In a dark future where corporations have replaced countries, a sport named 'Rollerball' has become the world's greatest contest. It's the only surviving sport on the planet, with the teams trying to place a metallic ball in a scoring zone inside a circular arena. There's only two objectives for the Rollerball players: get as many points as you can and stay alive - because killing your opponents is an option.
Jonathon E., a ten-year veteran of the Houston team, is the most successful Rollerball player who's ever lived. Loved and idolized by the world's populace, Jonathon has now become a threat to the faceless corporations who control the planet. In this world where individuality has been carefully eliminated by the corporations, Jonothon's popularity threatens their grip on the minds of the masses and that cannot be allowed.
Original article: Corona
Starting the game
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is an all-American hotshot, the most popular player in the fastest and most extreme sport of all time: Rollerball. Along with teammates Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) and Aurora (Rebecca Romijn), Jonathan is living the high life - fame, money, incredible cars - all for giving viewers what they want: a dangerous game packed with visceral thrills, breakneck speed, and head-slamming action. Things go wrong when Rollerball's creater, Petrovich (Jean Reno), realizes that serious on-court accidents bring higher viewer ratings. Soon Jonathan and his friends are playing for their lives. The teammates find themselves trapped in intrigue, pawns in an new game without rules.
McTiernan's Rollerball is an update of the classic 1975 film directed by Norman Jewison. It isn't the first time McTiernan has remade a Jewison film; the recent The Thomas Crown Affair was also based on an earlier Jewison incarnation.
But although he acknowledges there are similarities between his Rollerball and the original, there are some crucial differences: the original film was set far in the future, but McTiernan's is just about to happen; the teams in McTiernan's film are co-ed; and McTiernan's game is not set in the United States, as the original one was.
"Anything that happens in North America or Western Europe soon happens in the rest of the world," says McTiernan. "How that entrepreneurial capitalism spreads around the world interested me. What's happened in Rollerball is that this aggressive capitalism has been spreading around the world.
"The premise of this movie," he continues, "is that a dangerous new sport is created, and somebody says, 'Gee, we can up our take by 10 percent if we get some blood on the track.' What happens if you move an extreme sport to a place where there are no limits, the kind we take for granted? What happens if a couple of normal American guys get swept up and caught in this thing?"
Up-and-coming star Chris Klein agrees. "In football, when somebody makes an amazing play, they replay it over and over. They do the same thing when someone is hurt," says Klein, who portrays Rollerball's young hero, Jonathan Cross. "They get a close-up of it, they get the microphones in there to hear what's being done. Then, once they show the close-up of the injury and everything around it - boom, they go to commercial, because that's when everyone is sitting around the television watching."
"I mean, look at the success of Survivor," he continues. "Audiences are enthralled by people behaving like savages. This movie examines those questions. What happens when sports become tainted?"
Before filming, Rollerball's stars had to undergo intense and extensive training in preparation for the difficult physical feats they'd be required to perform. For the fast-paced, round-the-track Rollerball games, Romijn and LL Cool J had to become proficient motorcyclists.
"Yeah, I'm a bitch on wheels," Romijn laughs. "I had no idea how to ride a motorcycle, but on my fourth day of shooting I had to do a stunt, so I had to learn fast. I spent about 10 hours straight on the motorcycle." Stunt motorcycling is very dangerous and often left solely up to the pros, but she didn't let fear get the best of her. She threw herself into her training. "It was fun," she says. "I didn't have any apprehension at all."
In fact, she enjoyed the motorcycle so much that in-between takes she and Chris Klein would take off, riding tandem, until wary producers asked them to save the cycling for the camera.
LL Cool J had also never ridden a motorcycle. "I took lessons from an incredible teacher," he says. He also prepared for his required on-bike athleticism in numerous ways. "I did trail biking in my backyard," he says, "up hills, all kinds of stuff. I also went to upstate New York in the mountains and rode on the trails. I did everything I could do and trained intensely for about a month. Plus, I changed my regular workout. I started running more, about three miles a day, so I could be lighter on the bike.
