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John McTiernan
Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Oleg Taktarov
William Harrison

Get In The Game.
Box Office:
Budget $70 million.
Opening weekend $9.013 million on 2762 screens.
Domestic gross $18.979 million.
Rated R for violence, nudity and some language.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 6/18/2002

• Audio Commentary with Actors Chris Klein, LL Cool J, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
• “The Stunts of Rollerball” Featurette
• Interactive Rollerball Yearbook
• Rob Zombie Music Video
• Trailers


Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Rollerball (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Sometimes when a movie gets its release date substantially delayed, it doesn’t necessarily bode ill. Occasionally this occurs because the studio likes what they see and they want to place the film in a more favorable position. However, it usually happens due to problems on the set that mean the movie won’t be ready on time.

That sounds bad, and it often is, but again, some movies break the rule. The greatest example of all-time happened in 1997. Titanic offered the very model of a flop in the making. It ran over-budget and over-schedule, which forced the studio to delay its release from the summer to the winter. Pundits predicted doom, but $600 million and sdaj Oscars later, few remember those predictions.

However, Titanic was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Typically, when movies get delayed, the result more closely matches that of Rollerball, the remake of the 1975 James Caan vehicle. Originally, Rollerball was supposed to hit screens in the summer of 2001. However, that didn’t occur, and the movie didn’t see the light of day until about six months later. It eventually emerged in February 2002, when it received dismal reviews and made a paltry $18 million at the box office; with a budget of $70 million, that was horrible.

It deserved both of those. I never saw the original Rollerball, but by default, it must be better than this clunker. Rollerball 2002 seems silly and obnoxious, and it provides extremely little entertainment.

Set in an indefinite - but near - future, Rollerball follows the exploits of young hockey star Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein). He quits the NHL team that signed him because he didn’t agree with the coach, and now he scrapes for money via “extreme sports” bets; the opening scene shows him as he skate-luges through the traffic-filled hills of San Francisco.

Buddy Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) literally grabs Jonathan off the street and tries to entice him to join his rollerball team. The growing sport is popular in Asia, where its rambunctious violence suffers from little to no regulation. Jonathan initially declines, but when he finds the authorities at his door, he bolts and goes for the cash.

The movie then jumps forward a few months and we find that Jonathan quickly earned huge success as a member of the Horsemen. The film shows an extended example of a rollerball game, and we watch as viewers react positively to its extreme violence. One teammember loses his helmet and gets bashed in the head with the metal ball; the bloody results shoot ratings through the roof.

Of course, the powers-that-be - led by Horsemen owner Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) - orchestrated this action, but Jonathan doesn’t know this, so when he discovers that the chinstrap on his teammate’s helmet was cut, he reports it to the boss. Slowly, Jonathan starts to realize that the league honchos will escalate the violence to gain better ratings, and he tries to get away with Ridley and his teammate/surreptitious girlfriend Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). Of course, Petrovich opposes this; it’ll hurt the team and also the league if their dirty secrets air. Much of the movie follows the squad’s attempts to escape and the repercussions of their actions.

Too bad nothing exciting, intriguing or compelling occurs along the way. Rollerball virtually defines the concept of an “all style, no substance” movie. Oh, director John McTiernan wants to make a point. Clearly the movie tries to comment on the rampant influence of corporate dollars on entertainment and the way that parties will cater to the lowest common denominator to make a buck.

Unfortunately, a few problems occur. For one, this isn’t exactly a new theme. We’ve seen similar takes at least as far back as 1976’s Network, and Spike Lee’s recent Bamboozled also offered a view of the subject. Both were radically more intelligent and coherent than Rollerball, a mess of an action flick that caters to the very audience it seems to condemn.

We know that McTiernan can direct. Hey, the guy made the first Die Hard; that alone guarantees him a place in the action flick hall of fame. However, you’ll see none of that talent on display in the abysmal Rollerball. Instead, the movie feels like one big music video. It cuts together almost random action in such a way that it seems like they just took bits and pieces and threw them into one big “edit-o-matic”.

