(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
Rollerball is a 1975 science fiction film directed by Norman Jewison from the short story The Rollerball Murders by William Harrison. Harrison himself wrote the screenplay for the film.
In the film, the world of 2018 is a global corporate state, containing entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston which deals with nominally-peer corporations controlling access to all Transport, Luxury, Housing and Food on a global basis.
The film's title is the name of a violent, internationally popular sport around which the events of the film take place. It is similar to Roller Derby in that two teams clad in body armor skate on roller skates around a banked, circular track. There, however, the similarity ends. The object of the game is to score points by throwing a softball-sized metal ball into their goal, which is a cone-shaped area inset into the wall of the arena (the opposing team's goal being on the opposite side of the track). It is a full-contact sport in which players have considerable leeway to attack opposing players in order to take or maintain possession of the ball and to score points; in fact, in this overpopulated future, the object of the game in the original short story is to kill off the players. In addition, each team has three players who ride motorcycles to which teammates can latch on and be towed. The player in possession of the ball must hold it in plain view at all times.
Rollerball teams, named after the cities in which they are based, are owned by the various global corporations. Energy Corporation sponsors the Houston team. The game is a substitute for all current team sports, and for war. While its ostensible purpose is entertainment, it also serves to demonstrate a valuable lesson: the individual athletes pale in importance to the team itself (evident in the fact that only their numbers appear on their uniforms, and not their names), just as the individual is meaningless compared with the coporation-centered society, which is paramount.
The film tells the story of Jonathan E, the veteran star of the Energy Corporation's Houston team, played by James Caan. By virtue of his stellar performance over the years, Jonathan has become the most recognizable Rollerballer in history, to the point where random civilians all over the world recognize him on sight. Naturally, this is problematic for the hegemonic corporations and their Brave New World-esque "Everybody belongs to everybody else" rubric, and so, after another stellar performance in Houston's season-ending victory over Madrid, he is encouraged to retire by Energy Corporation chairman Mr. Bartholomew, played by John Houseman, being offered a nice retirement package including a televised highlight show and an incentive package featuring "privileges", the currency of the society.
The film revolves around the struggle of Jonathan to understand why he would be facing so much pressure to retire, with the incentives turning into a gradual degradation of the game itself into so much senseless violence. It is announced that the semi-final game versus Tokyo will be played with no penalties and limited player substitutions, yet Jonathan refuses to yield and plays in the game; the brutality claims the lives of several players and leaves his best friend and teammate Moonpie (played by John Beck) in a coma.
The Corporations hold an emergency meeting to discuss Jonathan's obstinate refusal to retire, and it is decided that the championship game against New York will be played without penalties or a time-limit, in a last-ditch effort to dissuade Jonathan from playing in it.
After much personal introspection, and further delving into the true nature of the Corporations that run the world, Jonathan decides he is going to play in the game despite the obvious dangers. Naturally, the final game quickly loses all semblance of order as players are crippled and killed in swift order. The crowd, raucous and energetic at the game's beginning, gradually becomes more and more subdued as the carnage builds.
In the end, Jonathan and one lone player from New York are all that are left, and after a brief and violent struggle, Jonathan gets possession of the ball, grabs the helpless New York player by the collar and prepares to fatally smite him as the crowd, both coaches and Mr. Bartholomew all watch in complete silence.
With a moment's pause, Jonathan releases his opponent, slowly gets to his feet, and painfully circles the track before throwing the ball into the goal. Some see this as showing in the end that his love of the game means more to him than even his certain demise. Others see it as his rise above the carnage and his refusal to buckle under the pressure of the Corporations. He "wins" in a game where there is to be no winner, showing that people in a mass anonymizing society will still want to believe in heroes that can rise above the crowd and triumph over the establishment.
While Mr. Bartholomew leaves in disgust, the coaches and fans of both teams start chanting "Jon-a-than!" louder and louder as Jonathan circles the track, and as the cheering reaches a crescendo, the movie cuts to a sudden end.
Governmental authority in Rollerball
In Rollerball, the rule of the global corporations is absolute, and borders on cabal status, which strictly limited access to knowledge including all knowledge of history - there were no competing belief systems such as science or religion, a form of neofeudalism. They took very special care to ensure that there were no publicly-known historical evidence of the Corporate Wars by which they had originally come to power.
Control of potential troublemakers was enhanced by the fact that Transport could control their movements, Housing could monitor their behavior, Food provided them with drugs, and Luxury could assign and re-assign their female mates at will - placing spies at very close proximity.
In the film, Jonathan opines that society lost something when it allowed the global corporations to take over all aspects of life for the benefits of safety and comfort. That something was self-determination and individualism.
Some suggest that the film was rather prophetic and criticized globalization and capitalism itself - Energy Corporation being one proposed outcome of the oil imperialism that some see presently practiced.
Differences from the short story
Game rules differences
|Roller Ball Murder
|The track is oval, with a long axis of fifty yards and a short axis of thirty yards
||The track is circular, approximately thirty yards in diameter
|Teams consist of twenty players: ten roller skaters, five motorbike riders, and five runners (or clubbers)
||Teams are eleven strong: three motorbike riders and eight skaters
|Points are scored when a team's runners manage to pass the opposing skaters, pick up a ball and pass it to one of their bikers
||Teams score by throwing or placing the ball into the opposing team's goal, a small, conical, apparently magnetic hole on the outer edge of the track
|Balls are fired by several cannons (up to four will be in play at once in one game), in the same direction players skate, with the aim of hitting and disabling players from behind. In the last two games of the story, the balls are oblong, to increase the chance of hitting players
||There is apparently only one cannon, balls are fired in the opposite direction, are always spherical, and are used for scoring points
|Games typically last two hours, with no rest periods
||Games have three periods of twenty minutes, with rest periods of an undefined length inbetween
|At the start, games with Jonathan E already have no substitutions and - in practice - no penalties. Other games, which he has heard about but not apparently seen, have no time limits or mixed sex teams
||No time limit, no penalties and no substitutions is only in place for the final game
|Rules changes are presented as being made to satisfy the global audience's demand for more blood during games
||Rules changes are made to put pressure on Jonathan E to retire
Filming locations include
- This was the first motion picture to give screen credits to stunt performers. Prior to this film, their work appeared on screen anonymously.
- Contrary to urban legend, no one was killed during the filming of this movie.
- IJK Software based its Commodore 64 game Rocketball (1985) on Rollerball.
Rollerball (1975) at The Internet Movie Database