Run time: 120 mins
Norman Jewison’s extreme-sports future shock bundles together a paranoid political thriller, a media satire, ultraviolent exploitation, and enough zoom shots to make Robert Altman blush.
You also get James Caan as Jonathan E, the greatest competitor in the history of rollerball — a wildly popular bloodsport that combines roller derby, motorcross, football and boxing. In this messed up future, corporate rule has toppled the nation state, leading executives to rig the game so that sportsmen like Caan’s champion ‘baller can’t realise the power of their popularity.
Rollerball was intended to be Jewison’s big anti-violence statement, although it’s easy to see how cinemagoers, at the time, instead took it to be a celebration of an imaginary future-sport. With each game the rules slacken – no penalties, limited substitutions – and the violence becomes more extreme.
Brilliant editing and some bone-crunching sound effects put you right in amongst the bloodthirsty crowd, and while the anti-capitalist message is a little heavy-handed at times, you can’t beat this for adrenaline-pumping action. Almost fifty years on, the skate-rink action, which culminates in an apocalyptic death match, remains as rousing as ever.