Having just watched the 1975 original, I was DYING to see this recent remake, even though I knew it was total crap. ESPECIALLY because I knew it was total crap. And on that count, it did not disappoint!
I LOVE watching remakes to compare them to the original, especially when you have the fun of knowing that everything good about the original will be tossed out or made triply obvious. This is why I’m DESPERATE to see the remake of the J-Horror flick Pulse, as I thought the original was so tight, and the remake threatens to take all the subtlety and flatten it out for American morons. Yay!
The differences in these versions is telegraphed immediately by the title credit, this one trying to focus on the awesome coolness of it all, the original jut having a fabulous type face that doesn’t attempt to overwhelm. We then meet Chris Klein, who is some sort of illegal street skater, and the first “action” scene is him and friends skating down the streets of San Francisco with the police in hot pursuit. This is solidly in the pandering tradition of these modern action movies aimed at 13-year-old boys, which implies that the sweet street jumps they execute cuz they’re so rad are actually preparing them for fame and fortune much more than any kind of university degree ever could. School, kids: it’s pointless!
So Chris is rescued by LL Cool J, who is icin’ it hard in his Porsche and glittering jewels. He suggests that Klein try out for the rollerball team, where he will make enough to retire in four months. Klein would rather try out for the hockey team again, but when he sees that the police have come to his house an threaten to impose a strict fine on him, and perhaps some dreadful community service, he decides that a move to Eastern Europe to change his life completely and play a dangerous and deadly game might JUST be the most convenient solution. Four months later, he is the top rollerball star. Oh, by the way, all of this is happening in 2005. So get this, bitches, all this shit has ALREADY HAPPENED!
The essential difference between the two versions is apparent from the first game. In this incarnation, the board incites the crowd to chant “Jon A Ton” [Klein’s name is Jonathan], whereas in the original the chant was a spontaneous thing arising from the audience and represented the corporate society’s loss of control over the masses. So here’s the deal: in the original, corporations had become the new nations, and had eliminated war and crime, channeling the rage of the populous into this violent gladiatorial game called rollerball. The purpose of the game was to teach “the futility of individual effort,” and thus it serves a crucial role in keeping the masses in line. In this version, the game is the sort of violent thing that can only be produced in Eastern Europe, and run not by the leaders of society but by these thuggish entrepreneurs who gain ratings for themselves by upping the violence of the game. These same guys also own “the mines” that the workers and rollerball fans slave away in. So you see that the scope of the criticism has changed: where it used to apply to all of society and be a means of widespread social control, this game is only seen by those in the Eastern hemisphere [and hello, aren’t they all craven and evil anyway?], and used by a small group of the corrupt to control a small group of the oppressed. And for money, not political power. It’s amusing to consider how movies like this, which takes as its main point delivering the “awesome” violence that the original condemns, are in fact THE form of social control that the original warns of.
The other big difference is the game. In the original there was a round court that looked like a giant roulette wheel, which lent itself to a hypnotic circular motion during all of the game sequences. There were also these cool cone-things that you had to put the ball in [where it evocatively stuck as though magnetized]. Furthermore, the game MADE SENSE. You could tell at once how it was played and what the goal is. But that was not X-Treme enough for the makers of the new version, so this time the court is this figure-eight shape with numerous jumps and bumps throughout, and the players now wear rollerblades. Now, does that sound X-Treme enough to you? Fuck no, dude! So they’ve installed this giant Habitrail above the court that the rollerfolks can jump into and… skate through. For some reason. The figure-eight thing makes the action impossible to follow, and now all the players wear these ridiculous masks and outfits such as jester-man, demented killer schoolgirl, and suchlike, and now a goal is scored by hitting this giant gong-thing that emits showers of sparks. The rules of the game are laid out in a ridiculously detailed bit of exposition which does nothing to clarify matters, until he finally gives up and declares them all “Russian and complicated.”
So as they play the game, during which Klein has time to say “Here you go, princess!” while throwing the ball to Rebecca Romijn on a motorcycle as she passes over his head. Soon after, a guy is killed. This causes the “global rating” score to immediately jump upward. Which either means that people who were not watching somehow psychically sensed that something fuckin’ rad was happening and turned on their TVs, or that people around the world [except in pure, moral North America, where the game is not yet broadcast] are calling their friends and saying “Yo, G! There is some fucked-up shit goin’ DOWN on that rollerball game! Tune in now!” But the point is made stunningly clear: violence and death boosts ratings. That is, the violence and deaths that are among the main reasons anyone might see this movie, boost TV ratings, and for that we wag our finger. You are warned not to pop this film into your DVD player without having a cohesive mental support system on hand.
