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Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Rollerball (1975)

by Peter Nielsen

Welcome to a future where there are no individual countries anymore. Everything is instead run by large corporations. They in turn, are run by powerful executives who basically decide everything. And by everything… I mean everything! I guess you could say that the game of Rollerball is invented to appease the common people, so to speak, and to keep them happy and not think too much about their everyday routines.

It’s also a great way to get rid of people! It’s an extremely violent sport set in a circular and sloping rink with players going round on roller-skates and motorcycles. A heavy steel-ball is shot along the side, which is to be picked up (not to soon) and be placed in the opponent’s goal. Seems simple enough, right? Yeah, sure! Add spiked gloves, and the fact that you’re more or less allowed to do anything to an opponent, and it doesn’t seem so simple anymore. Ok, so THERE ARE penalties but hey… if the referee didn’t see it, it didn’t happen!

Jonathan E., played by James Caan (Misery, Alien Nation), is the star on the Houston team. It’s always a pleasure watching James Caan on the screen. He’s a great actor and is more of a toned-down and soft-spoken “hero” in this one. But man, he sure plays a mean Rollerball-game! His character, Jonathan, has had a very successful Rollerball career for the past decade. He’s living a life of luxury, because if there’s one thing the corporation do well, it’s taking care of their players.



And EVERYTHING is taken care of! They even provide “concubines” for them, but it’s never the same one. I imagine the reason is that those in charge don’t want their players growing too attached to any one woman. It’s a way to say that anything we give you… we can take away too! Remember the corporations run it all!

Being an old gamer, I found myself thinking of the role-playing game “Mutant Chronicles” while watching Rollerball again. Certain aspects of the future world, is certainly very similar to that, but I’m not thinking of the monsters here. No, what I mean is the fact that in both worlds, everything is run by huge mega-corporations. There are no monsters in Rollerball unless you count the executives and to some extent, the bloodthirsty crowds at the games.

All of a sudden Jonathan hears rumors that he’ll be be retiring, but he’s given no specific reason as to why. The real reason is that since he’s had such a prominent career, he has more or less become larger than the game itself and in the eyes of the executives that’s NOT a good thing. They don’t want him in a position where he’s able to make demands. He

Just another Saturday night out on the skating-rink...

Just another Saturday night out on the skating-rink...

also finds it strange that he’s being retired when there are only two games left in the season. And coincidentally they’re changing the rules at the same time. In the next game to be played there will be no penalties given, which basically means that anything goes. It turns out to be a very brutal game, but it’s still nothing compared to the very last one…

That one is going to be played with no time-limit, which means that it won’t end until every last player is down. Suddenly, it’s not about who wins the game anymore. It’s more of a statement (or warning) from the executives to the masses, saying: “Don’t get too cocky or we change the rules!” Jonathan, despite loving the game, sees it getting more and more corrupted.

Jonathan E and Moonpie having a moment.

Jonathan E and Moonpie having a moment.

Apart from James Caan there are a couple of other recognizable faces too. John Houseman (Three Days of the Condor, Ghost Story) is great as Bartholomew, one of the despicable executives. Moses Gunn (Ragtime, Heartbridge Ridge) is Cletus, another executive and also Jonathan’s former trainer. There’s “Moonpie”, one of the other successful Rollerball-players. He’s played by John Beck from Deadly Illusion and The Big Bus for instance. Maud Adams (The Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy) is Ella, Jonathan’s wife and in a small part as a Japanese doctor you might recognize Burt Kwouk. He’s mostly known as Cato from The Pink Panther-movies with Peter Sellers.

Game over!

Game over!

Rollerball is a little slow in places, but never boring. The fantastic action-sequences MORE than make up for these slower parts. The overall look of the movie is a little bit reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange with the architecture and the use of classical music. I like A Clockwork Orange, and I had no problem with those similarities.

One final note, Rollerball was directed by Norman Jewison who’s responsible for such classics as Fiddler on the Roof and In the Heat of the Night. Here he’s made an effective portrayal of a fictitious sport. So effective that there were people who actually considered forming Rollerball leagues after the movie came out. This of course shocked Mr. Jewison, who intended Rollerball to be a movie that’s really about anti-violence. Thankfully no Rollerball leagues were ever created.

Until next time my friends, please let us know what you think about Rollerball in the comments section below!

Peter Nielsen Bio

About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children, so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family, are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not particular as long as it's good or... so bad it's good... he just LOVES MOVIES!

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