Rollerball (UK - BD)
Reviewer Marcus Doidge gets knocked unconscious with Rollerball on Blu-ray
In this Rollerball 2002 remake of the 1975 cult movie of the same name, extreme-sports guy, Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein), is invited by his friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) to join Rollerball, a fictional sport that’s popular in Russia and surrounding areas.
Fast cars, lots of money, lots of women and living the superstar sportsman's dream, all they need to do is keep playing in the violent game that not only involves roller skates (hence the ROLLER in Rollerball), but it also has a silly amount of motorbikes, metal balls, and many other ridiculous things. Four months in and Jonathan is the poster boy of the sport and the promoters love him, especially Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) and his slimy assistant Sanjay (Naveen Andrews).
However all is not what it seems. After a nasty accident involving a team member and being informed by female team mate and sex buddy, Aurora (Rebecca Romijn - formally Stamos), that the accident wasn’t so innocent and was in fact used to boost the game's television ratings, Jonathan’s dream life begins to unravel uncovering a much darker underside.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Rollerball is ass. I’ll admit I’ve never seen the original and this is my first watch of the remake, so I'm finally seeing for myself just how deserving of the bad press this movie really is. From the get go, you know this is going nowhere. The opening scenes with the flashy downhill roller sled race is pretty close to the most mind numbingly dull opening to an action movie that I’ve seen in quite some time. It just feels sloppy with its ridiculous cuts where you can tell that Chris Klein or his rival fell off their sled seconds later but through the magic of the movies and less than clever editing they are miraculously back in the race and to make things worse this is all shoved down your throat with the obligatory metal soundtrack as it struggles to be exciting.
Once you get to the actual sport of Rollerball it just gets worse. Not only is it the most ridiculous sport in movie history (yes, even more ridiculous than Quidditch) with its stupid costumes, bizarre lack of any real rules and just out-right silliness, but you also just find yourself sitting there for about thirty minutes wondering what the hell is actual happening and if this is how the entire movie is going play out. It really is that bad and none of this is helped by the fact that not one character offers up anything to attach to. Chris Klein seems a fairly nice guy, but to call him miscast is an understatement. He’s pretty damn vacuous and just seems to bounce around like a pinball no matter what character he’s interacting with or what ridiculous situation unfolds in front of him. LL Cool J is little better, doing what LL does in all of his movies for the most part. He’s just there. You get a bit of nudity from Rebecca Romijn, which was fun, but once the clothes go back on she joins Klein and LL in the dull camp and the combined trio do almost nothing of note for ninety minutes.
It’s all so badly constructed with some down-right bizarre film making. There are some crazy little edits, some equally crazy camera zooms, there’s one really weird slow motion shot which was just a response to a question and all of this hokiness is out-hokied by a lengthy car chase that’s all filmed in... wait for it... night vision. Seriously a fifteen to twenty minute car/bike/plane chase in the middle of the night, all shot in green screen night vision that at first seems almost arty, but soon becomes just plain weird and to top that, a video quality so bad that even an HD transfer couldn’t save it.
What the hell happened to John McTiernan? The guy made Predator and a couple of Die Hard movies for god’s sake. He did a decent Jack Ryan movie and a solid remake of the Thomas Crown Affair, but this is a whole mess of bad. It’s a movie that just seems to have no soul at all. Everyone’s unlikable, after a while everything just looks the same, the closing action scenes are some of the most abstract and unconvincing in the history of the action movie genre and despite the fact there’s a feeling that this might be due to the studio cutting back the violence for a lower rating, no amount of blood, gore or graphic detail could have saved this tedious, unfocused, ridiculous mess, could it?
Once you get past what is close to the worst looking Columbia logo ever witnessed, the picture here is initially quite impressive. It’s a colourful, well-lit movie that’s immediately noticeable as a pretty good HD transfer. This works both for and against the movie. It highlights the pretty good use of bold colours in the costume designs and sets but it also shows off the terrible over-use of make up on Klein's face and even more so, some of the funniest designer stubble after his character spends the whole night running around town, that you'll ever see.
However, as the movie goes on you start noticing the picture's letdowns. Detail is pretty muted, especially with anything in the background. This may be the way the movie was shot, but anything that’s not front and centre really suffers and just when you get used to that, the previously mentioned ‘night vision’ chase arrives and it all goes to pot. Everything is a blurry mess, as you’d expect from what seems to be a standard camcorder night vision function. You can see what’s going on, but as I said before, even an HD transfer can’t save this one.
Rollerball’s audio mix is just loud. It’s not subtle, there’s nothing clever about it, it’s not dynamic—it’s just loud. The metal soundtrack overpowers everything in the action scenes and it doesn’t sound particularly good in the quieter scenes either. The terrible dialogue is clear enough, there are a few little bits of 5.1 crowd noise that are noticeable, but all in all this is a brash mix with very little going for it, except power.
You get a fairly light hearted commentary from the three main stars, with Romijn leading the way for the most part. She’s actually a lot of fun and sparks quite a bit of humour from Klein, but there are a lot of silent moments in the commentary after about the half way point where they scramble for things to talk about. Who could blame them?
Beyond that there’s a bunch of trailers for Sony Blu-rays, a Rob Zombie music video (3:20) and a featurette on the stunts of Rollerball (20:55), which is essentially everyone hyping up their stunt work and intercutting with footage from the set.
There’s also a BD-Live selection, which I couldn’t get working, but by this point I was Rollerball’d out and saw this as a bit of a blessing.
As you may have probably guessed by now, I wasn’t Rollerball’s biggest fan. It’s basically everything I hate about many of the modern action flicks. They can’t seem to let the eighties go, but at the same time they don’t even get what made that era’s action flicks work either. Rollerball had no character, nothing about it seemed fresh or even close to exciting and even for a movie released fairly recently it just feels so out of touch.
There’s nothing to take away from this Rollerball release except a pretty good transfer and frankly that’s just not enough to counter everything else that’s woefully under par about this movie.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 25th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Russian, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish
Extras: Cast Commentary, Featurette, Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Chris Klein, Jean Reno, LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn, Naveen Andrews
Length: 98 minutes
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