Rollerball

November 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm (8 Heads, Rollerball) (, , , )

Rollerball – 1975 – United States

Following the “corporate wars”, monopolistic corporations form a global government. World peace prevails and everyone lives comfortably in a highly regulated stratified society. With war abolished, only rollerball satisfies civilization’s craving for violence and excitement. Designed by the corporate government, rollerball mixes roller derby and basketball, with motorcycles thrown in. Its intentionally fatal danger prevents players from surviving to attain individual glory. Star rollerballer Jonathan E. has lasted an unprecedented ten years and his fame threatens rollerball’s philosophical foundation. When he refuses the corporate government’s suggestion to retire, they struggle to terminate his prestigious career.

Rollerball criticizes its own spectacle. Rollerball fans gleefully watch the massacre, occasionally going berserk, destroying the stadium and attacking each other. But this message gets diluted since the kinetically brutal rollerball matches are Rollerball’s most interesting scenes. Mobile cameras intimately depict players getting punched with spiked gauntlets and hurled under speeding motorcycles. While distastefully savage, it is also damned exciting, meaning that Rollerball’s director and I are no better than the fans it portrays.

Not all of Rollerball’s conflict is in the arena. As Jonathan E. continually resists the corporate government’s retirement plan, their methods grow more overt. Failing to bribe him with elevated status, they alter the rules of rollerball to kill him, eventually removing all penalties for violence. However, the actions of Jonathan E. and the corporate government often lack logic and their motivations are unclear. For instance, why did the corporate government wait ten years to eliminate Jonathan E., and why does he want to keep playing anyway?

Inadequate plotting undermines Rollerball’s social commentary, but it is still a cool movie. The sleek yet dismally utilitarian design of the sets and costumes is great and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is used to atmospheric effect. The film’s influence is certainly far reaching, and references to it seem endless if you look for them. Although Rollerball is not the first film to imagine an ultra violent future sport, it probably helped popularize the concept, which recurs countless times in the likes of Death Race 2000 (1975), The Running Man (1987), and of course, The Hunger Games (2012).

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. Rollerball’s 2002 remake is set in the present rather than the future, thereby missing the point of the original entirely.

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