Rollerball (1975)

R | 123 or 128 mins | Science fiction, Drama | July 1975

Director:

Norman Jewison

Producer:

Norman Jewison

Cinematographer:

Douglas Slocombe

Editor:

Antony Gibbs

Production Designer:

John Box

Production Company:

Algonquin Films Ltd.
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HISTORY

According to a 21 Aug 1974 Var article, Rollerball was adapted by college professor William Harrison from his own short story, “The Rollerball Murders,” set in 2018. In the article, Harrison stated that although he had never written a screenplay, he made the attempt upon the urging of director Norman Jewison with whom he shared an agent. Harrison credits Jewison for developing the specifics of the Rollerball game, which he had referred to in only vague terms in his story. The article stated that Jewison and his staff combined elements of roller derby, hockey, football, motorcycle racing and judo together into a game for teams of ten players consisting of three bikers, five skaters and two fielders who catch the ball fired by a cannon. Harrison also credited Jewison for devising the spiked leather gloves worn by the players. The author indicates that James Caan was his first choice for the role of “Jonathan E.” In a 14 Nov 1974 DV news item, Army Archerd reported that during filming of Rollerball in Munich, West Germany, several stuntmen suffered severe injuries.
       As noted in a 25 Jun 1975 DV article, on the eve of Rollerball ’s release, Jewison expressed concern the film’s depiction of violence would be misinterpreted by audiences. “I hope people don’t get caught up in the violence…and miss the comment the film is making.” A 30 Jun 1975 Box article notes that during promotional screenings of Rollerball , Jewison expressed dismay with the MPAA R-rating given the film, stating that “I think its ... More Less

According to a 21 Aug 1974 Var article, Rollerball was adapted by college professor William Harrison from his own short story, “The Rollerball Murders,” set in 2018. In the article, Harrison stated that although he had never written a screenplay, he made the attempt upon the urging of director Norman Jewison with whom he shared an agent. Harrison credits Jewison for developing the specifics of the Rollerball game, which he had referred to in only vague terms in his story. The article stated that Jewison and his staff combined elements of roller derby, hockey, football, motorcycle racing and judo together into a game for teams of ten players consisting of three bikers, five skaters and two fielders who catch the ball fired by a cannon. Harrison also credited Jewison for devising the spiked leather gloves worn by the players. The author indicates that James Caan was his first choice for the role of “Jonathan E.” In a 14 Nov 1974 DV news item, Army Archerd reported that during filming of Rollerball in Munich, West Germany, several stuntmen suffered severe injuries.
       As noted in a 25 Jun 1975 DV article, on the eve of Rollerball ’s release, Jewison expressed concern the film’s depiction of violence would be misinterpreted by audiences. “I hope people don’t get caught up in the violence…and miss the comment the film is making.” A 30 Jun 1975 Box article notes that during promotional screenings of Rollerball , Jewison expressed dismay with the MPAA R-rating given the film, stating that “I think its important for youngsters to see it freely.” A 14 Jul 1975 HR item noted that the Code and Rating Appeals Board had sustained the R-rating which had been appealed by United Artists. A 17 Aug 1974 LAT article in response to the film revealed that, although it had done good box office business, the majority of critics for major industry publications had been negative. Although DV ’s critic said the film “packs an emotional and intellectual wallop,” and HR found it “the most original, and imaginative and technically proficient peek into our future since 2001: A Space Odyssey ,” the NYT ’s critic called it “elaborate and very silly.” The New Yorker critic wrote that Rollerball was “as purblind as any film dealing in augury that I have ever seen.” In New York magazine, the critic concluded that “the imagination, the passionate outrage at the future vision –- indeed, the vision itself –- are sadly lacking.” In addition, most of the critics responded negatively to the uniform beauty and soullessness of the few female characters in the film, which they found at variance with their depiction in the short story.
       According to Rollerball end credits, in addition to filming in West Germany, some scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London. In 2002, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a remake which bears the same title. The remake was directed by John McTiernan and starred Chris Klein as "Jonathan E." More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
30 Jun 1975.
---
Box Office
1 Sep 1975.
---
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1974.
---
Daily Variety
14 Nov 1974.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1975
p. 3, 16.
Daily Variety
25 Jun 1975
p. 6.
Daily Variety
25 Aug 2000
p. 8, 28.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 1974
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 1974
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jun 1975
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1975
Section IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
17 Aug 1975
Calendar, p. 1, 32.
New York Times
26 Jun 1975
p. 34.
New York Times
13 Jul 1975.
---
New Yorker
7 Jul 1975.
---
Variety
21 Aug 1974.
---
Variety
25 Jun 1975
p. 23.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const mgr
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Mr. Caan's ward des by
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus cond
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd re-rec
Dubbing ed
Dubbing ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Multivision seq
MAKEUP
Hair consultant
PRODUCTION MISC
Supv prod mgr
Casting
London casting
Munich casting
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
Prod accountant
Prod asst
Skating supv
Secy to prod
Track architect
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the story "The Rollerball Murders" by William Harrison in Esquire (TBA 1973).
MUSIC
"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach
"Adagio" by Tomaso Albinoni-Giazotto. Ricordi & Company (London)Limited on its own behalf and behalf of G. Ricordi & C.s.p.s. of 2, Via Berchet, 20121 Milan, Italy.
DETAILS
Release Date:
July 1975
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 25 June 1975
Production Date:
29 July--late November 1974 in Munich, West Germany and Pinewood Studios, London
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
10 June 1975
Copyright Number:
LP44923
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
123 or 128
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24244
SYNOPSIS

