I love movies. I love old movies. I love weird old movies with dumb premises that take place in the future. Rollerball had all the right things going for it. It was touted to me as Mad Max with roller skates.
HOWEVER, we were wrong and it was terrible. I had some friends over, and the three of us were just sitting in my living room dumbfounded. Even our attempts to liven things up via drinking games, which may be a new Movie Survival/Review Technique for me, failed miserably even though they were very effective: D had to drink every time there was a racially questionable moment, I had to drink when there was bad makeup, and N had to drink when characters awkwardly touched each other as a greeting AND whenever someone fell down. We got trashed! Which pretty much sums up what it it is like to watch the movie, but I’ll press on regardless.
The astonishing thing was how it followed none of the classic wisdom for making a movie watcheable, and I hated it for that (and this is me! I have been known to put on the Cremaster Cycle at parties). Spend the first 15 minutes watching an entire game of rollerball? Yes, please! Wanna see Houston beat Madrid!
Have long scenes full of theoretically important exposition delivered in the most dull, awkward, dry, awful way imaginable? Of course! Eventually we figured out that we wouldn’t miss much by talking over the dialogue, and the real breakthrough came when I had to open Part II (of the dvdrip I downloaded for free, which is the ideal price for this movie) and realized that we were in for another hour. An hour? I felt as if we’d just sat through three hours of this awful, awful footage, and used the veto power inherent in the fact that it was my living room in which we were hanging out to just skim the second half of the movie. It was better that way. Here’s what we didn’t miss:
The basic gist of the plot is that Jonathan, the rollerball hero, is being forced to retire by the corporations who run the world/Rollerball (analogous) and has to duke his way out of a No Rules, Just Wrong version of his beloved game. Between these two plot points there is an hour and a half of interminability. We tried to get a sense of the finer points afterwards with the help of Wikipedia, and if you want to be sad about how awful people can be at using the English language to tell a story AND see what I’m leaving out of this recap, go check out the plot summary.
There’s a party scene that is in retrospect really reminiscent of the party scenes in Atlas Shrugged (especially the Dagny Taggart flashback debutante ball and the one where she and Hank Reardon are mean to each other but still get each other).
And then all the rich people sans soul go outside and shoot trees with a gun.
The movie ends as it began, with twenty minutes of solid rollerball action (Houston v. New York), except this time the players are bloodthirsty, and there is death. Jonathan triumphs in terms of both survival, savagery, and sportsmanship by slamming the iron Quaffle into the goal rather than his opponent’s face, showing his corporate overlords that they haven’t been able to totally eradicate every vestige of humanity from their wrecked version of human society. Probably because they based their whole bread and circuses scheme on a game, with rules, which they first made people care about and then subverted for ratings.
Basically, it’s ridiculous but not even fun to watch. Both the imaginary sport and the movie. Watch this space in the future as I will eventually write up something on the 2002 version, which was just as ridiculous in its own millenial remake way with the always welcome bonus of taking place in Russia and looking like this: