The movie Rollerball is incredibly hard to describe, even when trying to assess its good qualities and its . . . strange ones.

But, most specifically, it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen, and that is often enough to make it a hidden gem.

On paper, James Caan stars as protagonist Jonathan E, the indisuptable veteran star of a vicious, semi-gladitorial obsession “sport” called Rollerball – sort of like a roller derby except with motorcycles, a steel ball, barbed gloves, and attire that would make Judas Priest blush.

In the not-so-distant dystopian future, rollerball has replaced all sport and conflict in a world controlled by faceless corporations centered in particular cities (The energy capital is Houston, the food capital is Chicago, etc.) and Rollerball has become the entire world’s greatest spectacle, and the corporations’ biggest moneymaker.

But, incredibly since he is in the midst of leading his home team of Houston in a push for the finals, Jonathan E is told by his executive chairman (seasoned Mid-Atlantic actor John Houseman) that its time to hang  up his skates and retire.

Jonathan spends most of the film investigating the reason for this and deciding whether to listen or not, and throughout this search some of the most astoundingly bizarre photography of the seventies accompanies:

Executives in business suits take their new harem of women outside and fire plasma pistols at trees in delight, Jonathan’s friend and fellow baller Moonpie gets concussed into a coma in Japan and spends his days encased in a plastic oval, and a jovial, mad librarian (Sir Ralph Richardson!) beats a water-filled, glowing supercomputer when it refuses to properly acknowledge his commands.

Rollerball is an insane spectacle of seventies cinema, and an unmissable one, no matter what you’ve heard about it. The soundtrack consists of eerie sounds and wildly diverse and recognizable classical pieces, the film’s length is easily 10-20 minute too long, and the Rollerball sequences -viciously startling even while they’re somewhat too unfathomable to comprehend – are themselves a backdrop to the utter originality of the film.

WHAT?!?!

Pointlessly remade with Chris Klein in 2002, becoming a sort of sports/action fusion crap (think Biker Boyz meets XXX) without all the underlying, cryptic poltical overtones and corporate villainry.

Don’t Miss: James Caan three years after playing Sonny Corleone strutting around smoking rooms, in and out of beds with ladies, and crushing skulls on the Rollerball track, an apocalyptic God of the Arena, all the time not even seeming to enunciate properly or realize what he’s actually saying.

-EB

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