Rollerball is a 1975 film that looked forward 43 years later to the year 2018. In its dystopic vision, as directed by Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison, the future holds neither war nor famine, borders have been dissolved, and six corporations control our basic needs.
In place of entertainment, the ruling multinationals have devised a new form of recreational activity that is carried to audiences through a conglomerate-owned broadcast called "multivision." Similar to the appeal of reality television, this modern amusement organized by the elite class is part athletic event and part armed conflict. It's Rollerball, a hybrid game of roller derby, motor cross, American football, and hockey. Players are goaded to injure and even kill competing team members.
Written by Andrew Nette, Rollerball (120 pgs., Auteur, 2018, U.S.$15) is a slim book dedicated to the science-fiction sports action of the same name. It is part of a series titled Constellations, which allows writers to expound on science fiction cinema and television and relate the significance of singular projects, covering cult classics such as Blade Runner (1982) and RoboCop (1987) alongside more contemporary works like Children of Men (2006). Nette is a writer and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia, who has previously been a co-recipient of the Australian Film Institute Research Fellowship, and has published a book on the portrayal of youth culture in pulp fiction.
Nette's book is partly an academic study for cinema and television scholars, and partly an illuminative history of the film's production and its reception by the public. In his prologue, Nette writes, "This book will attempt to redress the lack of critical work on Rollerball and examine the ways in which it simultaneously exhibits the cinematic aesthetics of mainstream, exploitation, and art house cinema, in the process transcending its commercial prerogative of action entertainment to be a sophisticated and disturbing portrayal of a dystopian future."
As Nette explains, Rollerball the film came about because of a short story published in Esquire from a former theology student and novelist, William Harrison, who worked with Jewison on the film's script. Nette is meticulous as he outlines the cast and crew, running through some of the actors' previous roles or descriptions of how certain stunts in the film played out. Elsewhere, the chapters sometimes devolve into shot-by-shot action and dialogue. At times, the...