"The idea was not just to be good on the motorcycle," he continues, "but also to be comfortable on it. It's one thing to get on a bike and ride around. It's another thing for them to call 'Action!' and immediately look like an experienced motorcycle driver, to be able to maneuver and drag Chris around behind me on the bike. I needed to be confident enough to know I wasn't going to leave myself or Chris in traction."
Klein endured the most extensive preparation of all the principal actors. To learn the art of inline skating, he went to the Olympic speed skating training facility in Calgary, Alberta, prior to principal photography. "I trained for this movie harder than any other," he says. "I had to learn how to inline skate, which I had only done in junior high school. I trained with a man named Andrew Baron, who set up the program at the Olympic center. The plan was designed to correct my body so that I could be an inline skater."
Sounds easy enough, but Klein soon learned how much skill was involved. "It was a horribly humbling experience," Klein says, "because I consider myself to be somewhat athletic. I like mountain biking and hiking and love lifting weights and swimming. Then I started training, and people would ask me do something that I was initially just physically incapable of doing."
Klein suffered plenty of "down-time" as well. "At first, I was really positive," he says. "I would fall and it would be okay. But as we went on, I just didn't have the muscle memory to accomplish what they were asking me to do. It was very frustrating. I was there for a month, getting my body ready to go, learning how to skate."
Klein's training continued when he arrived in Montreal prior to filming. The production began assembling the Rollerball team players, among them a handful of local extreme skaters, most between 18 and 19 years old.
"I began working with these extreme skaters," Klein says, "guys who were all younger than me. I trained with them for another month on a practice track and they taught me how to do a half-pipe, how to skate up the wall - that kind of stuff. I really watched those guys and the way they interacted with each other, their fearlessness and enthusiasm." It was studying their mindset, style, and fearless radical stunts that helped Klein complete work on his character and get ready to play Rollerball.
Playing the Game
The movie features four Rollerball games, filmed in order, beginning with the Horsemen's home game against the Horde. Klein, LL Cool J, and Romijn's characters all play for the Horsemen. To staff the rival teams, McTiernan recycled the players, disguising their faces with elaborate costumes and helmets. "We re-used the actors for each away game," McTiernan says, "because, as filming continued, we hoped there would be a learning curve in terms of their ability as skaters and motorcyclists. With each new game they improved and worked better as teams. By Game 4, the final, pivotal game, they were amazing."
As mentioned, the stunts required of the actors were extensive, though Chris Klein wryly points out that "acting on skates itself should be considered a stunt." LL Cool J routinely towed Klein around the track with his motorcycle to give him enough momentum to leap over the series of bumps and ramps that dotted the track. Klein also dangled from wires, leapt from all heights onto pads, and became an adept and graceful skater by Game 4. LL Cool J accomplished a complicated manuever in which he was tethered to a motorcycle that was yanked back as he crashed into it from above, pushing the stuntwoman riding it off the seat. To complicate things, her motorcycle was on fire.
The actors attempted these stunts out of necessity, not vanity. McTiernan and his cinematographer, Steve Mason, wanted to put the camera on the track with the teams so the audience would feel the adrenaline and danger of the game firsthand. The actors had to do many of their own stunts because the camera was right in their faces.
Capturing the Rollerball
Working with an anamorphic lens and varying angles, Steve Mason's cinematography transformed the undulating Rollerball track into a brutal, massive course. He and McTiernan wanted to capture something not seen before, something grittier and as close as possible to the players, but to achieve this took some experimentation. Mason buried lipstick cameras into players' skates and placed cameras on cranes in the bleachers, jutting over the playing field and into the stands. Primarily, he and McTiernan wanted the feel of hand-held cameras, but it was a challenge to get them onto the track and into the game. They fastened a Steadicam to camera operator Mike O'Shea and strapped him to the back of a motorcycle as it spun around the track.
McTiernan adopted an unconventional shooting style during production in that he shot coverage of the games before he shot the traditional masters. In effect, he was the coach, and the cast and crew were the team. Every day, the assistant directors distributed that day's plays, i.e., the shot list to be accomplished. These plays were listed on a board that featured a hand-drawn mock-up of the track, with descriptions and simple drawings illustrating the shot. After about a month of shooting these "pieces," McTiernan treated the cast and crew to a short montage of the shots that his editor John Wright had put together. After all their hard work, they were thrilled with the results.
