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IN THE NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE, WARS WILL NO LONGER EXIST. BUT THERE WILL BE ROLLERBALL.

In a corporate-controlled future, the world’s nations have been disbanded and conflict is a thing of the past. But blood continues to be shed on the tracks of Rollerball – a brutal contact sport which pits players in a battle of life and death.

James Caan (The Godfather, Thief, Misery) plays Jonathan E., celebrated captain of the Houston Rollerball team whose prowess on the track has earned him renown across the globe. But this fame has also attracted the ire of the games’ corporate sponsors, who wish to suppress any displays of individual achievement – fearing this could encourage the populace to revolt. With the powers-that-be pushing for his retirement, Jonathan is faced with a choice – concede to the Corporation’s will or take a stand, by continuing to compete in the increasingly deadly games.

Shot in Munich to make use of the city’s futuristic Olympic architecture, Rollerball is a classic slice of dystopian filmmaking, mixing high-octane action sequences with gripping (and thoroughly prescient) social commentary. The future is now – the future is Rollerball!
(Taken from Arrow’s synopsis.)

About the Transfer: Rollerball is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with stereo 2.0 audio and 5.1 surround sound. The High Definition Master was produced by MGM and made available for this release through Hollywood Classics.

Video


I'll start with an admission: I know nothing of Rollerball's intended theatrical look, so my comments here are based solely on my observations of this Blu-ray, comparisons with the Twilight Time release (from Caps-a-Holic lossless .png captures) and similar titles in my collection. As such I could be spouting a load of rubbish. You have been warned...

What I will say is that this looks like a dated master. Even without knowing the stock on which the film was shot, the resolution of the grain isn't what I'd expect from a newly-minted transfer. Indeed, some of Arrow's in-house transfers of older, more obscure films look better in that regard. Additionally, the presence of numerous film artefacts is another tale-tell sign that we're dealing with an ageing master, or at least one that hasn't been subject to a thorough restoration. There is also a strong red push during many scenes, which is something frequently observed on DVD-era masters. It dominates the palette, particularly during the games themselves, but there are other strong seventies-era hues on show (they apparently thought burnt orange would be the colour of choice in the future), and while the red push is noticeable I didn't find it terribly distracting on the whole. As I alluded earlier, grain is clumpier than expected, an issue exacerbated during the darker scenes, but detail is relatively strong (particularly in close-ups). There's no true back in this film though, just a series of murky browns. There are also a number of other minor issues, such as the right side of the frame being brighter than the rest of the picture during the opening scenes.

Now I realise I’m in danger of sounding entirely too negative here, which isn’t my intention at all. The presentation isn’t bad per se, but Arrow has made something of a rod for its own back with a number of the superb in-house restorations and top-notch third-party licences they’ve recently delivered. Titles such as Withnail and I and Thief immediately spring to mind as examples of magnificent presentations, whereas Rollerbal sits more comfortably alongside titles like Night of the Comet and Shivers in the ‘good, but could be better’ category. Of course MGM was responsible for this film’s transfer, so any deficiencies are down to them. The encode is marginally better than the Twilight Time release and there are no digital artefacts of any note to report, so Arrow looks to have done the best possible job with the available material.

Audio


Arrow provides two audio tracks for this presentation of Rollerball: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Stereo. The 5.1 track is very front-oriented, but it does make reasonable use of the surrounds for the orchestral score and during the games themselves, especially the crowd noises. The rears also make their presence known during the party scene, especially the sequence with the gun (if you've seen the film you to which moment I refer). Bass isn't tremendously powerful, but it adds subtle reinforcement to the violence of the games and such.  5.1 remixes can introduce issues with the intelligibility of dialogue and effects, but thankfully there are no such problems here.

The film's original audio mix is presented as LPCM 2.0 Stereo and it’s quite similar to the multi-channel affair, broadly speaking that is. Obviously it loses some of the atmosphere generated by the surround channels, but the basic characteristics are similar. It’s always nice to have a choice between a remix and the original audio and either track makes for a solid listening experience.

Extras


I think it's fair to say that many of Arrow's customers buy their releases as much for the supplements as the main features themselves. If you're one of those people you'll be delighted to hear that the label has expanded on the material available on the earlier Blu-ray release from Twilight Time. In addition to all of the extras from that disc Arrow has included three newly-created interviews with Caan and various members of the production team. Here's a complete list of what's available.

  • Audio Commentary with director Norman Jewison
  • Audio Commentary with writer William Harrison
  • Isolated score and effects track
  • Blood Sports with James Caan: A brand-new interview with the Rollerball star
  • The Fourth City: Shooting Rollerball in Munich: Unit manager Dieter Meyer and others revisit the Audi Dome and other original locations
  • The Bike Work: Craig R. Baxley on the Motorcycle Stunts in Rollerball: Stunt artist Baxley on the challenges and dangers of being one of the Rollerball bikers
  • Return to the Arena: The Making of Rollerball
  • From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle: Original EPK bringing together interviews and on-set footage
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Theatrical teaser
  • TV spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Two commentary tracks, an isolated music and effects track, multiple interviews and featurettes (both new and vintage), trailers and TV spots make for a pretty comprehensive collection of material by any standards. The icing on the cake just happens to be the excellent artwork, which I actually prefer to the original in this case.

Just about the only thing missing from this release is a feature-length making of documentary, but of course that sort of thing just wasn’t commonplace back when Rollerball was released so it’s completely understandable. Don’t feel bad; you still have hours of material to wade through here.

Overall


All things considered this is a respectable release, marred slightly by a dated transfer that left me pondering what could have been. Had Arrow transferred this film in-house I have no doubt that it would have looked better than it currently does, but the UK company has done a good job with the available materials overall, eclipsing the considerably more expensive (and out of print) Twilight Time release. Aurally the film is solid, but once again it is the bonus material that sets Arrow apart from lesser distributors. If you're a fan stubbornly holding onto your DVD copy you can relax, because this Blu-ray release is noticeably superior to the standard-definition versions in every area. It doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of the recent Thief release, but this is still another solid entry in the Arrow catalogue and one for James Caan fans to get their teeth into.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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