Thrills abound in this high-speed suspense yarn as a determined terrorist (Timothy Bottoms) begins to turn America's amusement parks into battlefields. The tension mounts as affable safety inspector Harry Calder (George Segal) attempts to track down the saboteur who as targeted the country's most popular rollercoaster, and its riders, for senseless destruction. The edge-of-the-seat excitement mounts as the battle of wits between Calder and the terrorist builds to an explosive climax. Co-starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, the Jennings Lang production takes viewers on an unforgettable trip filled with sense-shattering twists and hairpin turns.
In the disaster epic, ROLLERCOASTER, a nameless man threatens the lives of many, when he begins to sabotage a number of rollercoaster rides across several locations. It all begins at an amusement park in California, where the man plants, and detonates a remote bomb. This causing the ride's wooden track to split, and the cars to derail. The incident leaves many killed. It's an event that leaves park organizers, mechanics baffled. They haven't seen such an event before. However, much to everyone's surprise, a similar incident occurs shortly after. This time in Chicago, as the man sets fire to a track there. The second incident really catches everyone's attention, as the man's actions prove to be serial. It is something that Ride Inspector, Harry Calder looks to get to the bottom of. He eventually flies to Chicago to meet with officials, however the tech savvy man, has bugged the room, and hears of their plans. From there a ransom plan is hatched by the bomber, who contacts Calder and slyly urges him to come back to Virginia. It's there that Calder learns that it is he who is expected to deliver the ransom money. Unfortunately, it's found that the nameless bomber isn't yet finished. He's planted another bomb - yet no one knows where. It's at this time that the bomber makes Harry a part of a game of cat and mouse, as the bomb turns out to be a lot closer than anyone thinks, The sequence ends with Calder leaving the money at a discussed location for the man to pick up. He does, but after some time, the man discovers that the bills were marked by FBI agent Hoyt and his team. This angers the man, who says that he plans to retaliate. He does so at an amusement park, during a live concert. He believes that the sound from the concert will be a good enough distraction that would allow him to plant the bomb, and then detonate it successfully. Unfortunately for him though, the FBI agents are one step ahead of him, as they disguise themselves as park officials and are able to deactivate the bomb. Not discouraged however, the bomber doesn't give up, as he makes his way onto a ride, and plants another bomb there. From there, Calder and the others, must race to outwit the man, before yet another catastrophe occurs
ROLLERCOASTER from 1977 is another of of those disaster films, with a story that you'd likely see more commonly on weekly TV. However, the production here is much bigger than that, and in addition, the film features a nice ensemble cast. The plotting here is fairly procedural. There's a terrorist on the loose, who is going about, sabotaging Rollercoasters at several amusement parts, and it is eventually revealed that he is doing so, all in the name of ransom. Yes, he demands money from FBI officials, or else, the carnage will continue. Like many procedural disaster films, out of all opposed to the attacker, one man steps up to take him on. In this film, that person is "Harry Calder", a ride inspector, played by George Segal. Segal's character essentially becomes the bomber's "mouthpiece" if you will, as the bomber conducts business through him. Eventually, things for Calder become extra stressful, when the said bomber targets, not only him, and countless others, but also his wife, "Fran"(Susan Strasberg), and daughter "Tracy"(played by a young Helen Hunt).
The film, which runs nearly 2 hours in length, and has a slow build, as it skillfully takes time to develop. It is truly, one that you have to invest yourself in. However, once you do, the film packs a good amount of creeping suspense(especially near the film's end). Another unique thing about ROLLERCOASTER, is that beyond its story, it was also shot with a gimmick in mind. Dubbed as "Sensurround", the film was shot and recorded in a way that, when the film would show theatrically, the sound would come from 2 channels, while one's seat would actively vibrate during the rollercoaster scenes. So, because of this, we here are treated with a number of cool rollercoaster point of view shots though out.
As I made mention of, Rollercoaster features a great cast - Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Harry Guardino, and Susan Strasberg. They are all supporting characters here, because the film truly rests upon the performances of both George Segal, as "Harry Calder" and Timothy Bottoms as the unnamed young man. Both Segal and Bottoms here give excellent performances as the film's hero and villain respectively.
Going into this release, I had seen ROLLERCOASTER a few times over the last few years. I've always enjoyed it. However, now after hearing from the interview with Writer Tommy Cook, that is included on the disc, that he had a much broader backstory in mind for the villain, I cannot help but wonder how much better things could have been. Cook says that his original story involved a disgruntled war vet, who is unable to get work after returning home from duty - and that his actions were part of his retaliation. And the kicker is that he would cause the chaos, utilizing the very skills that his time in service had taught him. Sounds much more interesting right? WEll what we get here is essentially no backstory, just a terrorist doing things for no reason, other than money. Regardless, it still works, and is still creepy. However the original idea, I feel is much more solid. He even wanted a much grander ending sequence, ending on the rollercoaster itself - which is something else that was excluded from the final script(Instead of having Cook, the man who thought up this idea write the script, the producers appointed 2 other writers). With this is mind though, ROLLERCOASTER, as is is still a great film.
IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
ROLLERCOASTER is a classic thriller, which takes its time to build. Luckily, it builds to something that is worth the wait. The villain himself, creepy, as he is cold and calculated. while our hero Harry Calder is one that is sort of tough/macho, making him easy to root for. If you have not seen this thriller, be sure to check it out. It's worth the watch.
Special Features include
- Includes The Original SENSURROUNDoundtrack
- NEW Interview With Associate Producer/Writer Tommy Cook
- Still Gallery
- Radio Spots
- Theatrical Trailer