Of course, this comes along with the de rigueur aggro hip-hop influenced music that will badly date the movie very soon, and it also provides some of the most nonsensical bits I’ve seen in a while. During a game, the announcer fully explains the rules of the game. I understand this occurred to let the movie audience comprehend the action, but it makes no sense logically. Think about it: when you tune in a baseball game, do you ever hear the commentators tell us the basic rules? Nope.

I also found it amusing when the ratings immediately spike after very violent incidents. Where’d all those viewers come from so quickly? How’d they know that something nasty and provocative just happened? What, did all their friends rapidly dash to the phone to tell them? In real life, ratings might jump significantly during the next game, but there’s no way they could skyrocket so immediately.

All of this stupidity could seem more forgivable if the flick itself offered anything even remotely fun or lively. Unfortunately, Rollerball is just a mess, and an uninteresting one at that. The movie tries desperately to dazzle us with flashy editing and loud sound, but it all goes nowhere. Rollerball totally fails to deliver anything even remotely entertaining.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio A- / Bonus C+

Rollerball appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Only a few small problems appeared to slightly mar this otherwise excellent presentation.

Except for one special case that I’ll discuss at the end of this section, sharpness seemed solid. The movie always looked nicely crisp and distinct, with virtually no instances of softness on display. I detected no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also noticed no examples of edge enhancement. Other than that certain exception I’ll cover, the image remained mainly free of print flaws. Some small specks and grit popped up during the second half of the film, but those were infrequently and minor. Most of the flick came across as clean and fresh.

Colors appeared quite vibrant. The movie exhibited a bright and varied palette that made sense within its flashy world, and the DVD replicated all of these hues well. The tones looked clear and vibrant at all times. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow details was appropriately heavy. Low-light sequences never came across as overly dense or dark.

In regard to that notable exception to the standard picture quality, at one point in the movie, the image switched totally to green-tinted “night vision” photography. From what I understand, this wasn’t just an effect; the material apparently was shot in the dark with this special equipment. Because of that, the picture looked tremendously grainy during those sequences, and it also seemed somewhat soft and fuzzy. Clearly these issues resulted from the photographic process, so I didn’t regard them as flaws. Nonetheless, I thought I should at least mention this extreme variation in quality that affected a major portion of the film.

Don’t expect any erratic qualities for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Rollerball, however, as it offered a consistently terrific affair. For an aggressive film, I expect an aggressive mix, and Rollerball delivered. If anything, the track might be too active; it seemed like the filmmakers tried to use the sound to disguise the movie’s inherent emptiness. In any case, the track used all five channels frequently through the flick. Audio seemed appropriately localized and the elements blended together smoothly. Panning also was clean and accurate. Not surprisingly, the rollerball games offered the strongest aspects of the track, as those events actively popped up from all around the spectrum. Material came from all around, as the track used the surrounds as an active and engaging partner.

Audio quality seemed solid. Some dialogue suffered slightly from obvious dubbing, but most of the time lines appeared natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was bright and vivid, as the score and songs exhibited good dynamics and clarity. Effects also seemed clean and accurate, and they packed a serious punch when appropriate. The track featured loud, taut bass. Overall, this was a very good example of a state-of-the-art modern soundtrack.

For this special edition release of Rollerball, we find a moderate package of extras. First off, the version of the film seen here is not the one presented theatrically. Instead, we get an R-Rated Cut of Rollerball. Apparently the theatrical version ran 95 minutes, while this one lasts 98 minutes. (The DVD case states it goes for 100 minutes, but that’s incorrect, at least according to the running time display on my player.) Since I never saw the film in theaters, I can’t really comment on the differences, but I understand that the R-rated version includes more blood and some extra nude shots of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. The latter sounded good to me, but frankly, you really don’t get to see much.

Speaking of Romijn-Stamos, she also shows up for the DVD’s audio commentary. Dubbed the “Horsemen” commentary, it includes the actress along with fellow “teammates” Chris Klein and LL Cool J. Romijn-Stamos and Klein were recorded together, while Cool J was taped separately and his remarks were edited into the piece. All three clearly watched the film as they spoke, so the track takes on a fairly screen-specific tenor.

