Rollerball or Nothing

Written by :
Published on : August 28, 2017



In 2018, the world is run by a small handful of large corporations. War, regulation and government have all been eliminated. The upper executive class enjoys all the wealth and technology while everyone else enjoys ultra-violent entertainment made to distract them. No, I’m not describing the not-too-distant future. I’m talking about Rollerball, a sci-fi movie from the sort-of-distant past of 1975 that deserves to be updated.


In the film, rollerball is the most popular sport in the world. It is essentially roller derby but with motorcycles and lots of violence. A metal ball gets shot onto the track at about 200 mph. Two squads, each with seven skaters and three motorcycles, compete for possession of the ball. A player must skate once around the track while holding the ball in plain sight before they are able to score. Their teammates serve as blockers that defend them from the opposing team. The game is full contact. Each player wears a helmet, pads and gloves covered with metal spikes.  Injuries, even fatalities, are common.



James Caan stars as Johnathan E, captain of the Houston Squad, current Rollerball World Champions, sponsored by the ominously-named Energy Corporation. Johnathan is the most popular player in the sport, which is why he’s blindsided by the corporation’s order that he retire immediately. Johnathan refuses, partly because he resents the corporation’s ultimate authority, and partly because he just doesn’t want to retire.  As he continues to play, rules and safeguards are eliminated by the executives, hoping that Johnathan becomes a casualty.



Adapted from the short story, “Roller Ball Murder,” the movie is a missed opportunity. Made in a pre-Star Wars Hollywood, the film tells its story like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Caan plays an average American everyman stuck in a nightmare version The Future just similar enough to modern 1975 to be believable. When Johnathan finally learns that he must retire so rollerball can remain an anonymous bloodsport that reinforces the corporate culture’s “nobody is special, we are all expendable” message to the masses, the result is kind of a letdown. The movie shouldn’t be blamed for putting so much weight into a reveal that feels intellectually tame by modern 2017 standards. But it should be blamed for having too narrow a focus. Besides one of Johnathan’s teammates, a large bruiser named Moonpie, we don’t get a feel for any other rollerball player’s personality. Nor do we see or experience much of the future beyond sports arenas, office buildings, locker rooms and upper-middle class homes.


HBO, get on this shit. You love sports (Hard Knocks) and weird vintage sci-fi (Westworld). This is exactly the type of idea best suited for longform television over movies. (The less said about the 2002 remake, the better. Even though it stars LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn Stamos. But seriously, don’t go there.)


Billionaires, make this sport a reality. It’s football/NASCAR/hockey all rolled into one. Big, loud, high-energy and you probably get to see a crash. I’d paid good money to see that.




SBS Film Vault: The Program

Written by :
Published on : April 8, 2016



I don’t know about you, but I LOVE this movie. Maybe it’s because of the times I enjoyed watching it with fellow high school football teammates and getting pumped up before games or maybe it’s just because it’s a totally badass college football movie. I think it’s probably a little bit of both, but it really has everything you could want in a football flick. Sweet game footage, PED use, a U of M victory, Halle Berry, a Bo Schembechler cameo. Those last parts are more for me personally, but you get my point.


Let’s take a look at this wonderful film about the fictional ESU Timberwolves and re-live some sweet 90’s memories.


Epic trash talk

There is some seriously great trash talk in this movie. Much of which was co-opted by my teammates and I during our glory days of high school football. Take star linebacker, Alvin Mack for example. This guy knew how to talk some serious shit to the opposition. Many high level athletes, especially defenders, believe that the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the psychical. Alvin Mack would say some wildly fucked up shit to get inside the head of his opponents. Watch below and enjoy.



Star studded cast

There is some real star power in this cast: James Caan, Halle Berry and Omar Epps. Sure it is more relegated to the 90’s (Epps), and some of it has stood the test of time through the decades (Caan). But no matter how you slice it, there’s some talent in this cast, and it’s needed in order to carry some of the less talented thespians.


Caan takes us into the world of the coach of a major college football program who is having the screws put to him by his superiors at the school. In his desperation to keep his job, he shows the kind of moral ambiguity that hollywood would tell us is characteristic of people in his position. Halle Berry and Omar Epps bring one of the stronger romantic relationships to The Program. With Berry’s sharp tongue and Epps’ suave demeanor, there are times when their relationship is one of the better parts of the film.


THE PROGRAM, Al Wiggins, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, 1993. (c)Touchstone Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection


Sick game footage

The game footage in this movie is off the chain. Sure, it’s over the top and probably too artistic, but it is a movie after all. The hits are violent and everything is in slow motion. It really romanticizes a sport that is mostly a lot of standing around interspersed with the occasional 10 seconds of action. For that, I love it. Maybe not everyone can handle watching an entire football game, but I bet everyone would love to watch the game scenes in this movie.


The seedy underbelly

Besides all this other totally bad ass stuff, this story shows the dark side of college athletics, and college life as a whole. First off, there’s the use of steroids which wasn’t really a the hot button issue back in 1993 that it is today. We see the coaching staff look the other way as Steve Lattimer, who put on 35 lbs of muscle over the summer and seizes the starting defensive end job while scaring the shit out of everyone around him.



Other than that, this film touches on substance abuse and sexual assault. Both of which are prevalent on college campuses. In a ‘roid-fueled rage, Lattimer, whose calming presence we witnessed above, attempts to force himself upon a girl at a party. His actions draw the ire of the university and his coaches, but it is all swept under the rug so that the team doesn’t suffer.


As for the substance abuse, we all know that alcoholism is something that is ever-present on just about every college campus. The team’s star quarterback is an alcoholic following in the footsteps of his drunken father. After getting a DUI, the coach is forced to send him to rehab. He overcomes his drinking problem and faces his own father in order to address the underlying issues. In the end, he finds peace of mind and gets the girl.



The movie ends with a few of the coaches walking away from the team’s final game and already discussing next season. Illustrating that college football is a beast that is bigger than it’s individual parts. The faces and the names on the back of the jersey may change, but the program keeps moving forward. Nothing can stop it, and for that we are thankful.




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