Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - ROLLERBALL and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


ROLLERBALL (1975; Norman Jewison)
I've always found this film to be rather interesting in that it is a big budget Hollywood production of a dystopian sci-fi story. And, I might add, from the director of a lot of prestige films for MGM.  Norman Jewison had done FIDDLER ON THE ROOF just four years prior and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT four years before that. James Caan was hot on the heels of GODFATHER II, but had already made some very interesting project choices in the midst of that his involvement with that franchise. SLITHER, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and even THE GAMBLER are all pretty great in one way or another. That being said, he too had never really delved into sci-fi. Did I mention that John Houseman is on this movie too? He was coming off of THE PAPER CHASE, which is about as far a cry from dystopian science fiction as you can get. Oh and I can't forget Maude Adams. Though I can't nevessarily talk about this movie being a departure for her (because she just didn't make enough movies in general) she's simply gorgeous whenever I see her I wish she'd been cast more often.
I think that one of the things I find most memorable about ROLLERBALL is that that the futuristic setting is done in a subtle way. From the opening notes of Toccata & Fugue as they play over our first glimpse of the futuristic arena as a match of Rollerball is about to take place. The arena itself, the players, their uniforms and vehicles all show both a futurist vibe and also carry with them a sense of Roman gladiatorial combat. The game itself and how it is played feels like something that would have been played in the postapocalyptic world of something like THE ROAD WARRIOR but in this case it has been co-opted by corporate America and made into an epic television spectacle. In his commentary, Jewison says that even back in 1975 he was already starting to feel the escalation of frenzied sports fanaticism and was a bit disturbed by where things seemed to be headed. Not to take a run as sports in general here, but it is an odd thing to think about how focused we as a society have become on sports and sporting events and just how much money is paid to professional athletes these days. This is not a new thing by any stretch, but I feel like things have never stopped escalating even to this day and the rise of the internet and social media have only allowed us to focus on these things even more. Jewison's commentary was recorded in 1997 and has been ported onto this good-looking new Blu-ray. That's more than 17 years ago now, so Jewison isn't able to take into account how much more has happened since then. There wasn't even any fantasy sports leagues then either. All of this makes ROLLERBALL even more intriguingly prophetic in retrospect. Beyond that, the film's underlying message of corporatization couldn't be much more dead-on and I'd love to hear Jewison's thoughts on where we are now on that front (and how frightenly close we've come to the world of ROLLERBALL) as well as economically with the even steeper divide between the very rich and everyone else. I myself hadn't even seen the film since about 2000 so it was a very interesting and thought-provoking rewatch to say the least.
Anyway, all that aside, another neat thing about the film is its production design. The stadium design is one thing, but there's so much more to dig into begin that. The clothing, vehicles, office and home design are all wonderful to my mind. That is to say that I have always had a soft spot for this sort of interpretation of the future from a point of view in the past (1975 in this case) and how it looks so many years later. Of course things look antiquated and odd to us now, but that's always been quite charming to me. I've often felt that ROLLERBALL had a certain kinship with LOGAN'S RUN. They were released only a year apart, and I've always connected the two films in my head. I'm excited for folks to give this one another look as I feel like it hasn't had a decent looking release (or even a 16x9 transfer that I know of) to date. Since it was one if the earliest films to get a DVD release, it kind of slipped through the cracks as far as any kind of upgrade. This Blu-ray looks great and couldn't be a bigger step up from the last time I saw the film. Absolutely worth picking up.

Special Features:
-Two Audio commentaries: one with director Norman Jewison and a second with writer William Harrison. 
Both good tracks. Jewison is an engaging speaker and has lots of great recollections of the film, its conception, sets and production design as well as story and thematic elements. Harrison in his track talks about his original short story and how he came to adapt it for the screen.
-"From Rome to ROLLERBALL: The Full Circle(8 mins) Vintage press featurette from the time of the film's release.
-"Return to the Arena: The Making of ROLLERBALL" (25 mins) Retrospective featurette including interviews with director Norman Jewison and the cast and crew as they recall the production and why they became involved with it. Jewison and others have a lot to say about the political subtext and potentially prophetic nature of the story and violence on television and corporatization. 
ROLLERBALL Can be purchased from Twilight Time here:

I must confess up front that I am not necessarily the Hammer Films devotee that a lot of hardcore genre fans tend to be. I certainly enjoy many of their films, but as a whole they tend to land a little flat for me. So let me just apologize for that and let's move on to discussing this movie, which is easily one of my favorite Hammer Films ever made. I mean, how can one not be excited to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a movie together? Clearly one of the best things about Hammer is Cushing and Lee and how these movies came them many opportunities to be awesome in many roles. So you've got Cushing and Lee and on top of that, it's a Sherlock Holmes movie and Cushing himself plays Holmes! Brilliant, just brilliant! So yeah, needless to say, this is one of my favorite Holmes adaptations and Cushing is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes ever to be on screen. Though I favor Basil Rathbone as Holmes overall - Cushing is nonetheless in the top two or three Holmes for me for sure.
From the opening credits, through James Bernard's ominous blaring score, I find myself hooked again every time I watch this one. It feels like the perfect movie to catch on late night TV (back when people still did that) for some reason. It really is just one of those perfect little horror offerings that should more often be mentioned in the same sentence with the likes of the Universal classics. Understandably, folks don't group it with those films as it isn't from that singular American studio and it's a color film, but I do feel like the tone and manner of the storytelling is right up there with those movies. It would play very well as a double feature with any of them in my mind. Granted, it's not a traditional monster picture, but it does have supernatural and horror elements that make it memorable. Also, it being a British film from 1959 allows for it to be a bit racier, more graphic and more intense than a lot of its U.S. counterparts from the same period. I think that is obviously something that made the Hammer movies stand out in their time. They were darker and in many ways scarier then most of what was out there. Kind of a new horror renaissance if you will. A shot in the arm to a flagging horror genre that needed a little new blood (pun intended).
Not only does this movie possess the some of the greatest acting talent that Hammer has to offer, but it also is helmed by one of the most veteran of Hammer directors in Terence Fisher. Fisher is responsible for such classics as THE MUMMY, HORROR OF DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (another of my favorites from the Hammer catalog). If you haven't yet delved into the world of Hammer films, this might be a nice starting point (after which I recommend THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN - also with Cushing).

Special Features:

One of the big selling points on this disc is all the supplements that Twilight Time has included. Not one, but two commentary tracks (both great) and more! Criterion level stuff here:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros 
-Audio Commentary with Film Historians Paul Scrabo, Lee Pfeiffer, and Hank Reineke 
-Actor's Notebook: Christopher Lee
-Hound Mask Creator Margaret Robinson on The Hound of the Baskervilles 
-Christopher Lee Reads Excerpts from The Hound of the Baskervilles  
 -Isolated Music & Effects Track
-Original Theatrical Trailer
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES can be purchased via Twilight Time here:

1 comment:

FOULARD said...

Rollerball is interesting as one of the last gasps of dsytopian late 60s-early 70s movie science fiction before Star Wars changed expectations in '77. I originally saw it on a campus double feature with Westworld around '78 or so.

Also have a memory of seeing a promotion about "the rules of Rollerball" on ABC Wide World of Sports around when it was originally released. Too bad that hasn't shown up as an extra!