ROLLERBALL (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1975. — J.R.


U.S.A., 1975                                        Director: Norman Jewison

A classic demonstration of how several millions of dollars can be

unenjoyably wasted, Rollerball postulates an unlikely future society

from which war, poverty, illness and individual initiative have all

magically vanished, but then resolutely refuses to show it, reserving

all its heavy hardware for the brutal mechanics of an exceedingly

dull sport that is presumed to make this invisible anti-utopia

possible. Featuring a noble savage hero who stumbles clumsily

after an obscure mystery like a donkey running repeatedly into a

brick wall — James Caan reprising his performance in The Gambler

without the literary quotes, in a comparable embodiment of

mindless masochism-and a Sphinx-like villain (John Houseman)

who glowers occasionally to illustrate which side he’s on, this

glib fable seems to be aiming at a simplified version of A

Clockwork Orange without any intimations of wit or satire to

carry the vague moralistic message. Futuristic extrapolation, apart

from the central conceit, is mainly restricted to a couple of

streamlined buildings and the same lettering design recurring

whenever possible; humor, aside from an irreverent (if

implausible) scene with Ralph Richardson as a computer

librarian, usually figures only unintentionally, for instance

when Jonathan E is informed that Moonpie’s brain has ceased

to function — the first indication in the script that it has ever

functioned at all; the multi-track musical accompaniment

principally comprises an anthology of classical favorites

used in previous films.Notwithstanding the inconsistency

of racist gibes from the Houston team about their Japanese

opponents in a world where such sentiments are

supposed to be obsolete, the old-fashioned carnage of the

Rollerball matches is admittedly democratic in spirit, for given

the general lack of individuation it is frequently a moot point as to

who clobbers whom. The film has reportedly been recut for British

audiences and an AA certificate, apparently depriving us of some

of the gore; what remains, however, is plentifully noisy, bloody and

soporific, with enough moral righteousness about nothing in

particular to satisfy every possible scruple.


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