(movie review written 2-02)
Director John McTiernan gained a reputation as one of the best directors of action in the 80's with films like "Predator" and "Die Hard". Things started to go downhill in the late 90's; McTiernan directed an adaptation of Michael Crichton's "the 13th Warrior", which was delayed for months and there were even rumors that Crichton himself supervised reshoots of many scenes. That film was quickly in and out of theaters. As inept as "Warrior" occasionally was, "Rollerball" is worse. At least "Warrior" made sense.
I have to admit that part of me enjoys films like "Rollerball", where I sit in a theater and watch a project that cost upwards of 100 million dollars and think to myself, "how did this go so wrong?" Of course, this is a "remake" of director Norman Jewison's 1975 picture, given a slicker presentation for today's audiences. Unfortunately, all logic and sense has been thrown out the window. The film stars Chris Klein as Jonathan Cross, a character who we meet while he's doing street-luge down the hills of San Fransisco while narrowly dodging cars and even a truck or two. Why is he doing it? Well, he's a risk-taker. He's saved by his friend Marcus (LL Cool J), who informs him about Rollerball teams playing in what I think is Eastern Europe or somewhere in Asia. The film never really explains this very well.
So, we don't know where we are, but suddenly, we're at one of the Rollerball matches. This would be fine - if they made any sense. McTiernan has seriously failed in the film's main arena: the Rollerball sequences are a lot of images cut together in a way that makes positively no sense. We're given a basic run-down of the rules of the game, which still isn't understandable. Some people on the team run around on rollerblades. Some drive motorcycles. Why do those people get motorcycles? I still don't know. What's the score? The film cuts away to other things and puts little computer graphics on the screen so much that wait - isn't there a game? What little we see of the game is hard to even follow; I don't think we're ever shown the track as a whole, just given close-ups of action here and there. The last game "abandons the rules" - I didn't know there were any. We're told Jonathan is the biggest star in the game. How did that happen? The film is full of these questions: there are riots outside. Why? The ratings go up when something bad happens to one of the players. How do people who weren't watching suddenly know something's happened?
One of the few elements of the movie that is understandable is that Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno) is the head of the league and he's orchestrated some of the injuries to players in an attempt to boost ratings to get a North American Cable Deal. Anyone can get their own cable show on public access and, given the fact that cable seems to have about 200 channels these days, it shouldn't be that difficult.
The performances are not anything special, either. Klein is completely unconvincing in the role and a wrong choice altogether. "Fast and the Furious" star Vin Diesel would be a right choice, but thankfully, he didn't choose to be involved here. LL Cool J is an instance of a good actor stuck with terrible dialogue. He's shown himself to be quite entertaining, even in films like "Deep Blue Sea", it's just unfortunate that he finds himself with this thinly written character. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos seems as if many of her scenes have been completely deleted from the film. I really can't understand what the actors saw in this screenplay: there are some truly horrendous lines of dialogue that will likely inspire laughs from most audiences.
Speaking of her scenes, "Rollerball" actually used to be an definite R-rated picture, scheduled to come out late last Summer. MGM, reportedly unhappy with the film and the rating, held on to it and McTiernan and company reportedly did additional work. Additional violence and nudity (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos has one locker-room scene that was digitally altered for the PG-13 version; it seems slightly more visible here, but still too dark to really see anything) were deleted or altered so that the film could get a PG-13. As a result, the film feels like a sizable chunk has just been sloppily cut out. Maybe it's just me (and maybe I was just bored), but I believe I spotted a few of these edits.
If all of this wasn't bad enough - and trust me, it is - McTiernan films an entire 15-minute action scene in what looks to be green night-vision. Nevermind that no one in the scene is wearing night-vision goggles. It boggles the mind; why did someone think this would be an interesting stylistic touch? Did the production run out of money, so they needed to use night vision on the camera to see the actors? For laughs, listen for the cartoony "boing!" sound as Klein and LL Cool J's characters run over what appears to be fencing on a motorbike during the "night vision" scene. Possibly the funniest sound effect I've heard in a serious scene in a while.
