Rollerball: Special Edition (1975)

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Released 12-Feb-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Return To The Arena
Audio Commentary-Norman Jewison (Director)
Audio Commentary-William Harrison
Featurette-Original Rollerball Featurette
Theatrical Trailer
Teaser Trailer
TV Spots-3
Gallery-2
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1975
Running Time 119:39 (Case: 115)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:31) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Norman Jewison
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring James Caan
Maud Adams
John Houseman
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Andre Previn


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Dutch
Swedish
Finnish
Norwegian
Danish
Portuguese
Polish
Greek
Hungarian
Hebrew
Turkish
Czech
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I suppose that with a John McTiernan remake (which apparently has been universally panned by the critics in America) on the release lists, it was only a matter of time before a Special Edition of the original 1975 cult film Rollerball was released. Just going on the cast listings, I have to say that I agree with the American critics, as I have a much easier time believing James Caan as Jonathan E than I do Chris Klein as Jonathan Cross. Obviously, 437 voters on the Internet Movie Database feel the same way, as they have given the 2002 remake a decidedly unencouraging rating of 2.7 out of ten. Nonetheless, we are concerning ourselves with the 1975 original here, which has a decidedly better rating of 6.2, and is actually the source of a sample which Type O Negative used on the original edit of the Bloody Kisses album.

    Based upon a William Harrison story called The Roller Ball Murders, Rollerball is set in a distant, but non-specific future where there are no more nations, no more wars, and no more racial conflicts. The world is governed by groups of mega-corporations, all of which rule over specific industries that humanity needs to live, and they maintain control of the masses through a brutal sport called Rollerball. It's hard to describe the game, really, although if you can imagine a brutal cross between roller-skating, motorbike endurance testing, and soccer, you're part of the way there. The current champion of this sport is a rather impressive athlete who goes by the name of Jonathan E (James Caan), who has been consistently leading the way in this brutal sport for the last ten years. After a great game in which he and his city team of Houston comprehensively defeat the city of Madrid, Jonathan is summoned to the office of a powerful executive named Bartholomew (John Houseman).

    Bartholomew speaks on behalf of the Energy Corporation that runs Houston and tells Jonathan that he must retire from the sport soon, lest he risk "suffering the old fashioned way". Jonathan is conflicted about this, feeling that his team depends upon him, especially with rising stars like Moonpie (John Beck) looking up to him, and he is still somewhat upset about having his wife, Ella (Maud Adams) taken away on the whim of a corporation executive. So, as the powers that be set new and increasing challenges for the Houston team in order to persuade Jonathan to leave, Jonathan seeks answers as to why they want him out of the game so badly. Of course, the answer is partly told to him by said powers, in that no one athlete is allowed to become bigger than the game itself, which makes him more determined to challenge his corporate masters.

    The film is slightly shallow in its execution, and there is a little hinting at some of the deeper meanings in the story, but the film is ultimately about a statement against violence that delivers its message through violence. Norman Jewison almost makes the film feel like a documentary or a daytime soap opera, which works well in its favour, surprisingly so. All in all, I recommend Rollerball if you like watching fights where sporting matches break out, and you're still waiting with bated breath for Slapshot to arrive on our beloved format.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The original, not-so-special release of Rollerball according to Norman Jewison was one of the early releases I reviewed here at Michael D's, and while it did impress me with its clarity, it was not what I would call reference quality today. I say this mostly because the video transfer appears to have been recycled from the original release.

    The transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

    This is not a sharp transfer in the same sense that we can expect from high-budget contemporary films. It has a slightly soft look that, while not as hazy as one would expect from a Very Hazy System tape, does betray the film's twenty-seven years at numerous points. The backgrounds of long shots in particular reveal the age of the film by being grainy and seemingly a little out of focus. The shadow detail is also distinctly average, with the preparations for the first match in particular showing little but murky, detail-stripped blacks that are more an issue with the film stocks of the mid 1970s than a transfer problem. Thankfully, this transfer does contain clean, noise-free blacks, with no actual noise spotted in any colour at any time.

    The colours in this film are rather muted and drab, giving the production a certain daytime television look that, while dating the film, also gives it a certain artistic look that suits the drab, dismal feel of the story. The transfer captures this colour scheme without displaying any smearing or composite artefacts.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticed in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some occasional wobble that may have actually been introduced by the camera mechanism, and one noticeable instance of aliasing in the forest at 97:56. Film artefacts were the greatest undoing for this transfer, with numerous black and white marks, as well as hairs and scratches appearing on the transfer with moderate frequency. Aside from the grainy backgrounds at such moments as the gunning down of the trees at 56:20, the most objectionable example of film damage in this transfer was at 100:37, where vertical lines appear in the picture to the left of James Caan's head.