In the early twenty-first century, world strife and warfare have been eliminated after corporate wars divide the world into major company holdings. The population’s needs and wants have all been satisfied by corporations which are run by the executive class who make decisions for the overall common good. In order to entertain the public, corporations form an exciting, physically grueling global competition known as Rollerball, made up of teams of roller skaters and motorcyclists who compete on indoor angled tracks, and score by placing a heavy steel ball into a small, magnetic goal. Houston is home to the defending world champion team sponsored by Energy Corp, and which features its superstar captain, Jonathan Evans, known to the world through multi-vision television broadcasts, as Jonathan E. After a particular vigorous and brutal play-off game between Houston and Madrid which Houston wins after Jonathan scores three goals, Energy Corp’s chief executive, Bartholomew congratulates the team in their locker room. Directing ample praise toward Jonathan, Bartholomew adds that multi-vision will produce a special television broadcast devoted to Jonathan. The next day, per Bartholomew’s invitation, Jonathan visits the chief executive at Energy Corp headquarters, where to his amazement, Bartholomew informs him that the corporation wants him to retire. Stunned, Jonathan protests that despite playing ten years his team still needs him, but Bartholomew suggests that change is inevitable. When Jonathan remains bewildered, Bartholomew reminds him of all the creature comforts the corporation has provided him for leading Houston to many winning seasons. Jonathan points out that he has always fulfilled the corporation’s demands, including surrendering his wife Ella to an ... +