Unfortunately, like the movie it discusses, this is a pretty weak commentary. For one, it suffers from quite a few empty spaces. With three participants, I’d think it’d offer a pretty non-stop discussion, but that’s not the case, as far too many blank spots occur.

Even when the actors speak, they don’t say much. Actually, Klein and Romijn-Stamos prove moderately entertaining at times. They mainly cover the stunts and they provide a nicely self-deprecatory tone as they freely admit all the work they didn’t do. Klein dominates these moments and seems cheerful and fun, even though neither he nor Romijn-Stamos tell us much of substance.

Nonetheless, their moments seem like a film school seminar compared to Cool J’s. He literally gives us almost no actual information about the making of the movie. Mainly he just tells us how cool everything - the movie, the cast, the director, etc. - is. This leads to fascinating remarks like “This movie is cool!” and “That’s cool!” To throw us a curveball, occasionally Cool J will discuss the heat related to various elements, like “That car is hot!” If we just heard from Klein and Romijn-Stamos, the commentary would have been decent, but the periodic inanities from Cool J make this a poor track.

More compelling is Future Sport: The Stunts of Rollerball. This 20-minute and 53-second program covers that element of the production via the usual mix of film clips, behind the scenes material, and interviews with participants. In the latter category, we hear from Tony Meibock of K2 Skates, Olympic Oval Trainer Andrew Barron, stunt coordinators Jamie Jones and Gary Davis, visual effects supervisor John Sullivan, stunt doubles Melissa Stubbs and Brennan Dyson, extreme skater Eitan Kramer, motorcycle stuntperson Mouse McCoy, and actors Klein, Cool J, Romijn-Stamos, Mike Dopud, Lucia Rijker, and Andrew Bryniarski.

Overall, this offers a pretty good look at the movie’s stunts and practical effects. It benefits from a liberal helping of interesting behind the scenes material. Those elements add the best parts of the show, as they bring a nice sense of reality to the proceedings. In addition, the participants neatly cover the subjects, and the program seems generally compelling and useful.

Less positive is the Rollerball Yearbook. I thought this might be a more general look at the production, but instead it provides fairly bland information about the movie’s fictional characters and the game itself. “Teams” splits into four different groups: Horsemen, Hawks, Golden Horde and Marauders. Within each you find brief text about the team plus a “highlight reel”.

”Players” divides into “Heavy Hitters” and “Petrovich’s Players”. Within the former, you’ll see short biographies and highlight reels for Aurora, Jonathan, Ridley, Halloran, and La Guillotine. The other area simply lists 12 other players; it doesn’t provide any information about them.

”Game Gear” shows pictures and notes about that topic. We see “Helmets and Pads”, “Vehicles”, and “The Ball”. The first area runs 23 screens, while the second offers eight frames and the last one’s simply a single image. In “Roller Dome”, the materials emulate “The Ball”; five of the six subjects cover only one screen. These include “The Pit”, “Locker Rooms”, “Betting Booths”, “The Track”, “The Stands”, and “Media Control Room”. Overall, the “Yearbook” looks like it offers a lot of information, but it actually includes very little of substance.

Finally, the DVD provides both theatrical and teaser trailers for Rollerball. They’re presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 sound. We also get an ad for Stargate SG-1/Jeremiah and a music video for Rob Zombie’s “Never Gonna Stop”. Inexplicably, the clip adopts a Clockwork Orange look that doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything. However, at least it makes the video a little more compelling visually, and the song itself actually seems quite good.

Unfortunately, this reference to the Kubrick classic did little more than remind me how terrible Rollerball was. Both films looked at the effects of violence on society, but while Orange did this with depth and wit, Rollerball just flailed away with no sense of any substance. At least the DVD provided very solid picture and sound, though its supplements seemed lackluster. Even had the disc packed a slew of extras, I couldn’t recommend it, for the movie itself seemed so terrible. Unless you’re absolutely desperate to see few nude shots of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, avoid this clunker.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.551 Stars Number of Votes: 49
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