Rollerball is a 1975 sports film that was written by William Harrison, and directed and produced by Norman Jewison. The film stars Jane Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, and Ralph Richardson. But did you know that the film was such a success that promoters wanted to buy the rights to the film?
Because of the success of Rollerball, promoters wanted to purchase the rights to the in-film sport. Norman Jewison, the film’s director, was outraged because the film was supposed to depict the sickness and insanity of contact sports.
How is Contact Sports Like the Hunger Games?
The film is similar to The Hunger Games saga in that it takes place in the distant future after the much-mentioned Corporate Wars. The interests of large corporations dictate how people live, and everyone remains complacent because they are too preoccupied with Rollerball.
It’s a complicated, violent game in which two teams on roller skates and motorcycles compete on a roulette-wheel-like course to collect a metal ball and place it in a goal. The intense, cohesive editing makes the rollerball segments exciting and brutal. They’re going to the same extreme as watching men in the NFL take concussive blows every Sunday.
James Caan plays Jonathan, a long-standing champion of this sport whose fortunes are changing. Jonathan is being pressured to retire by corporate interests led by John Houseman. They created the game to instill the value of teamwork, which aligns people with the interests of the all-powerful Energy Corporation. However, Jonathan’s legendary performance in the Rollerball arena demonstrates that greatness can be attained through individual accomplishment.
When he refuses to retire, they devise a no-penalty rule for the game, allowing players to murder one another. Their plan to simply extinguish Jonathan’s individuality is foiled when he emerges victorious on his own. (Source: Deep Focus Review)
Going Up Against the Giants
Rollerball, like many 1970s paranoid thrillers and dystopian science-fiction stories, is a metaphor for the decade’s widespread distrust of political and cultural systems. If there was a recurring theme used by New Hollywood filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, George Lucas, William Friedkin, and others during this period, it was the idea of the individual fighting an oppressive or corrupt system.
Although films ranging from Jaws to Star Wars have been interpreted primarily in political contexts, there was a more pressing example of the little guy being trampled by figures of authority for these filmmakers, the battle of the auteur against corporate interests in Hollywood.
Norman Jewison, the director of Rollerball, was fed up with Hollywood’s commercialism at the time. The studios were already regaining control from the auteur directors of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Jewison, born in Canada, saw the writing on the wall. He left Hollywood entirely to film Fiddler on the Roof in Europe and resisted returning to the United States for several years. Rollerball was also shot almost entirely in Europe before being distributed by United Artists. The film’s cynicism toward the corporate interests gradually taking over in the 1970s was precisely what Jewison wanted to make. (Source: Deep Focus Review)
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