He reveals to Jonathan that the ethos that the game is supposed to instil is being undermined by his continued and unique success. It has been designed to show the powerlessness and expendable nature of the individual but Jonathan's superstar status challenges this view. Reluctant to resign and increasingly resentful of the narrowness of his own life, Jonathan begins to suspect recent rule changes rendering the sport more dangerous are specifically designed to take him out of the game, one way or another. Although there are the occasional off-hand attempts at satire and Ralph Richardson has an allegedly comic turn as a computer nagged librarian, the film maintains a dourly serious tone. Paul Bartel's Deathrace 2000 - which Roger Corman released the same year to steal Rollerball's thunder - took a far more broadly comic tone and made many of the same points but with a hilariously gory zeal.
Jewison's film has a tendency to plod once away from the rink: Jonathan's investigations meander in a predictably fruitless way and a vacuous hedonistic party includes far too much exposition small talk and funny futuristic greetings (fingers to foreheads etc.). That said, the image of one of Jonathan's rejected lovers blowing trees up the morning after is both startling and strangely moving. Yet it is the sport that enlivens the movie, with genuinely gripping sequences of three competitions played out almost in full – against Madrid, Tokyo and New York. Each time the rules slacken – no penalties, limited substitutions – and the violence becomes more extreme. With a fantastic stunt team, a gamely macho star and some wonderful editing, Rollerball is so convincing, urban legend had it there were fatalities during the shoot. When you're fed up of The Hunger Games and Quidditch doesn't really do it, Rollerball will still be here as the one fictional sport to be genuinely as exciting as the real thing.