Mason worked closely with gaffer Mo Flam on lighting the track. Essentially, the track didn't change for the different games - the art department painted it different hues to indicate another location. The lighting underscored various aspects of the games.
"We lit the track for three different states, using low lights, spotlights and flickering lights for the pre-game atmosphere to emphasize the players' state of tension. We generally lit the track very brightly and the audience fell away to black, like a rock-and-roll show," Mason says.
In fact, Flam adds, the immense lighting rig his crew erected was modeled on rock-and-roll shows. "It was very theatrical, extravagant lighting with various color schemes," he says. "We used lighting instruments that are fairly atypical for movies, and we used a lot of them."
The track was built on the grounds of a former cement factory, which was a boon for Flam in terms of energy. "Because it was an old factory, we could use the existing power. We had 14 lighting transformers and 16,000 amps of power, which is more than any other Hollywood production I've ever worked on. It would have required 14 generators to sustain that kind of energy."
The sprawling cement factory also became home to team locker rooms, tunnels teaming with eager fans, and a decadent, Dionysian haunt known as Club Galore. This factory complex was located in Blainville, Quebec, a bleak stretch of strip malls and car dealerships about a half hour's drive outside of Montreal. The task of transforming the compound into this strange new world fell to production designer Norman Garwood.
"In the beginning it was nerve-wracking because it was all about defining this unknown world," Garwood says. "By setting it in Kazakhstan, the game and all the money involved with it, there was a coming together of all these very different cultures. It was like Cadillacs and camels all in the same place. You've got this kind of Mafia-based power structure in the game, but the people who pay the money to come see the game are the poor. On their way to the arean, I wanted the mass of poor people to pass these great billboards for perfume or clothes or other kinds of upscale products, stuff they could never even think of owning."
Garwood adds that some of his inspiration came from the exterior locations used for the film when they weren't shooting at the factory. These included various places in Old Montreal, a motley restored area of the city on the St. Lawrence River. Cobblestone streets lined with stately 19th century buildings and the famed neoclassic Notre-Dame Cathedral abut glass office buildings and refurbished lofts. In particular the production utilized the old port's towering grain silos, whose stark, industrial presence impressed such luminaries as Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius and the influential architect Le Corbusier. The Montreal Casino and the city's storied Rue St. Jacques, with its rich architectural and financial history, also served as some of the film's outdoor locales.
The company also filmed at an airport in the town of St. Jean sur Richelieu. The production decorated it with a huge, snub-nosed Hercules cargo plane, an equally massive Convair aircraft, and the sleek deluxe passenger jet, the Citation III. All were emblazoned with the Horsemen logo, designed to carry the team and their gear to and from games.
Each of the team members developed a theatrical personality for their characters, like the stars of the WWF. Dobo, for instance, a lithe beauty with distinctive red mane, had an even larger crimson "stunt wig" attached to her helmet, part of her character's game persona. Rijker, who the New York Times called "the world's best woman in the ring," whore a dominatrix mask and a fluffy red tutu.
In general, McTierman adds, and the key players' costumes grew out of their own personas. Klein's Jonathan, the team's American poster boy, donned a ripped t-shirt emblazoned with a Statue of Liberty silhouette. LL Coll J's Ridley, flashy and menacing, wore huge chrome gloves with dangling skulls and a prize-fighter's belt emblazoned with the initials H.H. for head hunter.
The costumes were designed by Kate Harrington, who worked closely with McTierman to help create the film's overall look. For the uniforms, the idea was to invent something credibly athletic and practical, but also as striking and dramatic as the game itself.
"We tried not to design the costumes only for sport," says Harrington. "We wanted them to be more sexy and edgy. McT initially came up with the idea of the characters as chess players, which evolved into archetypal figures like the Jester and the Temptress. Additionally we always had to consider the reality of making the actors safe, so we ended up putting much of the characterization in the helmets."
