The premise of this Norman Jewison sci-fi film, that rival corporations openly run the world and that the sport rollerball is used as a substitute for war AND as a constant reminder that the individual cannot triumph, is a great one, though the film itself doesn’t live up to it. (The Hunger Games, especially Catching Fire, comes far closer to hitting this mark.) It’s not for lack of action sequences; the three rollerball games shown become increasingly chaotic and violent as the rules are gradually removed in order to ensure the superstar played by James Caan cannot win and prove to the public that the individual actually holds any meaningful power. (Again, Jennifer Lawrence/Katniss Everdeen showed up about four decades later to nail this, but wait, does this mean that Suzanne Collins and Hunger Games owes a debt to Rollerball?)
The shortcoming is that there isn’t any role for the public to play here. I don’t have any sense of how rollerball manipulates its viewers, which is central to the theme. The players are, well, just players in a game, and too much time is devoted to them, which is a shame, since the actors portraying them don’t do much to bring them to life. James Caan is either badly miscast or misinterprets his role; although he’s physically suited to the sport, something akin to roller derby crossed with hockey and moto-cross, he doesn’t really suggest an individual aching to be free from the chains of corporate comfort. His assigned lover, played by Barbara Trentham, is the only character who hints at this, with bubbling sorrow and rage. Ralph Richardson is a hoot as a coot in charge of some sort of liquid computer that won’t give out any unapproved information.
My favorite scene was the party, where the stupidity of the players and the vapidity of executive lifestyle sank in, especially when the drug-addled guests wandered into the dawn to destroy a row of trees with explosive target practice. It was also fun to see the 1975 (!) vision of the future. I did love the omnipresent font on everything. It’s very seventies-futuristic, like so much of the film. I’d award almost three stars on that count alone.