Rollerball (1975 film)  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"The result is a film which is frequently pretentious: grasping at profundity and failing to glance it. Death Race 2000, directed by Paul Bartel and released the same year, ironically succeeds where Rollerball fails, tackling almost the exact same story but delivering it with such over-the-top violence and comedy that the whole achieves the sublime (and on a Roger Corman budget)." [1]

"All science-fiction can be roughly divided into two types of nightmares. In the first the world has gone through a nuclear holocaust and civilization has reverted to a neo-Stone Age. In the second, of which "Rollerball" is an elaborate and very silly example, all of mankind's problems have been solved but at the terrible price of individual freedom. ... The only way science-fiction of this sort makes sense is as a comment on the society for which it's intended, and the only way "Rollerball" would have made sense is a satire of our national preoccupation with televised professional sports, particularly weekend football. Yet "Rollerball" isn't a satire. It's not funny at all and, not being funny, it becomes, instead, frivolous." --Vincent Canby

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Rollerball is a 1975 science fiction sports film directed and produced by Norman Jewison. It stars James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn and Ralph Richardson. The screenplay, written by William Harrison, adapted his own short story, "Roller Ball Murder", which had first appeared in the September 1973 issue of Esquire.

Although Rollerball had an American cast, a Canadian director, and was released by the American company United Artists,



Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the team captain and veteran star of the Houston rollerball team. He has become the sport's most recognizable and talented player. After another impressive performance against Madrid, Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman), chairman of the Energy Corporation, whose headquarters is Houston, announces that Jonathan will be featured in a "multivision" broadcast about his career.

Bartholomew tells Jonathan that he wants him to retire. He offers the rollerballer a lavish retirement package if Jonathan makes the announcement during the special. He then preaches the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, never explaining why he must retire. Jonathan refuses, and requests to see his former wife Ella (Maud Adams), who had been taken from him some time earlier by a corporate executive who wanted her for himself.

Suspicious of a forced retirement, Jonathan goes to a library and asks for books about the corporation and history. He finds all books have been digitized and "edited" to suit the corporations, and are now stored on supercomputers at large protected corporate locations.

Rollerball degrades into senseless violence as the rules are changed to force Jonathan out. Houston's semi-final game against Tokyo has no penalties and only limited substitutions. The brutality of the match kills several players including Houston's lead biker, Blue. Jonathan's best friend and teammate, Moonpie (John Beck), is left in a vegetative state. Despite the violence, Houston is victorious and will play New York for the world championship.

Bartholomew hosts an executive teleconference to discuss the game's future. They decide that the Houston – New York game will be played with no penalties, no substitutions, and no time limit in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to play, will be killed during the game. The conference reveals why Jonathan must retire: Rollerball was conceived not only to satisfy man's blood lust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's popularity and longevity as a player threatens this purpose.

Jonathan makes his way to Geneva to access the world's central supercomputer, known as "Zero." While revered as the repository of all human knowledge, Zero is flawed, which is revealed when the librarian mentions that Zero has "lost" the entire 13th century. Jonathan's goal is to find out how the corporations make their decisions, but the result is indecipherable computer double-talk.

Afterwards, Jonathan receives a visit from his former wife Ella, who has been sent to convince him to retire and to make it clear the coming game will be "to the death." Jonathan realizes his wife's visit was set up by the executives, and erasing a long cherished movie of the 2 of them, stating, "I just wanted you on my side." Jonathan decides that despite the dangers, he will play.

The final match quickly loses any semblance of order as the players are injured or killed. The crowd, ecstatic at first, gradually become more subdued as the carnage unfolds and the game devolves into a gladiatorial fight. Jonathan is soon the only player left on the track for Houston, while a skater and a bikeman remain from New York. After a violent struggle in front of Mr. Bartholomew's box, Jonathan dispatches the skater and takes the ball. The biker charges, but Jonathan counters, knocking him off his bike and down to the inside of the track. He pins the biker down and raises the ball over his head, then pauses. Refusing to kill his fallen opponent, Jonathan gets to his feet and painfully makes his way to the goal, slamming the ball home and scoring the game's only point.

Jonathan skates around the track in silent victory. The coaches and fans of both teams chant his name, first softly then louder and louder as he skates faster and faster. Mr. Bartholomew exits the arena hurriedly, possibly fearing a riot as the chant of "Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!" becomes a roar. The film ends on a freeze frame of Jonathan's face, as the beginning of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor plays over the scene, as at the beginning of the movie.


Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is performed on organ by Simon Preston during the opening title sequence; it is heard once again at the end of film's final scene and over the first section of the end credits, bookending the film. The Adagio in G minor by Albinoni/Giazotto, and the Largo from Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is also used to establish tone, mood, and atmosphere for certain scenes in the film. The classical music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn, who also wrote the "Executive Party" music for the movie.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Rollerball (1975 film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools