Those of us in modern ‘civilized’ society would like to think that we have moved on from the barbaric blood sports of old. Yet violence remains a part and parcel of our entertainment, contact sports and life-threatening injuries have become commonplace, and corporate monopolisation and rampant sponsorship remain an issue. Issues that were famously explored in the 1975 dystopian classic Rollerball. In 2002, society got a more youthful an extreme exposé of these issues, and a greater look at the spectacle of the sport itself, in the remake of Rollerball.
The year is 2005, an ultra-violent contact sport called Rollerball is gripping the planet. Hockey wash-out, Jonathan Cross, is headhunted by Marcus Ridley to bring his talents to the Zhambel Horsemen. While Cross quickly finds his footing, along with fame and adoration from the crowds. However, he soon discovers that the powers that be might have a vested interest in making that action as impactful as possible, jeopardising the safety of the players. He must now play for his life and his team’s welfare in an increasingly deadly competition.
While the original skilfully used the sport as a backdrop for bigger issues, (in a classic 70s dystopian angle). The modern film puts the collision and chaos of the futuristic sport to the forefront. The inclusion of World Wrestling Entertainment’s own Paul Heyman is a nice touch, and to call him a natural here would be an understatement. His inclusion does more than simply suggest a link with the fictional sport and the real ones we enjoy every day (choreographed or otherwise).
Picked up in the last minute, Rollerball’s score is impressively engaging with Eric Serra’s stylish ambient industrial synth tracks feeling apropos for the five minutes in the future setting of Rollerball. Combined with contemporary hard-rock and metal tracks from household names feel like the perfect accompaniment for such a film. Taking the action to Kazakhstan is an inspired choice, The Central Asian desert does lend itself to some impressive set pieces, and the raw industrial feel of the majority of the interiors help give a post-apocalyptic ostentatiously punk feel to the world of Rollerball, similar to other films that I have covered. Doubly so with a frantic chase sequence that is rendered in night vision.
A lot has changed since 1975, Corporate domination still provides ample fears and a case can be made for the increased proliferation of violence in the entertainment we take in daily. Rollerball still taps into that by leaning into more of the in-arena action. More of an entertainer than a thinker, that would appeal to a youthful crowd, equipped with a fresh aesthetic and focus on entertaining action. Inevitably remembered as the film that brought down John McTiernan, Rollerball is a showstopper in more ways than one.
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