Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom/USA, 1975. Algonquin. Screenplay by William Harrison, based on his short story Roller Ball Murder). Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. Produced by Norman Jewison. Music by Andre Previn. Production Design by John Box. Costume Design by Julie Harris. Film Editing by Antony Gibbs.
In 2018, war has been abolished and so has any form of government, replaced by the control of commercial corporations over human life while a violent spectator sport called Rollerball allows people to release their violence against each other. James Caan plays the most celebrated athlete of the game, a member of the Houston team who excels for speed and instinct on the circular track that requires him to roller skate like the wind while punching guys on motorcycles and doing something with a metallic ball (the rules of the game are never particularly clear to me). He learns from a corporate head honcho (John Houseman) that he has to retire and isn’t owed a reason, which he balks at and begins to awaken to an awareness of the corrupt nature of his entire world. His reaction is to investigate a few shady things about the company in charge, watch a few videos of his first wife (the lovely Maud Adams) and then keep playing, and there’s not much conflict offered to either of these things until the nastiest and most violent game is saved for the film’s conclusion. It’s not exciting or particularly insightful, especially since, barring the continued existence of war on the battlefield, the basic premise of the story has come true in the years since this movie was made (which this film’s casual pace and lack of paranoia tells us wasn’t something to worry about anyway), but Norman Jewison directs it with style and Caan makes for a charismatic star. A more recent remake by John McTiernan in 2002 attempted to improve on the violence and conflict (switching from Boogie Nights roller skates to roller blades and letting girls play the game) but failed to do so; this one at least has marvelously funky production design and the wan plot, such as it is, makes enough sense.