After directing a successful re-working of Norman Jewison's classic 1968 caper film "The Thomas Crown Affair" in 1999, director John McTiernan curiously chose to remake Jewison's 1975 cult film, "Rollerball." Based on the screenplay and short story by William Harrison, the new version, credited to Larry Ferguson and John Pogue, follows the basic satirical tone of Harrison's tale, but is more clearly aimed at a specific audience: the male 18-40-ish crowd, offering fast cutting, continuous action, and as much T&A as the MPAA would allow - which during the film's original theatrical run, apparently was much less.
Imposed cuts have been somewhat fixed for the DVD release, and fans of intellectually challenged action films won't be disappointed by MGM's presentation. Steve Mason's cinematography and the film's garish production design look beautiful - the scope and compositions suitably enhance the loud colours, tightly edited action scenes, and the exotic personas of rival teams on the figure-8 Rollerball track. Using ace athletes and stuntmen, Rollerballers swoop, pivot, crash and glide across the frame, and the indulgent lifestyles of the film's team stars (played by Chris Klein and LL Cool J) generously incorporate fast cars, expensive attire, and waves of adoring fans.
Sonically the 5.1 track is superb. Director McTiernan, having exploited the surround sound possibilities in 1988's "Die Hard," offers a loud, bass-heavy sound mix, with aggressive effects, pounding rock instrumentals, and a surprisingly sparse but typically rhythmic score from Luc Besson's longtime composer, Eric Serra.
The disc's animated menus easily guide viewers to several extras, including 2 anamorphic trailers, and a dual promo for MGM's Showtime series: "Stargate: SG-1," and "Jeremiah." (Set in the future, these shows have little else in common with "Rollerball.") Rob Zombie's 'Never Gonna Stop' video (with album promo spot) fuses retro 60s style with "Clockwork Orange" décor, and a featurette on the film's stunts includes EPK and post-filming interviews with Chris Klein, LL Cool J, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, along with key stunt coordinators and special effects supervisors. Key sequences - the opening street luge and the game itself - are efficiently covered in detail, with an emphasis on Klein's training. Curiously, besides a few production stills, John McTiernan is utterly absent from the DVD's extras.
"The Horseman" commentary is just the film's three leads, with LL Cool J's contribution rarely exceeding exalted "Yeah!", "Yes!!!", and "Cool." It's only when he bows out towards the end that he speaks a complete paragraph, repeating his affection for the cast and director; a succinct pontification on the film's moral message just makes the brain hurt. Incredibly, many of LL Cool J's mini-eurekas are edited between pauses of Klein and Romijn-Stamos' separately recorded commentary. The overall emphasis includes aspects of training, stunt work, bruises, camaraderie, cool cars, and being cold at the film's key Quebec and Alberta locations. The insight is limited, the tone lighthearted, and towards the end somewhat sporadic. Nevertheless, Klein is totally affable, and his energy engages Romijn-Stamos to share in a few observations about the elaborate (yet compact) game track and amazing stunts; however, McTiernan's absence makes for a an overall weak commentary.
An elaborate "Rollerball" Yearbook finishes off the supplemental materials, incorporating straight still and video treatments of the team and key athletes, amusing (0:30) star and team 'show reels', and a breakdown of the game's rules and regulations - the latter being unintentionally funny, since Romijn-Stamos admits the filmmakers never really figured out how "Rollerball" made sense until the near-end of principle photography.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan