If you compare it to 2001 or Clockwork Orange then yes, Jewison’s Rollerball look silly (there is a gulf between them artistically) but evaluated on its own it is a solid dystopian sci-fi film with many praise-worthy elements
Starts strong with the classical organ music to a spectacular roulette-wheel looking rollerball set piece—dialogueless. Starts with a 15 minute rollerball match after that
They play the corporate anthem instead of the national anthem- there’s a social critique
It’s not his fault, I mean he’s actually in the final scene of The Godfather Part II and James Caan is a massive star in 1975—I just giggle a little when I think of him practicing roller skating for this film while Pacino, De Niro, Duvall and John Cazale are shooting one of the greatest films of all-time
It is a gladiator story- and this and Ridley Scott’s 2000 film would make a decent pairing—“champion” is the word used to describe him. The motorcycle is the chariot.
Oranges galore—I like the consistency in the production design of this futuristic world – to that end they use the postmodern architecture of the BMW building in Germany for one
1984, Fahrenheit – lack of access to books- love the Ralph Richardson sequence with him as librarian
Caan is ok here- not great- he’s underplaying—a decision to go about it minimally– but sometimes he’s coming across as too vacant- he’s not quite Steve McQueen or Ryan Gosling
The highlight of the film is the executive party. That whole scene is great but specifically at 50 minutes there’s a tracking shot—two or three figures are discussing the rollerball players (“animals”, “robots” saying they’re “made in Detroit”) and they’re holding drink and at every single open door there’s another one. A stunner of a shot. The entire party is great- sort of a Bunuelian Exterminating Angel-like party. Just after it rolls into a La Dolce Vita-like ending party or La Notte with some of the drunk bourgeoisie going outdoors and stumbling around. This is interlaced with Caan’s conversation with a very threatening and robotic John Houseman. This is where we get the party-goes shooting trees on fire
Both in this scene and in the film the camera zoom is Jewison’s primary tool. It is effective – especially at the party because we’re following the eyeline between people, listening to conspiracies about Caan’s character, listening in on secretive conversations we shouldn’t
Great Suspiria-like red hallways in the back coming to the final game
The narrative and motivations falters in parts- Caan’s reason for resistance and the power he holds isn’t fully baked
Really bad freeze-frame ending— painful to think of this and like Butch Cassidy side by side as both freeze-frame endings and compare. This reminds me of the Jonah Hill bad slow-motion use in Wolf of Wall Street– just do another take.
Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1975 – not top 20
Have you seen the excellent TV film Brian’s Song(1971)?You should add it to your queue.
One of my favourites scenes in the film is when Caan visits his teammate Moonpie in hospital for the first time.Asking the hospital guy “Does he dream”,”But even a planet senses life”.Very good and touching work by Caan.Caan should get more credit for his work here.He even won the Saturn award for best actor.Next year’s winner was David Bowie in The man who fell to earth.So you are in great company.It’s a shame he followed this up with a bunch of crap till Thief.