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MGM Studios DVD presents
Rollerball: SE (2002)

"I should have known it wouldn't take long until they noticed that their take went up as soon as they got a little blood on the track."
- Marcus (LL Cool J)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: June 16, 2002

Stars: Chris Klein, LL Cool J, Jean Reno, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos
Other Stars: Naveen Andrews, Pink
Director: John McTiernan

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for violence, nudity, and some language
Run Time: 01h:40m:27s
Release Date: June 18, 2002
UPC: 027616869982
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C- D-A-A- B

DVD Review

In the World Wrestling Federation the phrase "sports entertainment" is used by the owners of the multi-million dollar empire when classifying their product. While many may scoff at the use of the word "sport" in relation to professional wrestling, there is little to deny the abundant entertainment offered. In John McTiernan's Rollerball, an update of the 1975 Norman Jewison film of the same name, the same description is offered by the owner of the league while attempting to sell his product to potential investors. How this could possibly work is beyond my comprehension, because as anyone will likely attest, Rollerball contains very little in the way of sports and even less entertainment.

In an unnamed country somewhere in Central Asia, the sport of rollerball is the national pastime, one where gambling, violence, and rioting are considered as integral as the players. Competing on an indoor track with a figure eight-like design, each player must run a gauntlet in order to throw a steel ball at a gong and score a point, which seems easy; however, with the inclusion of motorcycles and other lethal instruments, it is in fact very difficult. All of this seems like a walk in the park for Jonathan Cross (Klein), a former NHL draft pick who is now the most popular player in rollerball and is enjoying the sort of success never afforded to him in America. His best friend, Marcus (LL Cool J), and girlfriend, Aurora (Romijn-Stamos), are skilled athletes as well, making his team perhaps the best in the entire league. But things are quickly going downhill as Jonathan senses that something is amiss when players are subjected to illegal and often fatal violence.

This is no surprise to Petrovich (Reno), the wealthy owner of the league, who is determined to bring rollerball to America and will stop at nothing to do so, even if it means staging violence. When Jonathan discovers that Petrovich is orchestrating chaos for the sake of better ratings, he rebels against the sport and stages an uprising that will bring everything tumbling down.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly which area of the production (script, direction, acting, editing) is to blame for the disjointed mess that is Rollerball, though it could be said that each has an equal share. The film moves at such a furious pace that the story is never allowed time to breathe and expand on the plot, which leaves numerous questions as the credits role. There are moments and subplots that are alluded to but never brought up again, including a scheme devised by Petrovich's assistant, Sanjay (Andrews), which looks to be the centerpiece of the third act but is pushed aside in favor of a more violent and confusing climactic sequence.

All of this may be excusable if the film were actually exciting enough to warrant the frenzied pace, but it simply is not. The character of Petrovich is written in such an over-the-top manner that his defining line of dialogue—"I am this close to a North American cable deal!"—comes off as perhaps the unintentionally funniest moment in the film. What does it say about a villain when his chief ambition is to have his sport battling with public access and syndicated reruns for supremacy on basic cable? The casting also feels wrong, as Klein is never convincing as the rebellious hero, which makes it ultimately difficult to sympathize with his character.

In the end, Rollerball is left with the feel of an overdone music video, complete with quick cuts and mindless action that never make any sense. Even the design of the sport is lost on the viewer as the explanation of the game is done so quickly that when the championship match is announced as a free-for-all I could have cared less, because I never knew what the rules were to begin with. McTiernan often overdoes the action, using poor artistic choices in his creation of the scenes, including an extended set piece that is filmed entirely in a night vision-like green glow that makes it difficult to follow the events. Why McTiernan shot the sequence like this is beyond me, but one must wonder if the scene would have played much better if the viewer knew just what exactly was occurring? Then again, I never knew what was going on throughout the film, so one sequence probably wouldn't make much difference.



Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Rollerball is nothing short of stunning. The image is consistently terrific in nearly every aspect, with only some slight edge enhancement that lessens the overall quality. Sharpness and detail are good, giving the transfer a film-like look; there is an instance of slight grain in chapter 15 though it is nothing to be overly critical about. The interior shots at the rollerball arena are crisp and vibrant with the deep reds and golds of the opposing teams. Overall, this is a very impressive transfer.

A horribly cropped, full-frame transfer is offered on side two of this DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: In a word, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix used for Rollerball is LOUD. The mix is constantly booming with directional effects as well as a steady rumble from the .1 LFE channel that often conveys the hard-hitting action of the rollerball sequences. Dialogue is clear and never hard to make out while the left and right speakers reproduce the heavy metal soundtrack with great clarity. This is a reference quality mix, though at times it is a bit too LOUD.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Stargate SG-1
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Chris Klein, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, LL Cool J
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Interactive Rollerball yearbook
  2. Never Gonna Stop music video by Rob Zombie
Extras Review: Though this new DVD is labeled a "special edition," there is in all actuality a very little bonus material offered.

First is a screen-specific audio commentary with actors Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Chris Klein, and LL Cool J that, while not very informative, is still a blast to listen to. Klein and Romijn Stamos were recorded together and the two have a terrific rapport, which is strange as, onscreen, the two have no chemistry to speak of. The two discuss the long shoot as well as how grueling the training for and shooting of the rollerball sequences was. LL Cool J does not fair as well as his fellow cast members as his comments are often pointless, though he does have an undeniable energy.

Next is a 20-minute look at the stunt work done in Rollerball and the planning as well as completing of difficult stunts. We are shown interviews with cast members and the stunt crew as they discuss the tricks and rigorous training the stars went through to become skaters capable of pulling off many of the stunts.

Finally, an interactive Rollerball yearbook offers an in depth look at the teams, players, equipment, and arenas featured in the film. Each player has a bio and an optional highlight reel of their best stunts. The original teaser and theatrical trailers are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and anamorphic widescreen, while a trailer for Stargate SG-1 is also offered.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Much like the character of Petrovich, who dreams of finding a spot on cable for his sport, I only dreamt of finding something better by channeling surfing out of the mess that is Rollerball. Come on, even the XFL got primetime and Petrovich is fantasizing about cable? Perhaps this is the perfect way to summarize a film with no real ambition beyond that of the type of programming found late night on paid television.

 


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