Having A Rollerball

  • videoarchives
  • May 30, 2023

The Video Archives After Show was never just a game! On today’s episode, we open the Video Vault to cheer on Norman Jewison’s dystopian, prescient sports film Rollerball, debating everything from writer William Harrison’s ultra-capitalist vision of the future to the true motivations of James Caan’s superstar athlete Jonathan. We also have the final part of Gala’s interview with Roger as we prepare to finish our first season. I’ve got posters, comics and more on today’s Counter Talk, but I secretly dream of being a rollerballer, Moonpie…


Two weeks ago, Gala teased that we would be discussing one of Roger’s all-time favorite films with a chant of “Jonathan…Jonathan…Jonathan…”. We were caught off guard by the death of Rick Dalton, and quickly recorded an emergency episode about his life and career, forcing us to postpone that discussion…but today, Gala and I are thrilled to present this conversation for you rabid Rollerball fans. Quentin and Roger may have split feelings on the film, but they can both agree the sports scenes are incredibly staged, and the rousing climax can’t be beat.

In fact, the sports scenes may have been too exciting! Rollerball, like other esteemed fictional sports from Quidditch to Baseketball, was so well realized, many fans wanted to turn it into a real sport. After the film’s release, Jewison was contacted by multiple promoters who asked him to sell the rights to the game, so they could form Rollerball leagues and satisfy fan demand. Jewison refused, horrified that the “sickness and insanity of contact sports” he tried to depict was exactly what bloodthirsty real-life audiences were looking for. That brutality is just one of many details from the film that haven’t aged a day, from the powerful superintelligence that contains all human knowledge to the malleable masses placated by corporate entertainment.

The box art for the Magnetic Video Quentin and Roger watched is beyond cool, with a description that warns of an “alarmingly real” world to come:

I already spotlighted the Rollerball poster art in an earlier Counter Talk, but there are more versions I can show you! Take a look at this Japanese variant, which keeps many of the same core elements but brightens them with a fiery inferno.

I love the original Rollerball poster, but I might prefer this Danish poster by a hair. It’s such a striking, uncanny assembly of images - the huge spiked hand crushing a globe, overshadowing a burning tree, all set against sunny skies like a Magritte painting.

By comparison, look at this poster for the ill-fated 2002 remake of Rollerball. How does the title design look less futuristic 30 years later? Even the costumes are less scary without the signature spiked gloves …absolutely baffling.

Roger also brought a copy of MAD Magazine’s take on “Rollerbrawl” to the recording - or, as Quentin calls MAD, “the finest film critics of the era.” Zoom in for some ‘timeless’ satire on topics like public schools, marital sex, and uh, men’s locker rooms.

Today’s Video Archives Merch Spotlight comes from listener Jason in Fort Worth! He writes “I’m active duty Air Force for 16+ years now. I just moved from Edwards AFB, CA where I would drive 1.5 hours to the New Beverly Cinema multiple times per week (it’s my favorite theater!). I’m customer 1302 (still haven’t found out how the numbering system works…), and I’ve watched every movie from the podcast so far, I usually listen to the VAP on my way to base.”

Next week, we will return with Part 2 of our tribute to Rick Dalton. It’s been incredible to read everyone’s reactions to Part 1, and the outpouring of love for one of our favorite actors; his work has touched so many lives, and our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who’s shared their own memories of Rick. Until next week, keep following us on Twitter and Instagram, check out Video Archives merch and more at videoarchivespodcast.com, and I’ll be back soon with more Counter Talk!