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Rollerball (1975) (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Rollerball has had quite the journey in the United States during the Blu-ray era of home video. Originally release a pair of times by the not quite defunct Twilight Time label and then last year by Scorpion releasing, it makes its debut on 4K Ultra-HD via Shout! Factory under its Scream Factory label. The release will carry over mostly all of the bonus material from the UK release of Rollerball from Arrow Video which had an interview with the late James Caan. Scream Factory will release it on November 22nd and you can already pre-order it from their site or the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

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Film

The year is 2018. There are no wars. There is no crime. There is only … the Game. In a world where ruthless corporations reign supreme, this vicious and barbaric “sport” is the only outlet for the pent-up anger and frustrations of the masses. Tuned to their televisions, the people watch “Rollerball”: a brutal mutation of football, motocross, and hockey. Jonathan E. (the great James Caan, The Godfather, Thief) is the champion player – a man too talented for his own good. The Corporation has taken away the woman, Ella (Maud Adams, Octopussy) Jonathan loves but they can’t take away his soul – even if the diabolical corporate head (John Houseman, The Fog) tells him he better retire … or suffer the old-fashioned way.

Rollerball may have taken place 4 years ago in its timeline, but it being the past now or the future for 43 years doesn’t really matter. The themes, characters and such in this film rang true then and ring true now. Science fiction is a genre with which creators used to love to express social reflection and subtle ideas as much as they loved having a trusted blaster at their side. Norman Jewison’s 1975 future sports movie didn’t just stop at the sport, it had a whole lot of things to say about many things.

While its not quite hard to see what the film wants us to and the focus on and think about, its interesting to see how it still feels timeless and resonates a similar conversation in different ways today. There’s the age old “take the fall in the 3rd round” type tale that boxing movies have given us over the years, but Rollerball doesn’t want to stop at that. This film reverberates much deeper into areas that are beyond sports. One can easily see the political sphere all over the film. The lobbying, the pressuring, the corporations putting money in the pocket to try to steer toward their own interests. The film explores plenty of these ideas through the world of sport, but you can see a much richer textures beyond its surface gives it a leg up and a strength beyond just being a silly genre film.

Beyond its themes, the film is a pretty technically sound an impressively put together film. I’m a sucker the 1970s sci-fi future aesthetic, so its an easy coaxing into bed here for me. But, the opening of the film is very well put together and immediately engaging for a roughly 15 minute sequence that slowly introduces us to a match of the sport in almost a real time aspect giving you an almost interactive spectator view to take it in. Impressively, the film doesn’t crutch on just the action of the game over and over again. You don’t get a real second match for almost another hour. There’s even more crafting of the world to settle you in, a chess game slowly panning out, and some rock solid drama put together by a cast led by James Caan.

Its kind of crazy this is a cult film and not held up any higher as just a genuinely terrific one that should be recommended viewing and one ripe for discussion. Over the years, Rollerball has become one of those under seen science fiction classics from the 60s and 70s that has sort of been lost in terms of “must see” movies like that of Silent Running. It most definitely has a timeless nature to it and is still pretty exciting to take in thanks to well done action/sports scenes and a wonderful performance by the late James Caan.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review from the standard Blu-ray, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail Rollerball debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with a new 2022 restoration and color grade, for this UHD release, using an existing 4K scan of the original camera negative done by MGM. And it looks pretty incredible here with the amount of depth, crispness and detail on display. There’s a nice saturation of color amid natural black levels. This is a very impressive look for the almost 50 year old film, giving it a youthful, fresh looking image.

Depth: Depth of field is quite strong with good pushback and three dimensional zeal to many of the interiors in the film. Scale is also impressive as you are immersed in a film that feels quite large and open. Movements are filmic, smooth and have no blur or jitter issues from the rapid action sequences.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and natural with good saturation and contrast that really helps some of the colors to strike in many sequences. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors can be quite bold and when contrasted against he blacks there are reds, oranges, greens and even some creams that really pop. Display monitors, lights and fire really radiate with the help of the HDR.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from the opening organ to the last notes of the closing credits. Facial features and textures are made good and visible from any distance in the frame. Wrinkles, stubble, make-up brush strokes, moles, stubble, scars and more are clear as day.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Rollerball arrives with the 5.1 track its been parading around release to release. Its a solid mix that does pretty well with spacing, layering and depth. There’s solid balance here and none of the vocals/effects/score ever steps on one another’s toes. The organ in particular sounds quite strong and lovely coming from this track.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer strikes with some decent power on effects like punches, engines, fires and more. There could be a little bit harder jab, but this is sufficient and probably a bit more accurate.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This is a more front heavy and focused mix. Rear channels provide ambiance and extra pump on the score. They do add some good crowd noise. Travel from right to left and back really has some good force to help the immersion.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

Audio Commentary

  • with director Norman Jewison
  • with writer William Harrison

From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle (HD, 7:56) – A vintage featurette that has Norman Jewison talking about the movie as scenes from it and behind the scenes footage play.

Return To The Arena: The Making Of Rollerball (HD, 25:07) – An archival retrospective featurette that was featured on the DVD release of the film.

Blood Sports (HD, 10:59) – An interview with actor James Caan. This is the same interview that was featured on the Arrow Video UK release of the film

The Bike Work (HD, 17:33) – Craig R. Baxley on the Motorcycle stunts. This featurette hasn’t been on all releases of Rollerball but it was last featured on the Arrow UK release.

The Fourth City: Shooting Rollerball in Munich (HD, 18:55) – Another archival featurette from the same people who produced the Craig R. Baxley piece. Previously seen on the Arrow UK and Scorpion Blu-rays.

Theatrical Trailers (HD, 9:22)

TV Spots (HD, 2:28)

Summary

Rollerball is a film that may change a lot of hands on home video distributors, but its one that they all seem to want their hands on. And with good reason, its a terrific slice of 70s filmmaking. This new Scream Factory release features a great new video transfer to go along with rock solid audio and the extras that have filled out the releases over the years. What we have here is the newest in definitive releases for the James Caan film.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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