Saturday, May 31, 2014

ROLLERBALL (Twilight Time Blu-ray) - War is Entertainment. Entertainment is War. The Ministry of Houston Energy.

Maybe it's because I was raised on 1984. Bred into Brave New World. Maybe Sleeper did it. Escape from New York or The Running Man. Dystopian works of fiction make me excited. I love to see how predictive, scientific ingenuity reaches an apex in the minds of creative writers and spits out a concept of the now, written long ago, predicting the then future and got it right or wrong as the case may be. I won't rehash the aforementioned works. Each one can warrant its own treatise on the subject. Today we're here to talk about the ball. Rollerball. Not the remake. The original 1975 battle of the corporate titans, James Caan as the star player turned hero turned revolutionary. My recollections of this picture go way back beginning with a taped off TV screening in my own living room, cut to ribbons but still having a serious impact on a rather young Doc Terror. The hook for me? It opens with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Amicus' Tales from the Crypt did the same thing several years after I watched Rollerball for the first time and would change my life a step further. In fact the entire score for Rollerball is filled with classical gems that seem to counterbalance the brutality of 2018 (hey that's just four years away). I guess I was a bit of a weird-o when I was a kid. I love Def Leppard. I loved Poison. I love Guns N' Roses, and I especially loved popular classical pieces. For a young horror fan who was unfamiliar with the great big wide world of cult cinema, Rollerball opened a door into a beautiful new world filled with angst and excitement. The true suspense of a dystopian work is that you have to wait many years, decades even to see how the whole thing pans out in reality. Rollerball... a reality? Maybe we'll talk about that too. Right now let's deal with Twilight Time's well executed release of a favorite picture of mine.

Synopsis from Twilight Time:

Rollerball (1975) posits a dystopian future (2018!) in which war has been replaced by the titular game, a gladiatorial spectacle of violence that helps keep the global populace entertained and anesthetized. Director Norman Jewison and writer William Harrison further give us an athletic champion, Jonathan E (the great James Caan), whose individual expertise defeats the worldwide corporate leadership’s design: to emphasize the futility of individual effort. Corporate bigwigs (icily incarnated by John Houseman) need Jonathan to retire, but Jonathan begins to have his own dangerous ideas.

You know the first thing I did mid-way through my most recent viewing of Rollerball in Blu-ray was to hop on Google and search for Houston Energy tees. How perfect would that be? Lo and Behold they exist in numerous variations. I found an especially nice baseball tee that will soon make its way into my closet. Basically I was getting lost in the cult of Norman Jewison's well-crafted world of alternate future war. I wanted to be a part of the winning team; a team with star played Jonathan E! Even though I know how the picture ends (not to be spoiled here) I still wanted to represent the best damn team in the world. 

Rollerball is a movie that fills you with the excitement of a big time sporting event; a really real sporting event that you might watch on Sunday. For me, that would be football. I'm a big NFL nut, and while I'm watching Rollerball I root for Houston Energy and Jonathan and the entire team of ramrodder, motorcycle-banging, neo-roller derby, demolition derby floor ball players that each have their own charisma. The team feels larger than life. The game feels real which seems to be due to the exquisite set design. These guys actually built the damn stadium in an old basketball stadium and had to learn to play the game! The making of feature on the disc goes through most of it and is well worth the watch especially since I watched this so young. The world they created seemed like a magical place of illusion that must've been created by the likes of David Copperfield or Houdini. You start to wish you could play the game. You grab your dog's tennis ball from the toy basket and run around your living room, gliding like your on roller skates, dodging bikers, jumping at the goal. Even if you've seen Rollerball before you still bounce on your couch as the tension builds splendidly through each matchup. Like you're watching a Rocky movie.That's half the charm; the rest is in the well crafted battle, off-court. 

James Caan is a hero. In the Godfather didn't you want him to take out all the families and win the war (before his mother couldn't see him like that)? Sure did. Let's jump to a more recent time... Elf... yes, Elf. Well, doesn't he help to save Christmas? This guy makes you want to root for him. Juxtapose him with the ultimate representative of the army of corporate world domination and pure evil, John Houseman. Remember him from The Fog? Ghost Story? He's sophisticated. He's above you. He wants to make you feel like your sense of individuality is lost. Combine the perfect big bad with the deluded, shallow reality built up around the rest of society's love for the game, Rollerball. It's a world that is worth fighting for, and clearly in need of saving.  It's easy to root for Caan as Jonathan E. You want him to win, and you definitely want him to throttle and defeat stoic, John Houseman at the helm of the Houston Energy corporation and team.

So are we going to see Rollerball in our lifetime (in four years as predicted by the movie)? Well, let's do a brief and completely unscientific analysis. Corporate sponsored sport with minimal concern for player safety that ever changes the rule in order to gain control of the masses. It is a battle of world domination (not like the board game RISK... bigger). The individual's success is frowned upon. The team, appropriately sponsored, is the hero. War is on the TV. War is more important than entertainment. War is entertainment. Entertainment is War. Man, does that sound a little like football. Sure the emphasis by the current commissioner is to make the game more safe, but truly it's all about changing the rules over and over again to make it more exciting. Once they get the concussion thing sorted out, back to blood on the gridiron. The NFL is ever expanding, playing games in Europe in the last couple of years. The quarterback may be king, but it is a group sport where individual achievement isn't necessarily great to stress during press time (the team is king over individual success when the mic is on). It's war. It's what's on TV, and for the season that it's on each year you might as well bomb a small country into oblivion because no one even knows how to pronounce the place you just obliterated. And that's NOW! Give it four years, a new commission of the NFL and more desensitization and ignorance toward world affairs and we'll fight all battles on TV with hot wings. End diatribe. Back to the Blu-ray.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray looks truly great. The sound is brilliant, transfer good. It feels like your Sunday morning pastime, beautiful and built for your widescreen TV. 1080p High Definition / 1.85:1 does good by Rollerball as does it's DTS 5.1 audio which is surely converted from an older stereo track but feels big and bold. The only thing missing from the experience of watching Rollerball is the lack of inserted faux commercials at a slightly higher volume to make you feel like you're REALLY watching the game. Special Features include: Isolated Score Track / Audio Commentary with Director Norman Jewison / Audio Commentary with Writer William Harrison / From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle / Return to the Arena: The Making of Rollerball / TV Spots / Trailers / MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer. As with all of Twilight Time's releases you get an insert booklet with notes from Julie Kirgo. This release is limited to 3000, so make sure you pick it up before you can't.

I know that I have a personal connection to this movie that may not necessarily be the norm, but I'll tell you that watching the original Rollerball a group of friends, pints in hand and pads on is an experience you probably need to have. Pairs well with Death Race 2000 or other lighthearted romp through the future to balance out the feeling of helplessness and dread you might feel at points in the movie.

Pick up Rollerball now from Screen Archives.

-Doc Terror

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