Rollercoaster (1977) Blu-ray Review

Coasting

Mistimed at release and incorrectly labeled as part of the disaster movie boom, Rollercoaster is too light on body count for such a classification. Only a single coaster meets its fate (and in the opening 10 minutes), turning from disaster to languid chase film as authorities seek the man responsible for the wreck – an explosives addict.

It’s a film of a different era. Rollercoaster carries a patient complexity with its characters. Details roll out with a plodding pace, maintaining its distinctive gruff tone. Harry Calder (George Segal) runs down the coaster bomber while dealing with his ex-wife and smoking problem. There’s no rush – the nameless villain sets up his plot invisibly in the background. Rollercoaster’s focus leans in favor of its grumbling heroes.

Although cold in its relationships, there’s authenticity in these stand-offish personalities. Calder clashes with any authority in an enjoyably sarcastic way, spiteful yet with a determined smile. Segal’s performance elevates the otherwise inactive dialog exchanges (and Timothy Buttons’ brand of evil is special). Even extra bit parts turn spiteful. Parents berate their kids over cotton candy and couples feud in line for the rides.

Piece together the coaster footage with narration and there’s a mini-documentary waiting to escape.

By 1977, there’s already influence from Jaws. Panicked park owners sweat out the possibility of losing business momentum due to the bomber, these scenes done without the gloss of Spielberg’s work. Rollercoaster seeks a harder edge, but shies away for the sake of wider box office. Although primed on strong suspense and tension, there’s no release valve. Rollercoaster’s spectacle dies early. A ransom drop-off limps to conclusion after pocketing some 20 minutes of screen time. The finale boasts two rides on a roller coaster and a repetitious concert by the band Sparks, both meant to utilize the audio format – Sensurround. Instead, they cause the film to enter a dead stop.

Faults aside, Rollercoaster holds together as a fine artifact, glistening with aerial and ground views of theme parks, locked into their late ’70s form. Piece together the coaster footage with narration and there’s a mini-documentary waiting to escape. There’s also innocence. The first coaster doesn’t cause nationwide panic or fear. The word “terrorist” isn’t uttered (even if the term is appropriate). Such a casual pursuit of a killer seems unreal now, even irresponsible. Different times, cataloged by this rather lethargic thriller.

Rollercoaster Blu-ray screen shot 2

Video

Shout Factory debuts the 1977 feature with a pleasing presentation, likely from a scan completed at 2K near the negative. Detail doesn’t pop, but does consistently reside in the frame. Close-ups find enough facial definition to be noticed and the park exteriors are wonderful. During the finale, with key characters locked in a heated room, their foreheads begin to glisten with beads of sweat. Each drop is visible.

While color stays vivid with heightened primaries, flesh tones skew toward red. Not only a little red, but pure high blood pressure red. Only a handful of scenes capture anything less. On an otherwise film-like disc, that is a distracting quality.

Luckily, further complications are minor. Print damage only becomes apparent in a few scratches and specks. A stray bit of dirt won’t hamper image quality, especially with the clarity of grain reproduction. Encoding handles the lightly textured film stock without problems. There’s a one-off shot of a roller coaster late which reveals a strange gradient in the sky, but it’s over quick.

Audio

You’ll have to choose between audio formats. Both TrueHD and DTS-HD are employed – one of the rare discs to do so – replicating 2.1 Sensurround and 2.0 stereo respectively. Heightened dynamics leave the Sensurround track feeling artificially bloated, even if dialog remains sharp for its age. Any transitions into the stereos is lost by the energy being sent out by the mix.

Sequences designed for Sensurround do create a rumble, even if it’s nothing compared to the original theatrical exhibitions. Flat and dry, the low-end lacks a true mean streak. Coming alive during coaster scenes and the concert, it’s reminiscent of Universal’s Earthquake Blu-ray, if with less of a kick given how it’s used in edited chunks rather than extended quakes.

Despite losing the extension, DTS-HD offers more natural, cleaner audio. One of composer Lalo Schifrin’s lesser works, the score fits better on this track despite some wear. Note it’s mixed lower, or the TrueHD is artificially louder. Whichever is correct, Sensurround’s appeal remains locked to its own time.

Extras

Shout tracks down writer Tommy Cook to discuss his work on the film, from his initial inspiration to his early ideas for the story. The 13-minute chat doesn’t have much in the way of production behind it, yet still offers up some interesting information. The disc then offers various marketing materials, including trailers, radio spots, and stills.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Kenny8

    It’s not even Dolby TruHD. The DVD reproduces the Sensurround effect much better

  • Kenny8

    It’s not even Dolby TruHD. The DVD reproduces the Sensurround effect much better