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Details At A Glance

Category Sports Action/Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1 (non-16x9), Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating m.gif (1166 bytes) Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1975 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Norman Jewison (Director/Producer)
Running Time 119:41 Minutes  Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (62:08)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 2,4 Director Norman Jewison
UnitedArtists.gif (10720 bytes)
Fox Home Entertainment
Starring James Caan
John Houseman
Maud Adams
John Beck
Moses Gunn
Pamela Hensley
Barbara Trentham
Ralph Richardson
Shane Rimmer
Alfred Thomas
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Andre Previn

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement 16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes) Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 4.0, 256Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    When Futuresport came out on our beloved shiny discs, I was hoping that it would be only a matter of time before the film it tries so hard to be, the 1970s cult flick Rollerball, would follow suit. That time is now upon us, giving me hope that other ageing cult films I remember watching as a younger being, which the major media circus of today have done poor jobs of imitating, will make their way to digital. Such films include Tron, The Pirate Movie, and of course the ever-so-mighty Robocop. However, while I am on this subject, I just have to say that Metro Goldwyn-Mayer have certainly outdone themselves by bringing this cult B-grade sports and science fiction combo to our beloved format. The film in question is more than twenty-five years old now, and I don't remember seeing a single restoration for VHS during at least eighteen of those years, so it is nice to have another selling point for the format.

    The year is 2018, and nations no longer exist except to give names to the land masses that cover a quarter of the planet, with one great organization known as the Energy Corporation in control of almost every aspect of every life. Part of the method by which they control everyone's lives is by proxy of a rather anarchic sport known as Rollerball, and they do manage to control lives quite effectively. Jonathan E (James Caan) is the greatest, most valuable, and most loved player in the Rollerball league, and perhaps the history of the game, with a crowd of followers and fanatical fans following his every match. However, Jonathan is soon asked to announce his retirement by Bartholomew (John Houseman), in keeping with the philosophy that no one player should become greater the game. What follows is Jonathan's struggle against a society that has done him much wrong, by proxy of the same sport that the society in question set up to keep the laymen in a docile state. Not one to let things rest without being made to understand them, Jonathan asks an old friend by the name of Cletus (Moses Gunn) to investigate the reason why the Energy Corporation wants him out of the public eye.

    If you think I consider this film to be somewhat ordinary and indistinct, then you're probably right, because I still feel there are some things which should be left in ages past. This film, of course, only just borders on not being one of them. Obviously, not every film produced in America can be a great masterpiece, but that doesn't make them any less a manner by which to occupy a couple of hours. As long as you aren't expecting a similar film to The Godfather (which James Caan starred in as Santino Corleone a couple of years earlier), you won't be terribly disappointed. Everything about this film screams that it was independently produced, came and went by itself, and has only sort of enjoyed a small following since, but Caan lifts the show out of the ordinary with yet another powerful performance in a career dotted by them. This is a piece of cinematic history, and one that should be in the home of every respectable film buff to serve as a relic to the days when films that were originally produced independently still had some substance to them.

Transfer Quality


    In a nutshell, this film is twenty-five years old and looks it, although I doubt we are ever going to see this film look any better due to the conditions under which it was shot. Overall, however, this presentation is miles ahead of the other formats I have seen pieces of this film on, especially the late-night television broadcast I sat in front of for a scene or two some years ago, where chroma noise became the order of the day. The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, complete with 16x9 enhancement, and I would just like to say that I really hope MGM continue to issue films of this ratio in their proper format rather than narrowing them just to fill up a 16x9 screen. The transfer is moderately sharp, being somewhere between a VHS tape and a master of a Days Of Our Lives episode. Shadow detail is reasonable for a film of this age, although there are very few parts of the overall film that have a great reliance upon it. Low-level noise was a mild to moderate problem through most of the transfer, reflecting the most likely scenario that even the original negatives are not exactly in a presentable condition anymore.

