Mar 062012
As Jonathan E. in Rollerball (1975)

Image via Wikipedia

My father’s college roommate wrote the original Rollerball in 1975. I decided to watch the movie last year on the strength of that alone.

While it certainly isn’t one of the greatest pieces of American cinematography, it was heavily weighted with strong social and political themes – collectivism vs. individualism, totalitarianism, the will of the people and how it is controlled, how dissent is controlled, etc. These aren’t just hinted at or read into the movie, they are the dominating plot themes. In this respect, Rollerball is very similar to 1984. Even the romantic interest is dominated by the above themes and subservient to telling that story.

Last night, I watched the 2002 remake of Rollerball.

I want to start out by saying that I can totally enjoy a mindless action movie, which in fact most of them are. It’s not like I go looking through Netflix streaming for the Renoir and Proust. I might have enjoyed this version of Rollerball if, in fact, it had not been associated with the original. It actually wouldn’t have made a bad prequel.

But in this telling of Rollerball, a lot of those layers were stripped away to tell a much simpler story (evil producer stages accidents to increase ratings) and the focus was heavily on over the top action sequences. The romance was a plot driver rather than an effect of the plot. This is pretty much what happened with the Bourne movies, which, if you didn’t know, tell a fairly different story from the books, but I digress.

What capped it all off, though, was the last ten minutes or so, where someone realized that, without the socio-political element, the last scenes wouldn’t make a lot of sense (or at least have no reason to exist), so issues that had been completely unmentioned during the rest of the movie come crashing into the story in a ham-fisted delivery that comes just short of the main character giving a soliloquy on democracy. For the last ten minutes, the movie is about totalitarianism and the will of the people. They don’t even keep LL Cool J around.

The funny thing, though, was that seeing this movie caused me to reflect more on the original Rollerball and see a lot of complexity there that I might not have appreciated apart from the action stylings of the totally forgettable Chris Klein. I think I now have an idea of what my dad’s roommate was trying to get across in a Cold War era, and for that, I have one more reason to like LL Cool J. Thank you for knocking me out, sir.

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