    There are English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles present, and these are extremely accurate, containing maybe a dozen words of variation from the spoken dialogue in the whole film.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 13 and 14, at 46:31. This is an excellent place for the layer change, as it is in the middle of a natural fade to black, and only indicated by a barely perceptible pause in the soundtrack.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Accompanying a video transfer that looks fine in spite of betraying the film's age is an audio transfer that will not win any awards for creative sound design, but will occasionally demonstrate why one has invested such wads of cash in a Dolby Digital 5.1 system.

    There are three soundtracks included with this DVD, all of which are in English: the original dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 kilobits per second, an Audio Commentary by Norman Jewison in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding at 192 kilobits per second, and finally an Audio Commentary by William Harrison in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding at 192 kilobits per second. I listened to all of these soundtracks in their entirety.

    The dialogue is quite clear and easy to understand at all times, although the sound field does get a little muddled during the explosive sequence that ends the party. There were no obvious problems with audio sync.

    The score music in this film is credited to Andre Previn, who mainly renders versions of symphonies by Johann Sebastian Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The use of pre-existing classical music for films has been going on since the dawn of film itself, and even George Lucas once considered it for a certain saga. In Rollerball, however, it is amazingly effective, with the music giving the violent proceedings a very atmospheric, dark, and horrific feel.

    The surround channels are not worked very hard by this soundtrack, with the matches being the only time when a full soundstage is constructed. There are a number of times when the surrounds could have been used for ambience, but these go begging, and the only times when the 5.1 soundstage is really used to full effect are times like when the audience is booing at 12:41, an explosion at 59:45, and the sound of thunder in the forest at 98:35. It is somewhat disappointing that most of the soundtrack is focused upon the front channels, but not entirely surprising given the age and pedigree of the film.

    The subwoofer was also sporadically used in order to support action sequences, with the Rollerball matches containing plenty of crashes that give the sub a little to do. The aforementioned explosion at 59:45 saw the most effective use of the subwoofer, but it is not worked terribly hard by this transfer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    While this new extras package is a great deal more comprehensive than the previous release of Rollerball, there are still some things I would have liked to have seen included in the package, such as an audio commentary by the actors.

Menu

    The menu is themed around the film, with animation and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio in the main menu and scene selection menus. The menu is 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - Making Of: Return To The Arena

    This twenty-five minute and four second featurette is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with footage from the film in 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Audio Commentary - Norman Jewison (Producer/Director)

    This Dolby Digital 2.0 audio commentary is recycled from the previous release of Rollerball, and not terribly interesting in my opinion. Perhaps it is the deadpan manner in which Jewison speaks, but this is not a commentary I will be returning to.

Audio Commentary - William Harrison (Writer)

    This Dolby Digital 2.0 audio commentary has been added for the Special Edition, and is more interesting than the other commentary. This is faint praise, however, as it is still only mildly interesting, and there are frequent lengthy periods of silence.

Featurette - Original Rollerball Featurette

   This original 1975 featurette about the making of Rollerball is essentially an extended theatrical trailer. Clocking in at seven minutes and fifty-two seconds, it is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Theatrical Trailer

    This two minute and forty-eight second theatrical trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Teaser Trailer

    This fifty-five second teaser trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

TV Spots

    This submenu contains three TV Spots that were used to advertise the film, all of which are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. TV Spot 1 runs for fifty-two seconds, TV Spot 2 runs for twenty-six seconds, and TV Spot 3 runs for a mere ten seconds.

Galleries

    Two photo galleries are presented under this menu, labelled Production Design and Production Photographs. Neither of them are terribly interesting.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It appears that the same R1 release I compared the original R4 version of Rollerball to is still in circulation, with no mention on Widescreen Review of a new Special Edition in America.

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Given that the Region 1 version is still not 16x9 Enhanced, and only features a 5.0 soundtrack, the Region 4 version is a clear winner.

Summary

    Rollerball is a cult sports film that, while showing every little bit of its age, is just as relevant today as it was in 1975, perhaps even more so. Any film that has been remade as many times as this one, be it under new names like the truly pathetic Future Sport or with a new script, has got to have something going for it.

    The video transfer is good, but not great.

    The audio transfer is good, but not great.

    The extras are comprehensive.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Sunday, February 24, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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