Rollercoaster Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Shout! Factory
Directed by James Goldstone
Written by Richard Levinson and William Link
1977, 119 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on June 21st, 2016
George Segal as Harry Calder
Richard Widmark as Agent Hoyt
Timothy Bottoms as Young Man
Henry Fonda as Simon Davenport
Harry Guardino as Keefer
Susan Strassberg as Fran
Helen Hunt as Tracy
Craig Wasson as Hippie Boy
Harry Calder is a respected safety inspector responsible for checking the rides at several California-based amusement parks. When one of the rollercoasters he inspected two months ago crashes into a crowd of people, his work is called into question. Based on eyewitness testimony of someone being spotted on the tracks the morning of the incident, Harry believes this may not have been an accident. When a second tragedy strikes, this time on the other side of the country, the heads of the top five amusement parks call an emergency meeting in Chicago. They have received an audio tape from a man claiming responsibility and threatening more mayhem unless he is paid one million dollars. Harry crashes the meeting and advises the executives they are dealing with a legitimate threat that should be taken seriously, but his concerns fall on deaf ears. The bomber is listening in on the meeting as well and decides to insert Harry in the middle of the situation to deliver the cash payment, as he was the only one to recognize the sincerity of the threat. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse, as the summer season is just getting under way and the July 4th holiday is the perfect time to make a statement, unless Harry can stop the bomber in time.
Disaster movies were all the rage in the 1970s with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno and Earthquake (both 1974) just to name a few, with the latter embracing an all-new sound mix called Sensurround designed to put audiences in the middle of the action. Rollercoaster (1977) had the unfortunate challenge of being released near the end of the decade, one month after audiences had turned their attention to the science-fiction thrills of Star Wars. Poor timing was not the only problem this movie faced, as the script written by Richard Levinson and William Link lacks a sufficient amount of excitement, leaving the film with long stretches of inactivity. Fortunately director George Goldstone (They Only Kill Their Masters) excels with building suspense and the opening tragedy is handled beautifully. This sequence follows Hitchcock’s “bomb under the desk” scenario to the letter and the results are powerful enough to establish a lot of good will with audiences until the next big moment arrives. Regrettably, nothing comes close to the shock of the opening and by the time the finale arrives, the resolution feels incredibly contrived as a desperate attempt to satisfy viewers.
Goldstone focuses equal energy on developing the eclectic cast that includes such heavy hitters as Richard Widmark (Kiss of Death) and Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West) as FBI Agent Hoyt and Safety Department Head Simon Davenport, respectively. George Segal (Flirting with Disaster) has enjoyed a lengthy career alternating between comedy and drama, and here he plays the deadly serious Harry, the only man to grasp the urgency of chasing down a sociopath. A highlight comes as Harry is sent to deliver payment at the next targeted park and is forced to ride the coasters repeatedly to satisfy the villain’s sadistic behavior. As relatable as Segal may be, the real star of the picture is Widmark, whose commanding gaze and intimidating demeanor leaves little question as to who is in charge every moment of his screen time. Timothy Bottoms (The Last Picture Show) is quietly menacing as the unidentified bomber, but is given little more to do than observe the actions of others. Watch for early career appearances from Helen Hunt (Twister) as Harry’s daughter and Craig Wasson (Body Double) as the less-inspired character named simply “Hippie Boy”.
One thing that really works to Rollercoaster’s advantage is the immediacy of the subject matter, now more than ever, as the threat is caused by an individual rather than Mother Nature. This picture is far more accessible in that while most of us will not find ourselves in such tragic surroundings as a sinking ship or burning high-rise, a far greater number will visit an amusement park and ride a rollercoaster. Playing into such fears, the director incorporates a generous amount of first-person perspective shots of people riding these fast-moving rides and the images are frequently exhilarating. Rollercoaster is an entertaining movie that overcomes the flaws of its script thanks to strong direction and a talented cast. See it before your next trip to the theme park!
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this Rollercoaster is in very nice shape. Colors are strong and black levels are solid with plenty of small object detail. Any print flaws are minor and nitpicky, as this transfer looks terrific.
Audio options include the original Sensurround track and a DTS-HD MA 3.1 remaster. I did not receive a whole lot of rumble, but the mixes are both quite pleasing.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Rollercoaster was based on a story by Tommy Cooke, who sits down for an all-new interview (15 minutes) in which he discusses the origins of the tale. He goes on to talk about how the screenplay changed many ideas and ultimately what he thought of the finished film. Cooke rambles a bit and the segment could use some tightening, but as the sole new feature on the disc, it is a welcome addition.
The marketing for the movie is represented with a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer and a set of television spots.
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