The populace is obsessed with sports that thrive on violence and uniformity. The rich are generally oblivious to the outside world. Sports are corporate funded obsession based around putting its competitors to their limit. Civilization finds the obsession with celebrities more interesting than actual world issues, and the media manipulates the public through culture of competition. That is the stunningly familiar dystopian future presented in “Rollerball,” the future of 2018. Director Norman Jewison’s science fiction action film has a lot to say about the wide gap of social and class structures. As well it presents a grim glimpse at a corporate empire that results in a world much like today, where the media and culture is dominated by a single entity.
The major decider for world affairs is “Rollerball,” a deadly and very tough sport much in the vein of Roller Derby. This style of sport is given immense significance and importance in deciding much of the political affairs, and garners just as much attention as a world war. Among some of the best in the sport is the Houston team that has come to represent the sport as a whole, including very popular roller ball player Jonathan. James Caan is the slick and strong player Jonathan who leads his teams to consistent victory, and eventually gains the respect of the Chairman of Energy Corporation Mr. Bartholomew. With the new era of Roller Ball arriving and an important match coming up, Bartholomew has inexplicably begun urging Jonathan to retire from Roller Ball and live out the rest of his life at his home.
Jonathan is eager to stay in the sport and continue leading Houston to victory, but Bartholomew begins to grow insistent to where he begins to alter the rules of Roller Ball. He begins allowing for much reckless guidelines, lesser penalties and safe guards, which promises to threaten the life of Jonathan and his teammates. As he begins investigating why Bartholomew is insistent, the face of the sport he thrived in soon begins a death wish for the athlete, who insists on playing one more game. Jewison’s science fiction survival film is a remarkable and stark look at society controlled by manufactured politics, and how our tendency for building up and knocking down heroes isn’t entirely by accident. James Caan has complained that he couldn’t do much with the character of Jonathan, but Jonathan represents as a whole, the machismo and blind hero worship that permeate through the sport he plays.
Roller Ball not only breeds unquestioned loyalty from fans, but from its competitors. We view witness to this in a very haunting moment when a coach urging Houston to learn the tactics of the China team, transforms in to an endless single minded chant thirsting for carnage. The idea of Roller Ball transforms from a glorified sport that rules the world thanks to corporate dominance in to an actual tyrannical oppressor. The more Jonathan realizes it’s a relentless entity that devours its most prized stars for the sake of personal gain, the more harrowing the mystery grows. “Rollerball” is a science fiction masterpiece and exciting action film. It’s a tale about gladiators, faceless corporations replacing actual governments, and director Norman Jewison’s film has taken on greater relevance now more than ever.