In the early twenty-first century, world strife and warfare have been eliminated after corporate wars divide the world into major company holdings. The population’s needs and wants have all been satisfied by corporations which are run by the executive class who make decisions for the overall common good. In order to entertain the public, corporations form an exciting, physically grueling global competition known as Rollerball, made up of teams of roller skaters and motorcyclists who compete on indoor angled tracks, and score by placing a heavy steel ball into a small, magnetic goal. Houston is home to the defending world champion team sponsored by Energy Corp, and which features its superstar captain, Jonathan Evans, known to the world through multi-vision television broadcasts, as Jonathan E. After a particular vigorous and brutal play-off game between Houston and Madrid which Houston wins after Jonathan scores three goals, Energy Corp’s chief executive, Bartholomew congratulates the team in their locker room. Directing ample praise toward Jonathan, Bartholomew adds that multi-vision will produce a special television broadcast devoted to Jonathan. The next day, per Bartholomew’s invitation, Jonathan visits the chief executive at Energy Corp headquarters, where to his amazement, Bartholomew informs him that the corporation wants him to retire. Stunned, Jonathan protests that despite playing ten years his team still needs him, but Bartholomew suggests that change is inevitable. When Jonathan remains bewildered, Bartholomew reminds him of all the creature comforts the corporation has provided him for leading Houston to many winning seasons. Jonathan points out that he has always fulfilled the corporation’s demands, including surrendering his wife Ella to an executive who wanted her, but Bartholomew dismisses this. Frustrated by Jonathan’s continued hesitation, Bartholomew advises him to return to his private ranch and consider his situation. Flown by a company helicopter to his ranch, Jonathan arrives to find that Mackie, his girlfriend of six months, has been ordered by the corporation to leave him. Upset because Jonathan prefers to spend time with his personal trainer, Cletus, rather than with her on their final evening, Mackie departs. Jonathan relays his uncertainties about the retirement order to Cletus and asks his friend to see if he can find out why the corporation has demanded it. Despite the meeting with Bartholomew, Jonathan attends practice as usual for the upcoming semifinal game against Tokyo. Afterward, Jonathan and his teammate and best friend, Moonpie, visit a library where Jonathan has ordered several books. A clerk tells Jonathan, however, that all books have been restricted as they are being summarized by the central computer in the central library located in Geneva. Puzzled, Moonpie expresses amazement that Jonathan would want to read anything for himself when he could easily hire a corporate teacher to answer his questions, but Jonathan admits that he wants explanations to things the corporation would likely not tell him. Back at his ranch, Jonathan is watching videos of himself with his former wife, Ella, when Mackie's replacement, Daphne, arrives. At the next Houston practice, team trainer Rusty announces new rules of no penalties and limited substitution of players which will be in effect for the Tokyo game. Later, Rusty brusquely tells Jonathan that his personal desires have no significance and he should do as the corporation asks. Soon after, Daphne accompanies Jonathan to the recording of the multi-vision special, which will be broadcast worldwide. Jonathan balks, however, when he is presented with a script announcing his retirement. Despite the producer and Daphne’s protests, Jonathan leaves the studio without making the recording. At the party to view Jonathan’s multi-vision special, Jonathan meets privately with Cletus who has learned that unknown members of the executive directorate are responsible for demanding Jonathan’s retirement and are angered by his refusal to record his retirement announcement. Cletus also reveals that, inexplicably, the directorate appears to be afraid of Jonathan. The special airs at the height of the party and at dawn, Jonathan meets Bartholomew while other party guests, under the influence of various pleasure drugs, wander outside to playfully destroy trees with a fire gun. Bartholomew patiently explains to Jonathan that Rollerball was designed so that no one man could become bigger than the game itself. Jonathan then demands compensation should he accept retirement, specifically, to see Ella again. When Bartholomew insists that Jonathan must obey the corporate order, Jonathan says the corporation cannot stop him and, before departing, turns on the video player of his special depicting hundreds of thousands of fans chanting his name. At the ranch, when Daphne insists that she must accompany Jonathan to Tokyo, he accuses her of being a corporate spy and departs without her. In Tokyo, the semi-final game rule changes prompt an excessively brutal game. After Moonpie purposely injures several Tokyo players, they gang up and beat him. Seeing the severity of his friend’s injuries, Jonathan attacks and kills the Tokyo team leader as the crowd cheers enthusiastically. After Houston wins, Jonathan visits Moonpie in the hospital only to learn that his friend is brain dead. Refusing to sign the euthanization authorization, Jonathan instead arranges to transfer Moonpie back to Houston, before he proceeds to Geneva. Meanwhile, Bartholomew, in a teleconference with the directorate, requests they vote on his proposal to eliminate all rules from the Rollerball championship. After Bartholomew explains that the games were created to display the futility of individual effort and that anyone who threatens that idea, such as Jonathan, must lose, all five members vote in agreement. In Geneva, at the central library, Jonathan is taken by the Librarian to the central computer or the “world’s brain,” Zero. Despite the Librarian assuring Jonathan he can ask whatever he wants, when Jonathan asks Zero how corporate decisions are made and by whom, the computer initially refuses to respond, then replies with prescribed definitions of corporations, then resorts to repeating “negative.” Disappointed, Jonathan returns to his ranch to find Ella awaiting him. After some initial shyness, Jonathan asks Ella about her current life and admits that he misses her. Later the couple takes a horseback ride, but Jonathan rejects Ella’s declaration that the corporation provides more than it takes from individuals. That afternoon after the couple has sex, they walk in the woods and Jonathan wonders about the time when people had a choice between comfort and freedom and again rejects Ella’s notion that comfort is freedom. When Jonathan confides that the corporation wants him to quit Rollerball, he is distressed when Ella not only urges him to do so but admits that they sent her to try and persuade him. Disappointed and angered, Jonathan returns to the house where he erases all of the home videos of his and Ella’s married life. Before departing for New York and the championship, Jonathan visits Moonpie in a private sanitarium and acknowledges that he may die in the final game. At the championships, Jonathan foregoes the usual team pep-talk and enters the track alone where the crowd immediately begins chanting his name. Learning that there will be no penalties, no substitution of players and no time limit, the teams hurl themselves against one another in a vicious, combative competition. As the players begin to fall with grave and mortal injuries, a medic is also attacked prompting Cletus to protest, but Rusty tells him that Rollerball was never meant to be just a “game.” Finally, with the game scoreless and only Jonathan left standing for Houston, the surviving New York biker and rollerskater plot their attack on him. Jonathan kills the skater but when he knocks the biker off his cycle and is about to pummel him with the heavy steel ball, he stops and instead rams the ball through the goal as the crowd watches in stunned silence. As Bartholomew looks on in outrage that the corporation has been bested, the crowd begins chanting Jonathan’s name, first in a whisper, then in a growing roar. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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