Rollerball season, where the player would be in charge of managing their Rollerball teams around the world, made up of rollerball players with roles such as strikers, enforcers, guard, and other players who compete using jet bikes and magnetic in-line skates. Rollerball The video game was slated to be released for PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo 64 on the first quarter of 1998, But was delayed to mid-1998  and then was canceled due to the publisher MGM Interactive going bankrupt.
In 2004, I-play developed and published a Rollerball game for mobile phones. It is based on the 1975 film rather than the 2002 remake of the same name.
- List of American films of 1975
- Rollerball (2002 film), a re-make of the 1975 film
- Death Race 2000, a dystopian science-fiction sports film released two months before Rollerball
- Futuresport, a 1998 TV-movie with a similar premise
- "ROLLERBALL (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. June 25, 1975. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
- "Rollerball". ArchiveGrid. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
- Vaughn, Stephen (2006). Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 0521852587.
- "Rollerball, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- "Rollerball (1975)". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
- "Rollerball (1975) Cast And Crew". MGM.com: Official website of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. 2000–2007. Retrieved October 3, 2007.
- "Contents Lists / The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 7". Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition, by William G. Contento. 2003. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. Retrieved October 1, 2007.
- Cook, David A. (2000), Lost illusions: American cinema in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970-1979, History of the American cinema, Charles Harpole, 9, Simon & Schuster, p. 243, ISBN 0-684-80463-8
- Booker, M. Keith (2010). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-8108-5570-4.
- Vaughn, Stephen (2006), Freedom and Entertainment: Rating the Movies in an Age of New Media, Cambridge University Press, p. 55, ISBN 0-521-85258-7
- Sloan, Robin Adams (1975-10-20). "Jewison is Outraged by Reaction to 'Rollerball'". Muncie Evening Press. Retrieved 2018-05-08 – via Newspapers.com.
- https://www.discogs.com/Andre-Previn-Rollerball-Original-Soundtrack-Recording/release/1188508. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- Rollerball - Original Soundtrack liner notes.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 46
- "Rollerball Review". Variety.
- Canby, Vincent (June 26, 1975). "Futuristic World of 'Rollerball'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
- "Rollerball". TV Guide. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
- Netflix - Rollerball review
- Time Magazine - Rollerball Review
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- James Caan's career hitting tough times. Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] November 27, 1977: e6.
- Rollerball on IMDb
- Rollerball at the TCM Movie Database
- "Roller Ball Murder" title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (for the short story on which the film is based)
- The Evolution of Rollerball A Summary of Rules of Rollerball from Book to Films.
|Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film