Rollerball (1975) Review

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Rollerball (1975)

Directed by Norman Jewison

Starring:
James Caan
John Houseman
Maud Adams
John Beck
Moses Gunn
Ralph Richardson

Running time: 129 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In a corporate-controlled future, an ultra-violent sport known as Rollerball represents the world, and one of its powerful athletes is out to defy those who want him out of the game.

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My Opinion:

I’d been meaning to watch Rollerball for years. 70’s dystopian sci-fi is so very ME! Yet I’d never gotten around to watching this one for some reason (or THX 1138 – another one that’s been on my list for years). So, I had fairly high expectations. Well… Damn. I’m sorry if there are any fans of this film but Rollerball is, for the most part, a bit boring.

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Some sci-fi films age well but this isn’t really one of them. Its dystopian view doesn’t seem as relevant now (we have FAR bigger worries these days!) and, my god – there’s nothing I love more than ugly 70’s hair & fashion but the people in this look SO 70s that it’s hard to suspend disbelief & think of this as actually being set in the future. Rollerball takes a fairly serious approach to the subject matter so does as least sometimes come across as more “gritty” than other cheesy-looking sci-fi from the same era, such as Logan’s Run (although I do like Logan’s Run… I preferred it to this). But the only scenes that really work here are the ones where the actual sport is being played. Unfortunately, whenever they leave the arena, the movie goes back to looking every bit its age & becomes a bit of a snoozefest with dodgy acting from most everyone other than James Caan, which is probably why it took me about four attempts to finish it. Hey! You do get a glimpse of a penis in a shower scene in the beginning, though.

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Speaking of penises, I gotta say that Rollerball certainly wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. Being a woman who likes a lot of old movies (especially ones that most would consider “guy” movies), I’m used to that so I’m not saying Rollerball is really any more guilty of this than a lot of movies at that time. However, the female characters in Rollerball are nothing more than “pretty wives” for the players. From what I could gather, they’re “given” to the biggest Rollerball stars and, when Caan’s character is told he must retire, his “wife” is promised to someone else. But they give him a replacement woman – I’m not sure why as they want Caan out of the spotlight anyway. Is she his retirement gift? Is it because he needs a pretty face by his side when he makes his retirement announcement? I probably missed the point as I kept falling asleep when they weren’t playing Rollerball. They hint at the fact that he may have actually been in love with his “wife” but the movie fails to really explore this storyline. This movie happens to be set in 2018 so I’m glad women are a bit more than just “sports star whores” these days! Hey, that’s okay – just balance things out by watching the Drew Barrymore & Ellen Page movie Whip It after Rollerball. πŸ˜‰ Yeah! Whip It! That movie rules. I want to be a roller derby chick. I’d be the old one like Juliette Lewis’s Iron Maven (I’d like to use that name as well!). I’m a wuss, though, so I probably wouldn’t last long.

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Did I just compare Rollerball to Whip It?! Ha! Okay – Rollerball is really just super violent roller derby with motorcycles & a spiky ball but the main two films I thought of while watching it were two that I enjoyed a lot more: The Running Man & Death Race 2000. Rollerball is a better “film” than either of those but it kind of forgets to be fun or entertaining. Actually, that’s a little harsh… I’m going to wrap this up now & try to be more positive. In fact, I think this one may deserve two ratings.

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Summary:

I don’t think I’ve been entirely fair to Rollerball. I may enjoy something like Death Race 2000 more, which is also from 1975, but I’d have to admit that it also hasn’t aged well – it’s just less serious and more fun to watch in 2015. That’s down to personal taste, though, and plenty of people will prefer the far less cheesy Rollerball. I think it’s unfortunate that the non-sports scenes REALLY let the film down. While the players are in their Rollerball uniforms (which do have a cool iconic look) & beating the shit out of each other, the movie is enjoyable. I have a feeling that fans of this movie have nostalgic feelings about the sports scenes & have kind of blocked the rest from their minds. I don’t think I’ve done this before but I’m going to give Rollerball my current rating as well as the rating I may have given it if I’d been old enough to watch it back in 1975.

My 2015 Rating: 6.5/10

My 1975 Rating: 7.5/10

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47 thoughts on “Rollerball (1975) Review

    • But I hate sports stars! Can I be a “rock star whore” instead?? Hey! I thought you’d moan about me further confusing my rating system by giving two ratings!!! πŸ˜‰

  1. Haha, I love the movie poster tagline for this. It’s all “We don’t have war, but we do have Rollerball! That’s something, right guys?”

    Also, Whip It! is an awesome movie, I totally loved it too.

    • Smash! Hi!!! πŸ™‚ lol – I THINK the point of that is that they don’t have war anymore because they have Rollerball instead. Or something. I got this from what I read later as I’d have to say the movie didn’t really get its point across at all! And, yay – a Whip It fan! Honestly – I almost considered being a roller derby girl after that movie. For real! But I really really hate pain…. πŸ™‚

  2. THIS is what you watched? THIS???? Just kidding. I’m not very fond of this movie…. I wouldn’t say this movie could burn in hell but I didn’t love it.

  3. Haven’t watched Rollerball in a loooong time…nice review! (The remake, I think I’ll pass on) Thanks!

    • Thanks! : ) Rollerball is definitely the superior film to Death Race 2000 – I just really enjoy that one for some reason. ; ) Wasn’t planning on watching the remake, although I love LL Cool J. I know it got very bad reviews!

  4. I had a similar experience when I finally got around to watching Rollerball. My expectations had been set sky high and I was disappointed. I didn’t even enjoy the sports scenes as much as you did because the darn sport makes no sense! It was a slog to get through.

    • Glad someone had a similar experience. I thought I was betraying great 70’s dystopian sci-fi by falling asleep about 4 times while watching this. ; ) Oh good – I thought it was just ME who didn’t understand the rules of the game as I absolutely hate all sports! Lol. They’re just meant to crash into each other & put a ball in some sort of goal or something, right?? ; )

  5. I like this film a lot. I actually find most 1970’s films to be slow moving and I think it is just part of film-making of that era. Even The Exorcist is at points, painfully slow, (in between the head thrashing and floating bed, lol.) I think one reason is that film-makers vision of the future from a 1970’s standpoint was it would be a tranquil existence where most problems were solved and the intellectual mind dealt with dilemma’s in a thoughtful, rational manner. The other reason is in the 1970’s there was a relaxation and relief that the turmoil of the 1960’s (Vietnam, racial tension, Watergate) was behind the nation and film from the time reflects that calm relaxed aesthetic.

    • Glad to hear from a fan of this one! I really REALLY wanted to like Rollerball much more than I did. :-/ 70’s & 80’s films are my favorites even though I know the pacing & all that doesn’t really work for today’s movie fans. And sci-fi is also my favorite genre. I suppose it didn’t help that I absolutely HATE sports, maybe?! Because Rollerball is very much a “sports” movie, I guess. But the “70’s dystopian sci-fi” thing meant I had to watch it at some point. : )

  6. I’ll add a note about Rollerballβ€”I had the same experience you did: that it was a relatively well-known movie and “groundbreakingly violent” but it was just so boring and stupid. Aargh.

    But on a nearly unrelated note, I thought of a movie you might want to check out: Desperately Seeking Susan. While it’s ostensibly a popcorn comedy from the 1980s, in my mini-review ( http://jayceland.com/blog/archive/2014/06/12/ten-more-movies-may-2014-to-june-2014/ ) I noted that it “wouldn’t pass a reverse-gender Bechdel/Wallace test: although there is more than one male character, when two men speak, they only talk about women.”

    • Thanks! I’m glad to see that most actually agree with me on Rollerball. I know it was good for its time – it just really hasn’t aged well. That’s interesting that you say that about Desperately Seeking Susan! I liked it at the time but not seen it in years – I’ve meant to actually re-watch that one someday. I don’t remember that about the men but I’ll definitely be watching out for that now! : )

  7. I saw this when I was a kid and I don’t remember anything but the Rollerball parts. Even back then I don’t think the other scenes even registered but for years after I quoted the lines and me and my friends would play with bikes and skates and have Rollerball fights. So this movie holds a special place in my hearts. “Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!”

    • That’s what’s great about movies – this movie still meant a lot to you & it’s totally cool that you would quote it & play “Rollerball” with your friends. πŸ™‚ For me it was Star Wars – I played that with the neighbor boys all the time. I was the only girl playing “Star Wars”, though – it made me nerdy yet cool at the same time. I think? Lol!

  8. “Speaking of penises. . .” WHOA!!!!!! I totally am unfollowing this blog now. No, just kidding. That paragraph actually ended up going in a direction I wasn’t expecting. A much less IPC-direction. πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think I’ve got much inspiration to see this, although I’m curious about the sport/actions sequences in particular. Wasn’t there a relatively recent remake of this as well?

    • Bwahaha! Yes, that went in a very un-IPC direction. Pretty sure the phrase “Bechdel test” has never been uttered at The IPC. πŸ˜‰ Yeah… It was a shame that this was pretty disappointing. There was a remake but it’s meant to be AWFUL so I never watched it even though LL Cool J is in it. πŸ™‚

  9. Anything with a “glimpse” sounds awesome. lol This movie sounds very 1975, it has that corniness and feel to it, that if you saw it back in the day you probably would have loved it because you had nothing great to compare it to. I wish I could do roller derby, I would want to be the Drew Barrymore girl. haha

  10. Reblogged this on lebeau's le Blog and commented:
    The 70’s were all about dystopian futures and roller skates. Norman Jewison’s 1975 sci-fi/sports movie, Rollerball combined the two and mixed in a little ultra violence to boot. But does its vision of the future hold up 40 years later? Cinema Parrot Disco finds out.

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  12. Pingback: THX 1138 (1971) Blind Spot Review | Cinema Parrot Disco

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