I’ve recently dived into doing ”best of’ lists, so as I’ve explained, I’ve decided to do my top 20 SF films. This is my personal list, so feel free to disagree with it and of course, you’ll be horribly wrong.
At #15 it’s the sport to end all wars, it’s the fantastic Rollerball.
Rollerball tells the story of the far-future (well, in 1975 it was) of 2018 where corporations have become so dominant that they control the world. Hah, as if corporations would become so powerful that they’d supplant everything democratic!
Anyhow, a new sport, Rollerball, has replaced wars as the way to become dominant for a corporation, plus it helps the controlling companies show the people that individual effort is utterly pointless. Entering into this is James Caan’s character, Jonathan E, the most well known player in the game. E has become so successful the corporation owning his team, Houston, can no longer reward him so wanting him retired they offer him an easy way out which he refuses. Not wanting E to become a hero to the people the corporations change the rules of Rollerball to become even more brutal so they can force E out one way or another….
Rollerball is a odd animal. It’s a highly intelligent commentary upon where the writer, William Harrison, saw America and the world heading while being a pretty brutal action film that doesn’t at all glamourise any of it’s violence as it shows it in all it’s sickening reality. Norman Jewison’s direction is crisp and clear, though although the film sticks to the shiny, glossy vision of the future common of a lot of SF films of the era, it shows the realities of what is a dystopian future which hasn’t involved a nuclear war or some great cataclysmic event. This is something even today filmmakers find it hard to do but in 2013 as i write this the idea of a future where corporations suppress and control the people of the world is more real, not to mention more scary than nuclear war and that’s bloody scary.
The pace of the film is slow compared to 2013 sensibilities, but this works for the film as it slowly burns to the final game and the brutal outcome of that game. Ignore the dreadful sequel, watch this as it’s still a brilliantly smart bit of SF that’s vastly better than the majority of it’s peers.
It also influenced Pat Mills to rip it off as Death Game 1999 for Action, a weekly comic published in the 1970’s. That’s worth a mention as it follows the same themes as the film, but everything is even more cynical and brutal. It’s great fun!
Next time, bring some LSD…..