    The colour saturation is the biggest giveaway to this film's age, with all colours looking absolutely deadpan and flat, as if the camera had somehow sucked all of the life out of them. As I mentioned earlier, a comparison to daytime television shows such as Days Of Our Lives often springs to mind, with reds and yellows being somehow dull and yet overemphasized at the same time. Much of the action takes place in areas where these particular hues are prominent in the decor, much like the generally tasteless decor that still dominates government buildings that were constructed in the same era as the film was made.

    MPEG artefacts were not present in the transfer, with the bitrate of the transfer being nice and high to accommodate the needs of the sometimes quite dirty-looking image. Film-to-video artefacts were mostly absent, with only the occasional hint of aliasing here and there on chrome objects that will probably escape most people's notice. Telecine wobble was noticed at a couple of points, but it was a mild and slow wobble that was more likely introduced by an imperfect camera mechanism than any problem with the transfer process. Film artefacts were the real weak point of the transfer, with black and white spots appearing quite often in generous amounts in various points of the film, as well as the occasional scratch or black line on the picture. This reinforces the belief that this transfer has been taken from a less-than-ideal generation source, in spite of the fact that the MPEG encoding and film-to-video transfer has been handled remarkably well.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change occurring between Chapter 16 and 17, at 62:08. The only way I could figure out its location was to listen to the audio commentary, which reflects the nice job that has been done of hiding it.


    Thankfully, the audio transfer shows more evidence of having had some serious restoration work, which is certainly more encouraging when you consider that the film was originally presented in stereo. A variety of languages and soundtracks are presented on this disc: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, and dubs in German, French, Spanish, Italian, all of which are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 except for the French soundtrack, which has been presented in the unusual format of Dolby Digital 4.0. An English audio commentary, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, rounds out the selection of soundtracks available on this disc. I listened to the English, German, and Spanish soundtracks, as well as sampling some of James Caan's lines in Italian, and of course the audio commentary by director Norman Jewison.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times, although this is mostly because the other sounds are not given a great deal of priority within the mix. There were moments when one had to strain to hear it over the sound of the sport being played, but these were relatively slight and not particularly detracting from the film. Some of James Caan's lines are affected by a mild tendency to mutter, and the impressive depth of his voice, but this only becomes apparent for a word or two here and there. Audio sync was never a problem, although the Japanese actors that appear in the middle of the film sounded a little like they were a few seconds behind their speech. A pop is present in the soundtrack at 116:47, just as the film ends and the credits begin.

    The music found in this film is credited to Andre Previn, but features little that make it distinctive. Of the total running time, only about a quarter seemed to have any noticeable scoring, which sounded as if it were borrowed from pre-existing compositions anyway. The only parts of the score that did make themselves known to the ear were Bach compositions, as a matter of fact. The score was not nearly as effective in building the mood of the film as the incessant chanting of the crowds, or the general tone of the dialogue.

    The surround presence was reasonable, but nothing particularly spectacular, with much of the dialogue and action coming from the front channels. Occasionally, the sound of cheering or crashes would be redirected into the rears, but they mostly sat around and twiddled their thumbs. The music was blasted out of the front speakers, causing a front-heavy feel to the soundtrack. The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting the sounds of music, impacts, and general bass-heavy behaviour.



    The menu is themed around the film, with ancient-looking graphics setting off the 1970s technophonic feel of the film quite nicely.

Theatrical Trailer

    Clocking in at two minutes and forty-five seconds, this is a rather interesting trailer that demonstrates how many film artefacts you can get into one second.

Commentary - Norman Jewison (Director/Producer)

    If there is one law I would like to bring into effect soon, it is that people who commentate about films should not be allowed to speak through their nose. Norman speaks endlessly about various aspects of the film's production, but his voice is rather irritating at times due to its tone and the constant ahhing and pausing. This is not the worst commentary I have ever heard, but it doesn't escape that dubious honour by much.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     There is nothing on either version that would lead me to recommend one over the other, especially given that both versions appear to have been taken from equally dirty-looking source materials.


    Rollerball is what you get if you mix equal parts Slapshot and slapstick, presented on a reasonable DVD.

    The video quality is slightly above average, overall.

    The audio quality is ordinary.

    The extras are ordinary.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
May 30, 2000. 
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer