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Rollerball

Year: 1975
Production Co: Algonquin
Director: Norman Jewison
Producer: Norman Jewison
Writer: William Harrison
Cast: James Caan, Maud Adams, John Houseman
Here's what nobody got about the much-reviled John McTiernan version of this film from 2002. Neither film was an action film about a bloody, futuristic sport, but a comment on the American media obsession with bloody, futuristic sports disguised as an action movie in much the same way Starship Troopers was about the war mentality.

McTiernan did the same thing as the 1975 version successfully despite what you remember or have read about Harry Knowles single-handedly panicking Hollywood executives into rewriting it. The sport of rollerball was sold to poor central Asian republics desperate for the glitz and glamour life in the West promised, but it was all a carefully marketed sham for the masses, the players and sport under an iron fist of corporate control.

Jewison said the same thing, but instead of the countries that ended in 'akstan' we were all suckers. In the final scene, Jonathan (Caan) has the track to himself, everyone else laying dying or dead around him, and he has the perfect opportunity to kill the final player before scoring the winning goal. Why doesn't he? Is it because the game is supposed to be fun, entertainment, sporting, and it's only with the field looking like the aftermath of the Normandy invasion that he realises how pointless it's been for so many people to die for the sake of a game?

The seemingly unrelated scenes of the drunken partygoers incinerating trees says something similar and was particularly prescient in the pre-climate change days - that the decadence and corruption of the human race knows no bounds, that we'll destroy anything - animal, mineral, vegetable, each other - for our own vacuous amusement.

A common criticism of the film is that it's detached and inhuman, and like a lot of pre- Star Wars science fiction of the time it's quite cerebral, quiet and thoughtful to the point of occasionally being boring, but it's the message you'll take away from it.

Jonathon, the world's biggest rollerball star, sees behind the curtain of corporate control of the sport when he senses he's being slowly edged out, and he decides to fight back.

I can barely remember the tactics or result of Jonathan's fight, and Rollerball is a more interesting thesis on the human condition than a movie. It has a strange tone, seesawing between slow, silent, long sequences (such as the office with the deadly decorative hanging glass) and the bone crunching action of the several matches depicted. But it's as worthy a social comment as Dawn of the Dead and essential sci-fi viewing.

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