1. Film (1975). United Artists. Directed by Norman Jewison. Written by William Neal Harrison, based on his "Roller Ball Murder" (September 1973 Esquire). Cast includes Maud Adams, John Beck, James Caan and John Houseman. 129 minutes, cut to 125 minutes. Colour.
That one man who stands tall and proud can topple a corrupt system by his example is the moral of this sluggish big-budget movie. In a future run by corporations, ordinary citizens are – implausibly – kept happy by a brutal gladiatorial spectator "sport" (see Games and Sports) played on rollerskates and motorcycles, and, to keep the proletariat in their place, designed as an allegory of the futility of individual effort. Caan plays the team leader who proves the bosses wrong by winning, even when they progressively break all the rules to try to kill him. It has the theme but none of the verve, or even the convincing violence, of an exploitation movie; the high moral tone of the script (and the classical music on the sound track) are ludicrously at odds with the film's fundamental (but incompetent) voyeurism. [PN]
2. Film (2002). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures in association with Mosaic Media Group. Directed by John McTiernan. Written by Larry Ferguson, John Pogue, based on "Roller Ball Murder" (September 1973 Esquire) by William Neal Harrison. Cast includes LL Cool J, Chris Klein, Jean Reno and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. 98 minutes. Colour.
Barely science fiction at all, this remake changes the setting to present-day Central Asia. The villain this time around is an ex-KGB agent turned businessman (Reno), who stages brutally violent accidents to improve the ratings of his new extreme sport: Rollerball. His "idealistic" American player (Klein) stands up against the murderous scum running the sport by brutally murdering them.
This exploitation movie is technically and morally almost without merit. The Rollerball matches themselves are utterly incoherent, so badly edited as to suggest that the film was gutted in post-production in an attempt to save it. [JN]
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