The Saturn Awards skipped 1974, and their third annual ceremony combined films from ’74 and ’75. The winner was Rollerball, which is an odd mishmash of sports film and dystopian science fiction. The main plot is pure sports film; James Caan plays an aging superstar in the violent sport of rollerball. He has fame, a nice house, and women (provided for him by his corporate sponsors), but his life is beginning to feel a bit hollow, and he’s feeling pressure to retire.
Rollerball the sport is basically a hyper-violent version of Roller Derby. Players skate around a circular track and try to put a ball in a goal. Along the way they beat the crap out of each other. One of the film’s biggest issues is that we’re told this sport is ridiculously violent (apparently nine players once died in one game), but it actually looks significantly less violent than the NHL or NFL, though people tend to get run over by motocycles a lot.
The science fiction element comes from the background. It’s 2018, and the world is no longer dominated by nation-states but by evil, soul-destroying corporations. The corporations sponsor Rollerball to distract a bloodthirsty public from their own manipulations. So, we have here yet another ‘70s dystopia.
It’s not a particularly nuanced or complex one. I just happened to read a Michael Chabon essay recently in which he called Rollerball "the first movie depiction of a future not merely ruled but styled by evil corporations." There may be some truth to that, but, in the end, the film certainly doesn’t poise the difficult questions that A Clockwork Orange does, and it’s really not even as insightful as Soylent Green. This is more a montage of dystopian tropes in a sports film. The society doesn't really feel that well thought through - why would a corporate run state look so much like a socialist state? Condemning violence in the media is about as thoughtful and challenging as condemning television. It’s too facile. As a result, I was disappointed, and frankly, more than a little bored, watching this film.
James Caan gives a nice performance though.