Last, but certainly not least, the film's sound seems to be cranked to 11 throughout. Maybe it was just the theater that I saw this picture in, but I've heard rock concerts that seemed subtle and quiet in comparison. I like loud, agressive surround sound a whole lot, but when things in the theater seem as if they're about to be shaken off the walls (I can hardly imagine what it must have been like in the auditorium next door), things may be a bit out-of-hand.
And, out-of-hand is probably the best way to describe the end product of "Rollerball". Something obviously went seriously wrong during production somewhere (at some point besides the point where someone came up with the idea to remake this film at all) and the result is, aside from being completely and totally unnecessary, close to an utter failure.
Note: MGM's DVD edition of "Rollerball" restores the film to an "R" rating and 100 minutes. From what I can tell, this is approximately 3 minutes or so of additional material - in other words, not a whole lot of differences.
VIDEO: MGM presents "Rollerball" in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan & scan editions. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is offered with extras on a dual-layer side, while the pan & scan version has no supplements included and included on the other, single-layer side. As always, the widescreen presentation is the prefered one and the one that should be watched.
As for the presentation quality, this is generally a fine offering from MGM. Sharpness and detail are very good, if only occasionally terrific. The "Rollerball" scenes look especially sharp and well-defined, with nice depth to the image. Other scenes can vary, but overall, I never felt the film looked soft or hazy.
There were a few minor problems with the presentation that were occasionally noticed: a couple of traces of pixelation were infrequently spotted and there were some slight-to-mild edge enhancement during a few scenes throughout the film. On a positive note, the print was in sparkling condition, with nothing in the way of wear nor grain.
Colors were varied throughout the movie. Some sequences offered a desaturated and bleak color palette, while other scenes, such as the "Rollerball" sequences, started to offer somewhat brighter colors.
SOUND: MGM presents "Rollerball" in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's unfortunate that MGM rarely supports DTS; I'd like to hear the differences between the two versions. Oh well. Anyways, a movie like "Rollerball" is suited to a large, loud, agressive soundtrack and that's what we're offered here. As entertaining as that can be, the soundtrack lacks the detail and creativity of the soundtrack to, let's say, "Fast and the Furious", which inventively mixed the music around the room and provided plenty of action.
"Rollerball" certainly has moments of agressive surround use that will please home theater fans, with several instances on the track where it seems as if the action has opened out into the room. On the other hand, I would have appreciated some greater detail or texture to the soundtrack. The heavy-metal/industrial tunes often take center stage in the film's audio - while there's nothing wrong with the genre of music, there are times when it seemed to begin to overshadow everything else.
The soundtrack was remarkably intense at times, often boasting some very strong bass. Dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout, as did effects. Overall, this is a pretty enjoyable soundtrack that, while not without some concerns, successfully remained powerful and enveloping.
MENUS: MGM has provided a highly agressive animated main menu for the DVD, with impressive graphics and loud music in the background.
Commentary: The box advertises a commentary by "The Horseman", which isn't a very good way to sell a feature that's actually a commentary from stars Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, Chris Klein and LL Cool J. LL Cool J has been recorded separately. Klein and Romijin-Stamos are actually quite funny together and bounce some fairly informative comments back and forth about what it was like during the production. As good an actor as I think LL Cool J is, I was disapointed that he didn't bring more information to the table during his few comments, often simply chatting about what's currently going on in the movie or adding goofy comments rather than talking about what went on behind-the-scenes.
Stunts of Rollerball: This is an excellent 20-minute featurette that starts off rather promotional, but eventually starts providing more interesting information about the work that the actors and actresses had to do to be able to do some of the stunts. The documentary also offers comments from those who could do what the actors couldn't or weren't allowed to - the stunt crew.
Also: The film's theatrical and teaser trailers (2.35:1/2.0 audio); a "Stargate SG-1" promo; Rollerball Yearbook with bios and other information; Rob Zombie music video and DVD Production credits.
Final Thoughts: "Rollerball" is occasionally so terrible that it comes out on the other side into being weirdly entertaining. Future filmmakers eager to study how not to make a movie or those who are in the mood to play "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and goof on a bad movie might not mind this as a rental. Everyone else should probably stay clear. MGM's DVD provides very good audio/video and some decent supplements.