Blu-ray Review: Rollerball

STUDIO:Twilight Time | DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison | CAST: James Caan, John Houseman, John Beck, Maud Adams, Pamela Hensley, Moses Gunn
BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE: 5/13/2014 | PRICE: Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: two commentary tracks, vintage featurettes, isolated score
SPECS: R | 125 min. | Action sports science fiction | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall


Twilight Time’s handsome new Blu-ray edition of 1975’s Rollerball arrives in time to remind us that it’s nearly 2018—the year that this sci-fi-tinged action-sports Dystopian film takes place—and that this 40-year-old movie about a future world run by corporations who placate the planet’s war-free masses with a hard-hitting death sport that thwarts individual effort in favor of the collective power of the team has a helluva lot of prescience. “No man can be greater than the game itself,” proclaims corporate bigwig John Houseman (The Fog) to Rollerball champion James Caan (Thief), the Michael Jordan of the game and the protagonist player who sets into motion the film’s plot of an individual fighting back against the very system that created him.

Rollerball movie scene

In the future, there will be no war. But there will be Rollerball.

But all I’ve said makes for a better thesis paper than a Blu-ray review. So let me just focus on the Rollerball Blu-ray, which offers a rich, textured and colorful transfer of the film that at its best during the three extended Rollerball sequences. A bone-crunching combination of moto-cross, roller derby and rugby, the hard-hitting Rollerball scenes are filled with spike-gloved skaters and motorcyclists wreaking havoc on each other as they zoom about an angled circular track and attempt to stuff a metal ball into an elevated hole. It all looks exciting and colorful on the Blu-ray, as do Caan and his Houston team’s bright orange uniforms, which pop with delicious futuristic intensity.

Equally intense is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 audio design, which is particularly effective during the game sequences, where the whoosh of the skaters, the rumble of the motorcyclists, the roar of the crowds, and the crunch of layers’ helmets against the hard track are particularly resonant. The soundtrack also benefits from the 5.1 mix, with the futuristic score and a selection of classical pieces such as Bach’s familiar “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” receiving outstanding renderings. (An isolated track of the score is presented in 2.0.)

Though there are no newly produced bonus features on the Blu-ray, there is still an extensive selection culled from previous DVD releases of the film. Along with a pair of vintage featurettes and director Norman Jewison’s low-key but informative commentary, there’s also a commentary track by screenwriter William Harrison, upon whose short story the film is based. The Harrison track has been previously heard on European DVD editions of the film and its inclusion here marks its U.S. debut. Also notable are Julie Kirgo’s liner notes, which do a fine job of examining the production and putting its themes into modern context. (I’d love to read her thesis paper on the social and societal implications of Rollerball….)

Not included here is the ‘Interactive Rollergame” that was a part of MGM’s 1998 DVD release. It’s a really dumb game reminiscent of Husker Du and it certainly didn’t need to be included, but, yikes, it was so silly that I can’t forget it….

As Twilight Time prints up only 3,000 copies of each title, the time to pre-order your Blu-ray discs directly from distributor Screen Archives is NOW!

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.