Norman Jewison's film is set in 2018 and foresaw that television would become more participatory and more violent. However, sometimes an idea behind a film is better than its execution.
Rollerball was a sport specially invented for the film, a vicious anything goes form of roller derby blended with US-style football. Players are armed with spiked gloves as they attempt to throw a steel ball into the opposition's goal. Motor cycles tear in and out of the action, and although it's hard to understand exactly what's going on, there's a heady thrill-and-spill atmosphere.
William Harrison's story is bleak near-future science fiction, envisaging a world where national governments had succumbed to powerful global corporations engaged in constant power struggles. Rollerball is the national sport used to demonstrate that individuality is now a pointless struggle. The film is set in Houston, although the stadium action was filmed in a converted sports arena in Munich.
The performances of star player, James Caan, drawn into the politics behind the sport and John Houseman as a creepy corporate boss, are excellent. There is also a nice side act by Ralph Richardson as a computer librarian and the action set pieces are all spectacular. What drags is the tedious exposition of its one-man-against-the-system's-impossible-odds message. Modern audiences want action not talk.
John McTiernan's remake of "Rollerball" is out on 5th October.