The Film (4/5)
A mysterious bomber with no name (Timothy Bottoms) breaks into the Ocean View Amusement Park and rigs a bomb to one of the rollercoasters. After the explosion, Harry Calder (George Segal), the ride inspector, is called in for damage control. But something isn’t quite right. The next day, Harry discovers there was another rollercoaster scare in Pittsburgh. Harry knows it’s the same man and starts his own investigation. He calls in FBI agent Hoyt (Richard Widmark) and his antiterrorist group to help catch the mad man before another rollercoaster blows up. But our mysterious bomber is wise to Harry and soon starts a deadly game of cat and mouse.
ROLLERCOASTER is a fascinating movie that’s usually associated with the 1970’s disaster boom. The 70’s were filled with tons of Disaster movies covering everything from airplane troubles (the AIRPORT franchise) to mad snipers at sporting events (TWO MINUTE WARNING). So “disaster” is a loose term regarding these films. Which brings us to ROLLERCOASTER. The director James Goldstone said that preferred to call it a suspense film in the mold of Alfred Hitchcock or Carol Reed (NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH), instead of a disaster film. Well I disagree, this film looks and feels like a disaster flick, but it’s also one of the most surprising, thrilling, and witty, so I’m sure Hitchcock would be proud.
The level of tension in this film is very Impressive. I’m still surprised it’s not better known. From the opening credits onward, every scene is packed with thrilling editing and sound design. The intercutting between the bomber and the rollercoaster is timed to the second. In the middle of the film when Harry is forced to ride multiple rides to please the bomber to avoid another explosion, the camera follows the ride from top to bottom while intercutting with the police’s secret. All without feeling sloppy. The choreography of action is all laid out and shown to maximum effect. I was on the edge of my seat for a huge portion of the movie.
ROLLERCOASTER also follows the disaster movie formula with a huge marquee cast. George Segal (WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLFE?, THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM) is one of my favorite actors who always brings unusual charm to whatever he is it. Here he is a believable inspector, who is having a hard time trying to quit smoking. One hilarious scene actually has him almost causing a fatal car crash, because he is day dreaming about his first cigarette (which was a Camel). His odd quirks and everyman appeal made Segal incredibly watchable. Timothy Bottoms makes a good cold and calculating villain. He doesn’t really have much of a personality, so it works because his character is a blank slate. Richard Widmark makes a likeable asshole who doesn’t quite get the picture. As for the rest of the cast we have Henry Fonda, who plays Henry’s boss. He isn’t given much to do, but hey it was a paycheck for him. Susan Strasberg plays a lovely girlfriend who puts up with too much. Harry Guardino (the DIRTY HARRY) is always cool to see. The movie is also Helen Hunt’s acting debut as the bored daughter. Also in a funny bit part is Craig Wasson (BODY DOUBLE) as a hippie who loves balloons.
ROLLERCOASTER is a movie I wasn’t expecting much from, but boy was it a pleasant thrill ride. Compared to many disaster movies of its time, ROLLERCOASTER is one of the best.
Shout! Factory delivers another handsome release. For audio options there’s the 2.1 (labeled as 3.1 on the pop up menu) Dolby true HD Sensurround* audio and the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Both are in English. The Sensurround track recreates the unique audio experience from the theater, where the audio track would follow the rollercoaster and increase the base levels for louder bits. I preferred the 2.0 track, but both sounded wonderful. There’s no sudden drop in sound levels or hiss. Easy to read English subtitles are included.
ROLLERCOASTER has a 1080p HD transfer which is pretty outstanding. The scope of the movie helps on many respects and this transfer does it justice. The sharp images are filled with details such as drops of sweat on peoples’ faces. The colors are vivid and the movie looks like it was filmed yesterday.
Extras are a little slim on this release. The main one is an interview with writer Tommy Cook. Rounding out the packet we get radio spots, a still gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
ROLLERCOASTER is a thrilling great time at the movies. The pacing, the action, and the cast are top notch. Shout! Factory sweetens the deal with a marvelous transfer and sound mix. And if you’re a fellow George Segal fan, what are you waiting for? Highly Recommended.
- *Sensurround was a short lived audio set up, similar to XD sound systems, where the audio would follow you. The track would then up the bass during exciting action scenes to shake your seats.