Kevin Geeks Out About ROLLERBALL

(Click Here to hear the VIDEO DEATH RAY podcast about ROLLERBALL)

I love 1975's Rollerball.

I first saw the Norman Jewison movie as an adult while writing a comedy screenplay that was set in a 1970's vision of the future.

That project required me to spend weeks watching films like Logan's RunOmega Man, FutureworldZardoz, Soylent GreenConquest of the Planet of the Apes and more. Each movie offered a ridiculous world of tomorrow -- and don't get me wrong, that's part of what makes them so great.  I adore the very 70's aesthetic about the future -- whether it's the slightly-futuristic fashion, the oversized super-intelligent talking computers, the funky pseduo-Euro architecture, the relentless use of excessive snap-zooms, or the general self-imporance of message-y post-Viet Nam science-fiction that was about to be  made extinct by Star Wars and dozens of Star Wars knock-offs.
"I'm feelin' mean," Jonathan E in William Harrison's short story Roller Ball Murder

But unlike other films from the era, Rollerball hit close to home. Like the best science-fiction stories, it's themes are more relevant now than when it was written.  My own script, FUTURO, was never made.  And here's the kicker, just when I finished the script -- just when I started sending it out, MGM released a tacky remake of my beloved Rollerball. That hurt.

I never saw the 2002 version. I bitterly avoided it.

But recently I was asked to appear as a guest on the Video Death Ray podcast.  The show's host/producer, Gilly, gave me a list of films to choose from. The titles included some real clunkers.  But the one that stood out was the Chris Klein-LL Cool J Action-Sports Drama.  If I didn't do it now, I'd never have a reason to watch it.  I chose to bite the bullet (or the 8-pound steel ball, as the case may be.)


I believe we broke the Guinness World Record for time spent talking about Rollerball.

During the podcast I repeatedly urge listeners to read William Harrison's original short story, "Roller Ball Murder" (You can find it here and here.)

During the podcast I talk about my chat with William Harrison and his thoughts on the remake.  His comments might surprise you.

If you're not a book-reader, you can listen to the original story as a radio production here , it was produced by MINDWEBS who created a speculative fiction radio show adapting a lot of classic science-fiction stories.  (Personally, I felt the reader missed the mark with his characterization of Jonathan E.) And, be sure to check out William Harrison online.  He's got two new books coming out this year, a novel titled Black August and a collection of short stories.  The guy can write.  (Regular readers of this blog may remember that The Buddha in Malibu even won "Book of the Year")

2 guys talk about 2 Rollerball movies for 2 hours

You can read the official RULES OF ROLLERBALL

Here's the 1975 movie version.

And this is the incoherent rules from the 2002 remake.  (During the podcast we report that the rules were not decided until after the film was shot.  If you watch the movie, it shows.)

Here's some of my old AMC videos that mention Rollerball:


* A high-concept idea that might've worked for 2002's Rollerball: make it an American Pie sequel.  Chris Klein plays a futuristic death-sport alongside Stiffler, Finch and Jim.  Eugene Levy could be the coach, with Dabney Coleman as the team's owner.  (I need a better modern example for the comical villain.  Who is this generation's Dabney Coleman?)

* Half of the DVD commentary track is LL Cool J making blanket statements that don't seem to line-up with any of the images on the screen.  It becomes apparent that he just talked for 40 minutes and some poor bastard had the joke of slapping his insights together into a somewhat coherent commentary.  Frequently LL just says "that's so cool" or "those graphics are so cool" or "those cars are pretty cool."  It reminds me of the propaganda maxim: when a lie is repeated enough times, it will eventually become truth.    Also, whenever LL Cool J says something is "cool" he doesn't seem the least be self-conscious that his name is "Cool".

* Another oddity from the audio-commentary track, when Naveen "Sayid" Andrews appears on camera, Chris Klein smugly says "There's good old Naveen Andrews.  That's all I got to say about him."  It implies that one of these men thinks the other is a dick.  I'm gonna have to side with Naveen Andrews.

* While researching the film I came across this great tidbit about the remake's leading man:

Chris, 26, a self-described "alpha heterosexual" who only dates "8 to 10's," also reveals how displeased he is if a woman he's seeing gains a few pounds.
"I'm not tolerant of that at all," declares the actor, who says he has no problem telling his swollen squeeze to shape up.
"When a woman isn't feeling good about herself and you combine that with her period, eventually she'll ask you if you like her body," he pontificates. "You have to say no."

* During the podcast I compare the 1975 Rollerball to other sports movies where the game holds a greater significance.  I mentioned The Longest Yard and The Bad News Bears.  I didn't realize it at the time, but all three of those '70s films were remade in the '00s. 

* Other excellent sports films (that were not remade in the past decade) include the Michael Caine-Slyvester Stallone-Pele soccer-drama Victory (1981) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962).  I would whole-hearedly recommend these movies over the Rollerball remake.  Loneliness in particular is an "angry young man" film with some gorgeous sequences, but it also has a spirited "fuck you" ending that may have even inspired the 1975 Rollerball's final scene.  


Jeff said...

I watched the real Rollerball as a child, and I'm sure it did all sorts of horrbile things to my psyche. But it's a standout film for so many reasons, perhaps even laying the groundwork for the entire cyberpunk movement.

Never watched that horrid remake.. or if I did, I quickly wiped it from my memory.

Jonathan M said...

Brother, we are united in our love of Rollerball!

The 1970s was a great time for SF cinema. The huge success of Star Wars during that period effectively recast popular expectations as to what constituted a science fiction film but this recasting was most definitely not for the best. A whole series of great and thoughtful science fiction films were made in the 1970s and Rollerball is among the best of them.

However... as far as Rollerball geekery is concerned, I have you beat. I was named for Jonathan E :-)

Ully said...

I think Tron Legacy suffered from roughly the same problems. The original was all about class & political hierarchy, but seen from the POV of the low man on the totem pole (albeit Johnathan, a top sports star.) The new one left the high concept behind in favor of action. Likewise, in Tron Legacy, Flynn's digital world was like an outdated MUD running on a closed server. Why would Flynn and/or Clu develop a world like the MCP's? Likewise, Rollerball was shot like 70's NFL football, gritty, rough & the environment was right out of "The Prisoner", and who's better than James Caan!? LL Cool J *could* have been, had they made him the lead. Better still, it could have resurrected Wesley Snipes career.