Our review of Rollerball (1975) (Blu-ray), published June 11th, 2014, is also available.
Bad ideas are contagious. Learning nothing from remakes of popular movies like Planet Of The Apes and Godzilla, director John McTiernan (Die Hard) decided not only to remake an old movie into a modern day dazzler, but also remake an old, fairly bland movie into a confusingly loud mess. Rollerball is proof positive that Hollywood perpetually has their thumbs up their butts. Upon its initial release, Rollerball hit theaters with a resounding thud. Personally, I couldn't dig up one single person who saw this dud. Go figure. For those of you looking for a fairly eclectic cast, how does this sound: Chris Klein (American Pie 2), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men), LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea), and Jean Reno (The Professional). Rollerball is featured in a Special Edition by MGM, and we all know what that means: lots of extra features to wade through! AHHHH!
Facts of the Case
Let's see if I can do a cohesive summation of Rollerball: it's the future (I think) and the most popular sport running is the extreme Rollerball: a mix between hockey, rugby, basketball, motocross, and WWF wrestling. The league is owned by Petrovich (Reno), a flamboyant putz who seems to be under the assumption that he's as close to Godliness as one can get. The newest recruit on the team is Jonathan Cross (Klein), a star player with the good looks Petrovich needs to boost his TV ratings. Jonathan's team is The Horsemen, which includes the cool-headed Marcus (Cool J) and the rough yet sexy Aurora (Romjin-Stamos). Their team plays against other teams over in Central Asia (I think) where people dress really funky and talk with accents. We quickly learn that Rollerball is a sport that seemingly has no rules; the basic gist of the game is to go around the arena twice and throw a huge steel ball into a gong-like gold target wherein sparks shoot up once you've scored (I think). How pretty. When Jonathan and his team start to realize that Petrovich has been letting over-stimulated violence happen in the arena to boost the shows ratings, things are about to get ugly…and I don't just mean in the movie.
When I was in college, I did my fair share of drinking. As penance for my sins, I was often treated to hangovers that felt roughly the size of Jupiter plus two of its surrounding moons. While it's been a while since my wild college days, I was given the special treat of that ol' hangover feeling while watching this updated remake of Rollerball. Here is a movie that is loud, quick, and excruciatingly bad. Only minutes before I popped in this disc, I was filled with a mild excitement; I mean hey, I'm the same guy who liked such critically panned action flicks as Chill Factor and Virus. For the briefest of moments, I thought I'd possibly be treated to another great, bid budget flop so bad it's good. I was so completely off the mark that I landed somewhere in Ohio.
Rollerball goes wrong in almost every single area. The acting is bad. The plot is bad (or baffling might be a better word). The editing…well, let's just say that's where the main flaw lies. Years from now (or maybe next semester), college film professors will use Rollerball as a prime example of what not to do while editing a movie. I'm not saying that the blame of this turkey lies squarely on editor John Wright—I have this feeling that McTiernan and the studio executives shoulder just as much blame as anyone. I'd advise drinking a few Rolling Rocks before viewing Rollerball, though I think that might be working against yourself—Rollerball's editing is so choppy that watching it feels as if you've had three shots before you've even started drinking. Then again, it may be very possible that after four or five drinks Rollerball unfolds with fantastic clarity. Those interested in partaking in this science experiment should let me know how it pans out.
The casting for Rollerball is spotty at best. While the film certainly didn't need master thespians to make it fun, it also didn't need someone as wishy-washy as Chris Klein. The role of Jonathan really required a strong, square-jawed actor; instead, we get the soft spoken, clean looking Klein attempting to portray someone with a strong sense of purpose. This casting choice makes about as much sense as having John Travolta playing a dreadlocked alien in an L. Ron Hubbard adapted movie. The respectable LL Cool J seems vaguely lost in his role as Jonathan's buddy. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos cavorts through half of the film with a helmet over her head, and the other half with a scar over her eye. At one point, her character turns away from Jonathan out of embarrassment of her disfigurement. How silly is this? Let's be honest: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos with a scar over her eye is still ten times better looking than 99% of the population. The other big name actor tromping around this debacle is Jean Reno, learning nothing from his experiences working on the horrid big budget Godzilla. I think it's time for Mr. Reno to learn the difference between a fat paycheck and his dignity. At the head of Rollerball is action auteur John McTiernan, who helmed the far superior boom-pow-bang popcorn flicks Predator and Die Hard. Rollerball gets the dubious honor of making McTiernan's colossal flop Last Action Hero look like A Beautiful Mind. While McTiernan knows how to stage fast, loud action sequences, he needs to realize they don't add up to much when there isn't a story behind them.
Normally I'm all for crap like Rollerball, but this time around I'm relenting—this film just isn't worth anyone's time. Like the now defunct XFL, Rollerball is a sport that was a bad idea right from the get go. As my friend Mr. Strickland would say, here's a nickels' worth of free advice for Hollywood: remakes are only as good as the film's their based on. And since the original 1975 Rollerball sucked…well, you do the math.
Rollerball is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the movie may suck on high, this transfer is very well done. The black levels and color patterns all appear very well saturated and even. While I spotted a few uneven flesh tones and a small amount of edge enhancement, overall this very good transfer should please all six fans of the film.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. MGM made sure that this soundtrack for Rollerball was so loud and obnoxious that it made me bleed anally. The thumping bass lines and techno beats come in clean and clear through both the front and rear speakers. A multitude of directional effects was utilized in this mix, so for those looking for a strong surround mix, you've found it in Rollerball. Also included on this disc are Dolby 2.0 soundtracks in English and French, as well as Spanish, English, and French subtitles.
Bafflingly, Rollerball has been given the super-duper "special edition" treatment on DVD. Maybe there's some secret Rollerball fan club out there that I'm unaware of. For those fine folks, this disc will be like one big wet dream. Starting off this disc is a commentary by actors Chris Klein, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and LL Cool J (AKA "The Horsemen"). These three fine actors (wait, did I just use the word "fine" and "Stamos" in the same sentence?) are fairly amusing as they banter back and forth about the production and the fact that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos keeps wanting to talk dirty. LL Cool J was recorded separately, making for a somewhat disjointed track. However, I can safely say that this commentary was miles above watching the movie on its own.
Next up is a 20-minute "The Stunts of Rollerball" featurette that includes interviews with the general cast of the film as well as consultants Tony Meibocks, Andrew Barron, and "Mouse" McCoy, stunt coordinators Jaime James and Greg Davis, and others. This piece does a nice job at dismantling some of the stunts and action sequences in the film. Isn't it a shame that such a cruddy movie had so much work put into it?
An "Interactive Yearbook" features a multitude of information on the players, stadium, owners, equipment, teams, et cetera. Looking at this another way, we could say it's one long page of production notes broken up into many small sections with pictures. Whoopee.
Finally, there is a music video by the family friendly Rob Zombie for the song "Never Gonna Stop" presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, plus a theatrical and teaser trailer for Rollerball.
MGM's work on this disc is excellent, though the same certainly can't be said for the movie at hand. Violent, confusing, and poorly pasted together, this is one sporting event that should be closed permanently. As a side note, any Rebecca Romijn-Stamos look-alikes with scars over their eyes should feel free to contact me at 1-800-233-NAUGLE.
Rollerball is found guilty of mindless action in search of a script (and an editor). Case dismissed!
[Editor's Note: The DVD release is different than the theatrical version, restoring a few minutes of violence and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos nudity.]
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Actors Chris Klein, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and LL Cool J
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