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Rated R
Copyright 1975 United Artists Corporation
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 19 March 2003

The Characters:  

  • Jonathan - James Caan! The greatest rollerball player who has ever lived. Not that many of them do make it until retirement, because the game is structured to kill the best players. Which is sort of the point.
  • Moonpie - A good player who knows how to use gravity to his advantage. Turned into a vegetable.
  • Cletus - Executive and Jonathan's trainer. Muses about "the old days" when the Nothing was their only enemy.
  • Ella - She is Jonathan's ex-wife. They were separated when a company executive wanted her.
  • Daphne & Mackie - Toys.
  • Rusty - Coach for the Houston team. Has an attribute that all good coaches possess: profuse facial sweat.
  • Bartholomew - Apparently the head honcho of the Energy Company, though Food might have been more appropriate (he hates saturated fats).

Buy It!

The Plot: 

There is a good reason that Abraham Lincoln did not say, "...government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the people." Firstly, a corporation is little more than a legal entity empowered to make money. That it could ever have the same rights as a human being (whether or not you believe in the soul) is impossible. Secondly, by its nature, a corporation allows for unethical activity to go unpunished. We are scrambling to ensure people are held accountable for what they do in the company's name. It is still easier to say that Microsoft is an immoral monopoly, rather than point fingers at specific individuals (I would not want to be Bill at the Pearly Gates). The previous is inspired by the fact that "Rollerball" takes place in a world where corporations have replaced government. It is a bad, awful thing. The Bill of Rights states that human beings are not granted freedoms, but instead have them by default. Needless to say, a company rewards program is not the same.

Okay, stop panicking. I am off the soapbox and going to review a movie about a violent, fictitious sport. Guess what though? My little rant is germane to the film.

"Rollerball" is a game involving a round track, roller skates, motorcycles, and a polished shot (as in a large metal ball). The mechanics are fairly simple. The ball is fired along a track and picked up by a catcher, it then must be placed into the goal. I think the possessing team might be required to make at least one lap before attempting to score, but cannot be certain. Striking each other is allowed, but extremely violent attacks are punished with three minutes in the penalty box. Take some big guys, add spiked gauntlets, bikes, speed, and a heavy ball. What you get is the recipe for serious injury.

The first game we watch does a good job of conveying all this. It also establishes Jonathan as the sport's hero. He plays fairly and is the object of adulation for rollerball fans the world over. Therefore, Jonathan is surprised when retirement is suggested by Bartholomew. More than suggested, he is told to retire from the sport. An upcoming television special, documenting the player's career, has been selected as the perfect time for him to announce his retirement. The coercion does not sit very well with Jonathan; he is told to take some time and think about it.

The executives running the world want Jonathan to leave the sport for a single reason: he is a hero. By surviving and rising above the other players, he has become more important than the game itself. That cannot be allowed. The workers must see the futility of individual glory. The executive heads want players to die, as evidenced by rollerball's lack of a farm league.

Several scenes are included to display some of the shocking changes in society. Women are little more than rewards given to successful managers (or good rollerball players). The casual use of a powerful narcotic is widespread, apparently overlooked as a harmless evil. Lastly, books are a thing of the past. All of the world's knowledge is stored on computers and the company decides what should be available for retrieval.

Hunkering down like a poked toad, Jonathan refuses to read the retirement announcement that was prepared for him. The situation causes no small amount of grief for Bartholomew, especially when a large party (for company bigwigs) is hosted to enjoy the television special. As the entertainment winds down, some disillusioned guests took to blasting trees with a handgun. It did not shoot lead. Heck, I do not know what it fired. I just know that the trees burst into flame.

The rebellious captain of the Houston team insists on going to Tokyo for the playoff game. The company, determined as ever to rid themselves of Jonathan, changes the rules. The game is played without penalties and the situation quickly gets out of hand. Large numbers of players are hurt or killed, including Moonpie. His attack was little more than an execution. Knocked senseless, the big American (oops, archaic term in this movie) is held by two Tokyo players while a third punches him in the base of the skull. Jonathan survives the game and his team wins, but Moonpie will spend the rest of his days hooked to a respirator and pooping into a bag.

Resolving to go to Geneva (the world's last library, where all the books are kept) and find some answers, Jonathan only finds more evidence that the world is all wrong. The head librarian is madder than a hatter and the computer is also twisted. Somehow they lost the entire 13th Century! I could make all sorts of Google jokes, but the computer's architecture is probably to blame. The darn thing is filled with ginger ale.

Back at home, the rollerball legend has a surprise waiting for him: Ella. After a short return to the good old days, he finds out why she really came back. Ella does not love Jonathan, but she does what the company tells her to. Understandably, this makes him a little angry. It is safe to say that Jonathan is done pining for the b***h.

The last game of the season is against New York. The rules are changed again, because now the game will be played with no time limit. A score to reach is never given either, so it should be obvious that we are watching modern Roman gladiators. The track becomes the site of unrestricted warfare; Jonathan even maims (possibly kills) one New York player directly in front of the executive box. Bartholomew gets the message. The end of the movie has our hero, bloodied and torn, but still standing. He skates around a track littered with bodies. There is silence, then the rising chant of the crowd.

"Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, JONATHAN, JONATHAN! JONATHAN! JONATHAN!"


A group of us wanted to review "Rollerball" and some of its children - even the illegitimate ones. I lucked out and drew the original. Here are the other reviews for Rollerball-A-Thon:
Scifilm: Rollerball (2002)
Cold Fusion Video Reviews: The New Gladiators
Jabootu: Deathsport

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • If the referee did not see it, then it did not happen.
  • White t-shirts will become extinct in the near future.
  • Given the right locale, washing windows could be a lucrative business.
  • There is no use in arguing with someone who is not a librarian.
  • Narcotics, spurned women, and melta-guns do not mix.
  • A skater can outrun a motorcycle.
  • Keeping your mind out of the gutter can be a matter of life and death.
  • Plants do not dream.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 5 mins - A small step down from the majesty of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
  • 20 mins - OSHA is obviously a thing of the past.
  • 25 mins - Just a smidgen of symbolism is tied to that handkerchief.
  • 39 mins - Is he drinking orange Hi-C?
  • 53 mins - The only reason that pickup line worked is that you are a professional athlete and this is a movie.
  • 69 mins - Hopefully, that woman really is a woman.
  • 87 mins - I do not think that he is going to sign the paper.


  • Bartholomew: "Specifically, you're bargaining for the right to stay in a horrible social spectacle. It has its purposes. You've served those purposes brilliantly."
  • Ella: "The whole history of civilization's a struggle against poverty and need."
    Jonathan: "No, no - that's not it. That's never been it! I mean, them privileges just buy us off."

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note rollerball1.wav Announcer: "Now, the crowd cheers once again as this Houston audience greets its team, led by the storied athlete Jonathan E."
Green Music Note rollerball2.wav Moonpie: "So, we got two games left. Guess who we play first: Tokyo. Who'd have thought they'd make it to the playoffs."
Jonathan: "They're good. They got the old samurai spirit."
Moonpie: "Yeah, but they're only about this tall."
Green Music Note rollerball3.wav Bartholomew: "You know what those executives dream about, out there, behind their desks? They dream they're great rollerballers. They dream they're Jonathan. They have muscles. They bash in faces!"
Green Music Note rollerball4.wav Cletus: "Yeah, things were much simpler when I was a kid. We still had three nations. That was before the corporate wars, even before rollerball. Before everything."
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Cliprollerball1.mpg - 2.4m
Houston versus Tokyo, in Tokyo. Jonathan shows off his mastery of the sport by stealing the ball and then smashing an enemy motorcyclist to make the goal. However, notice that somebody says, "Look out!" at one point. The voice sounds suspiciously like the announcer.

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