Anyway, Romijn discovers that the player who was killed probably died because his helmet strap was cut! The deadly nature of this revelation is belied by the fact that Klein does not attach his helmet strap during the course of the entire movie. Romijn steps to the game-footage replay center conveniently located right in their locker room, and shows Klein how four out of five cameras were trained on the fated played before he died… almost as if they KNEW it was going to happen. They tell LL, who advises that if it gets “too sick” then “they’ll walk.” So they stay in the game, but start to get worried and aim suspicious glances at everybody.
I should mention that there are two senseless transitional scenes, one featuring footage from what may be a Bruce Lee movie, the other a bunch of Japanese acrobats singing “Buleh Buleh,” or whatever that song is. Let’s also take a glance at the titillation meter. LL quite rudely refuses to remove his shirt. Like, at all. But to make up for it there are a lot of hot Eastern European thugs on hand… you know the type, bald and beefy with goatees and such. Works for me [and how come there’s not EasternEuropeanThug.com?]. There is a cuuuute baby-faced Russian on hand that kind of looks like David Boreanaz if he were a powerlifter, played by Oleg Taktarov, who has quite an extensive little biography on the IMDb, wherein we learn that he is called “the Russian bear” and is known for his “leg lock submission hold.” I have been the subject of a few leg lock submission holds in my day, but I’m sure nothing like what I might receive from beefy Oleg [Oleg, call me!]. For our straight readers there is of course the fabulous Ms. Rebecca Romijn, but please be advised, “unrated” DVD or not, she only appears nude once and then is in such darkness that you only see outlines.
SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, at one point LL gets injured trying to protect Rebecca, and him and Klein plan to escape. This leads to the notorious “20-minute” [as my friend says, it’s actually 4 minutes] scene shot entirely in green night-vision, which IS stupid, but I didn’t mind as much as, like, EVERYONE on the IMDb does. I think it would have worked a lot better if there had been some transition into it, but no, all of a sudden everything’s gone green. They make this daring escape on a motorcycle traveling 120 MPH on a dirt road, and cause a ludicrous “BOINNNNGGGGG!” sound when they sideswipe a fence. But evil executive Jean Reno is after them, and has LL shot. After some bullshit about how Reno owns the mines that these miners who are the big audience for rollerball, Klein hopes to spare Rebecca and get out of the game.
So they play the final game, in which all rules are suspended, although we can’t really tell how this is any different than any other game. Nevertheless, the violence proves too much for our audience and sportscaster, who feel that it may have all gone TOO FAR. You will note that most of the other players are in extreme padding and costumes, Klein is merely in a dorky helmet and statue of liberty T shirt. Fuckin LIBERTY, dude! It’s a statement. Anyway, there’s a chase and Klein kills Reno and various other baddies and the game sparks—not fuckin’ lie—a RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, and Rebecca saves Klein and the last line of the film is how she’s gonna take him home and open a can of hot poon all over him. I should also mention that at one point LL makes a joke about how he has a big dick, because although we may have ostensibly made an anti-racist statement in having him be a player of some accomplishment, we cannot make it through a lowbrow movie with a black male character without mentioning that he has a big dick. Similarly, although women are now included in the games [as they weren’t in the 1975 version], they rarely do anything except play especially brutally [women can be brutal, too!] and send lusty glances.
< < < SPOILERS END
The deal with this movie is that it was supposed to be a summer release that they realized was utter shit, took out enough violence to make it PG-13, and dumped it out in February, when all the studio’s crap is nudged out into the marketplace. I’ve already mentioned how the wider social criticism of the original has been reduced to disingenuously tsk-tsking about how networks shouldn’t try to get increased ratings from violence, and should care, REALLY CARE about their players, even though the violence is explicitly presented as the only reason anyone would want to see this movie [aside from Romijn’s tits]. The trailer advises you to “go ballistic” and “get in the game.” One can gain some meager amusement from going to the IMDb and reading the few POSITIVE reviews of this film, including my favorite, who thought that the original “focused far too much on character development. In parts, to the point of being boring.”
The problem with watching crap remakes is that usually you can glean the amusing differences from the first half, leaving you with a whole half a movie of sheer stupidity to get through. This one received significant fast forwarding, but not as much as it might had it not featured a nice smattering of sadistic Eastern European thugs, but for me this focused far too much on senseless and stupid action sequences. In parts, to the point of being boring.
If you like the original and want to see how it was massacred. I would not advise watching for any other reason.
ROLLERBALL  is the original, and is not the world's greatest movie, but looks like the fucking Battleship Potempkin next to this one. If Battleship Potempkin featured sexy, sexy John Beck.