Social democracy in peril.
The new fascism.
Coming Together at the Seams
The view from Porto Alegre ...
... and direct action in New York.
Not Just Black and White
LOCAL MOTION: Oak Park, Illinois
A Scandal Bigger than Enron.
An Open Letter to George W. Bush
Kenny Boy? Never heard of him.
The military busts the 2003 budget.
Bush stealth-attacks reproductive rights.
Bush hands AIDS policy to the Christian right.
Chechnya remains mired in misery.
Ann Pettifor: Discrediting the Creditors.
BOOKS: Micah Sifry follows the third way.
BOOKS: Randall Kennedy's Nigger.
MUSIC: Something is in the water.
FILM: Let's play Rollerball.
February 19, 2002
ife, for all its mysteries and riches, was somehow found lacking. Here, then,
is a remake of Rollerball, MGM having no other choice but to provide
and, in so doing, maybe heal. I did not enjoy this motion picture. I was not
healed. But somewhere a board meeting must be convening, of jubilant men convinced
that an aching need has, by them, been filled. Not for cynical sports futurism
(this version winks with right-around-the-corner nowness) or amplified violenceas
you may have heard whispered, all gratuities have been digitally erased. At
last: a Rollerball for babysitters.
Why should we be caught rubbernecking? Only because Rollerball is, conclusively,
the Watergate of studio disasters, a coverup you wont discover in theaters
(hurry, you have but minutes) or on the balance sheet. The smoking gun lies
in the 1975 originalpop it in. Do I hear a chuckle at that first line,
a sports announcer welcoming us to Houston, the Energy City? Here
they come now, in their football pads and skates. The team forms a line and
removes its helmets. The crowd rises for the Corporate Anthem. There is silence,
None of this makes the cut for the remake; you just might get weepy over the
passing of 70s sci-fi earnestness. Rollerball was the ripest: a
future world of mighty conglomerates presided over by the executive class which,
having done away with wars, nations and poverty, serenely administers a brutal
outlet to the under-consumers. (Memo to tomorrows CEOs: This does not
actually work.) Fully baked or not, Rollerball still commands any self-respecting
anti-globalization slumber party. White-walled living quarters and permawavespar
for the genretake on an aptness; dreams are murmured about wearing a gray
suit and making decisions.
John McTiernan and his team of screenwriters have seen fit to chuck out this
context, and the error is fatal, like doing Jaws without the shark. The
game is now set in rampantly capitalist pockets of the former Soviet Union,
with lucrative cable deals the goal of its ex-KGB entrepreneur, Petrovich (Jean
Reno, all but twirling his mustache). Hasnt he heard of the World Wrestling
Federation? No matter, we have, and lacking the corporate stranglehold of the
original, his entertainment startup has all the appeal of a bargain-basement
Cirque du Soleil, worth about a second of channel-surfing.
he shift wreaks worse damage on what the Greeks, though not the inventors
of rollerball, might have once termed the Central Drama. In the rapidly improving
first version, Jonathan, the hero player, threatened the synergistic state with
his growing celebrity. (James Caan, dimly unable to grasp the retirement forced
on him, must have required directors notes of the strongest proof.) But
this new Jonathan has no discovery other thanwait a minute!the game
is rigged for maximum carnage. While actor Chris Klein cannot fairly be faulted
for this, his agent should be flung in the penalty box for making his clients
pitch-perfect doofus in Election seem artless.
So on we go to Plan B, thrills and spills. McTiernan may not have a functioning
script, but he can claim to have once made Die Hard, as well-tooled as
the scrap heap ever gets. He has plenty to work with here: some pretty flesh,
a good eye and the whirling, sadistic contest itself. Cant these elements
occasionally cohere into cinematic rock candy? Bad for you, sure, but irresistible
on certain trips to the carnival? Hopes rise early on, when a gaggle of hyperactive
TV commercials scurry by; tastebuds are whetted for, say, a sticky gob of Starship
But now like a vengeful ghost, the corporate spirit of the original swoops
down on McTiernan with a fierceness that seems oddly appropriate. (At least
by Hollywood metaphysics.) Poor screen tests and noxious word of mouth led to
a rethink on the part of the studio, forcing him to sanitize his picture to
a PG-13. Thus McTiernan has the dubious honor of releasing a satire on extreme
bloodlust thats tamer than its 27-year-old inspiration. A collective grimace
develops in the cast, responding to horrors rarely seen. Could they be reacting
to their own predicament, trapped in hiccuping rhythms like Hot Wheels stuck
on a similar figure-eight track?
Rollerball is an unbelievable bomb, but one of the most educationalrevealing
corporate desperation at its vulgar low. Before that gets interpreted as praise,
allow me to reveal what would have been its secret weapon: breasts. The league
is now co-ed (hubba hubba), but sneak into their discretely decent locker room
and youll see theres good money in computer-generated towels. After
the game, its a romp over to the local strip club where the boys like
to ogle some nice, uh, dresses. Even the cars have bras on.
Women were the plastic rewards in the original too; here theyre
intended as morsels still in their wrappers. Clearly, todays teens dont
even rate a dirty treat. And while Petrovich might be the resident baddie, thereby
allowing Jonathan to wrest an absurd triumph from the moral muck, the film points
its gloved finger outward to the real culprits: us, with our global ratings
that spur them on. But if were so bad, cant Rollerball at
least let us earn it? This, finally, is the one thing both versions get wrong.
Audiences would never be treated so discourteously by any smart company. Rebellion
would be instantly packaged and resold to us. This movie is a defect broken