The base of the uniform took its inspiration from a leather motocross outfit. The teams were differentiated by color - red for the Horsemen, gold for the Horde, etc. McTierman shot the games in order as scripted, and for each new game the wardrobe department added or removed colors accordingly, using sticky vinyl for the color bars that denote the different teams - the same vinyl tape used as lines on a basketball court. It stuck through the stunts but peeled off easily to be swapped for another team color.
Fast and Furious: The Cars of Rollerball
Of course speed-loving Rollerballers need fast ground transportation when not on the court. Rollerball features a fleet of shiny, expensive sport cars, the preferred wheels of the Horsemen's star players. The cars are supreme examples of automobile - a blue Audi, a deep purple Lotus, a yellow Mangoosta, a red Ferrari and red Corvette. Then there's the piece de resistance: an azure and silver 1964 Shelby Daytona Cobra.
The Cobra, a bona fide racecar, flew to the production straight from a competition in England. Its deep rumble immediately alerted the cast and crew to its arrival. The Cobra, a groundbreaking vehicle when it debuted in '64, came to its maker, the maverick automobile designer/racecar driver Carroll Shelby, in a dream. As Shelby's bio points out, the Cobra was 'the fastest car on the planet, and Shelby's group of tinkerers started to make them even faster. They won the FIA Manufacturers Grand Touring World Championship, the only American car company ever to do so." Shelby himself visited the Rollerball set and makes a cameo apperance in the movie.
Lucky Chris Klein. His character is the one who gets to drive the Cobra. He also drives another Shelby model, the curved, silver new Series I. The Rollerball company actually used two of these models; one was stripped down to the essentials, as it was destined for an explosive end.
The production had a lot of fun creating the vehicles of Rollerball's near-future. "Because it was in the near future, we wanted the vehicles to be familiar, but just a little ahead of our time," says Gino Lucci, the cars supervisor on the film. "We took ordinary vehicles and exaggerated them. Whe took a two-door Jeep Cherokee and added two additional doors to the rear and stretched in to accept four rear wheels, so it was a six-wheeled vehicle. To stretch a car, you basically cut it in half and add pieces."
"We also purchased two Porsches," continues Lucci. "We had to buy them because of all the modifications we made. McTierman thought that for the scenes in San Francisco LL Cool J's character should have a little sophistications in his vehicle. It's a 911 C-2 Porsche given a turbolook: very wide tires, with the bodywork contoured to the wheels. That car was built from start to finish in four days.
"When all the components are together," he says, "we can basically work miracles. We also took a Pontiac transport minivan and enlarged the wheelbase and the tires. The idea was so it would have exhaust coming out of the hood like a hot-rod. We also took an Oldsmobile called the Aurora, and we magnified the wheel arches, giving it bigger wheels."
Lucci credits these fantastic cars to McTierman, with whom he has worked twice before. "I enjoy working with John because of the knowledge he possesses. He has a vision that goes from here to the moon. The cars in this picture were a lot of fun because we experimented and most of the vehicles were fabricated. We were always going down uncharted avenues, and hopefully the final product is something that everyone enjoys."
Lucci's team also built the Rollerball motorcycles, a conglomeration of so many different pieces that Romijn affectionately called hers "Frankenbike."
"It was John McTierman's idea to start with a very light-weight motor bike," says Lucci, "about 150 pounds, which he found in Spain. We contacted the company and procured a total of 12 bikes. Our first concern was safety, because of the close proximity of the motorcycles to people. They were very agile, made out of a chromemoly, which is a very strong but light material used in racing. We took these motorcycles and then basically altered them in every possible way. We designed a core body for the team bikes, which were basically the same except for different team colors.
"Because of the speed of the original bikes," he says, "which were very, very powerful, we experimented for approximately two months with a much smaller engine to slow down the vehicle so it wouldn't become a projectile on the track. We combined a smaller motor with special bodywork strong enough to form the shape but weak enough to collapse in the case of an accident. We created motorcycles that were lightweight but looked menacing.
"Of course, you'll notice some motorcycles were individualized to the characters, "he says. "LL Cool J drives a Harley lookalike, and we created a very radical design for Rebecca. The basic configuration of that bike was unbelievable. It had a very small wheel in the front and an awful, exaggerated wheel in the back. It was amazing."
Original article: Rollerball press kit