Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Universal, widescreen 2.35:1, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], French Digital Mono, subtitles: English, Spanish, single side-single layer, 16 chapters, cast & crew bios, production notes, film highlights, theatrical trailer, web links, rated PG, 119 min., $24.98, street date 10/27/98.
Directed by James Goldstone. Starring George Segal, Richard Widmark, Timothy Bottoms, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, Susan Strasberg.
Thrills abound in this high-speed suspense yarn as Timothy Bottoms, a determined terrorist, begins to turn America's amusement parks into battlefields. The tension mounts as affable safety inspector George Segal attempts to track down the saboteur who has targeted the country's most popular rollercoaster, and its riders, for senseless destruction. The edge-of-the-seat excitement mounts as the battle of wits between Segal and Bottoms builds to an explosive climax.
When it arrived on the screens in 1977, Rollercoaster had a few reasons to appeal to my ten-year-old self. For one, I loved amusement parks and rollercoasters in general, so a movie about them offered many potential thrills. Also, I loved to see things blow up, and since the film was supposed to depict theme park sabotage, I saw ample reason to expect this feature in spades. Finally, the movie had a "home town" connection; Kings Dominion, an amusement park featured prominently in the film, was only about 75 miles from home, and I'd been there a number of times. I'm sure people in California don't get this, but us provincial rubes just love to see familiar locations on the big screen!
Although Rollercoaster has all these positive factors, I don't recall liking it very much. I think this was because while it offered factors 1 and 3 in great amounts, we got little of factor 2. I don't want to ruin the film for you if you haven't seen it, but the amount of blowup time in Rollercoaster is minimal. We constantly are under the threat of blowups, but they almost never occur.
We do see a lot of rollercoasters, though, and often from that first car "you are there" vantage point, which is nice if you want to experience some primitive virtual reality effects. We also witness a whole lot of Kings Dominion. The second act of the film acts almost as a promo reel for the park; our hero Harry Calder (George Segal) has to run all over the place, so we get a virtual tour of the joint. It didn't make for exciting action, but it probably got some fannies through the turnstiles.
Really, the introduction of Kings Dominion symbolizes the decline of Rollercoaster. The first act moves along at a nice pace and provides some compelling thrills. Once Harry goes on his wild goose chase around KD, the movie slows to a crawl and never regains momentum.
The Kings Dominion scenes set the stage for the remainder of the film as well because they symbolize its progression; we eternally witness the threat of action but see little action itself. The movie becomes a cat and mouse game, but the cat has no claws and the chase loses interest. While I didn't find the second two-thirds of the film to be bad, it didn't do much to stimulate me.
Rollercoaster functions as a thriller but an unusual one in that it's not a "whodunit;" from the very start of the picture, we know exactly who the culprit is. Instead, it's a "whenaretheygonnacatchtheguy" movie; it's inevitable that the villain shall be brought to justice so it turns into a case of when and how. The climax actually seems surprisingly flat.
Rollercoaster provides a decent cast, with a nice turn from Segal in the lead. He's hammy but in a charming way; one of my favorite moments showed him smiling wistfully at the memory of his first cigarette (the movie offers a "comic" subtheme in regard to Harry's attempts to quit smoking). The remainder of the cast seems competent but unexceptional, though Henry Ford sleepwalks through his incredibly minor role; his part accounts for little more than a cameo. And yes, that is a very young Helen Hunt as Segal's daughter, plus we witness a young-but-not-as-young Steve Guttenberg in a minor unbilled role.
Ultimately Rollercoaster was a watchable and mildly entertaining film, but it definitely wasn't anything special. I enjoyed it to a degree but largely forgot about it once it ended.
Rollercoaster appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film appears decent-looking but flawed.
Sharpness seems generally crisp, though some wider shots appear fuzzier than they should. Edge enhancement also often rears its ugly head; I noted quite a lot of jagged edges and moire effects during the movie. The print utilized looks pretty good, really; some speckling occurs, and I saw occasional spots and scratches, but nothing terrible mars the picture.
Rollercoaster suffers from a vague brownish hue that seemed endemic to the film stock of the era; it's not horrible, but it gives the image a rather blah appearance. Despite that, colors often look pretty good, especially in the multihued amusement park sequences; they aren't especially bold and probably could have seemed stronger, but nonetheless often offer one of the picture's strengths. Black levels appear adequate and shadow detail seems decent though occasionally a wee bit too opaque. The image appears eminently watchable but not special.
Rollercoaster was the third film ever - after Earthquake and Midway - to be feature Sensurround, a technological innovation that attempted to provide a tactile sensation in the film's soundtrack. Rollercoaster offers the film's original monaural audio track complete with Sensurround in the LFE channel. While I'm excited that this appears in the subwoofer information, unfortunately I can't really comment on its effectiveness since I don't have a subwoofer. Whenever the LFE kicked in - which appeared to be only during rollercoaster scenes - my speakers provided a decent little bass rumble, but it didn't exactly approach Sensurround levels. How much of a difference the subwoofer would make is unclear.
Other than that, the audio seems mediocre. All sound appears flat and thin, and dialogue occasionally is a bit muffled and hard to understand, though it's usually intelligible. The mix seems clear, however, with virtually no distortion. For a movie from the mid-Seventies, it's not a bad mix, but it's pretty blah.
Rollercoaster contains few supplements. We get some good production notes plus decent biographies for six of the actors and director James Goldstone. The theatrical trailer also appears. The DVD may or may not contain a booklet with production notes as well. Universal DVDs almost always feature booklets, but not all of these offer notes; sometimes they just include chapter headings and photos. Since I got Rollercoaster as a rental from Netflix, I can't comment on this feature.
Rollercoaster amounts to about as mediocre a DVD as you'll find. Almost everything here is decent but unexceptional, from the mildly entertaining film to the passable picture to the middling sound. Only the weak assortment of extras is anything other than ordinary. I'd say Rollercoaster may be worth a rental but probably nothing more than that.