Rollercoaster is on my “must watch around the 4th of July” list. The reason is that the main action of the story takes place on 4th of July when a madman devises a plan to extort money from five major amusement park corporations by threatening them with homemade bombs he plants on…rollercoasters. What perfect timing for Shout! Factory to release the film on Blu-ray!
The film stars George Segal as Harry Calder, a safety inspector who gets wrangled into the story by the extortionist, who trusts Harry after overhearing him gush at his engineering smarts and cunning ability. Segal is in perfect form as a wise cracking city employee stuck in the middle of a dangerous situation. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are the back and forth between Calder and the cold blooded saboteur, played with eerie calm by Timothy Bottoms.
Aside from a fun thrill ride, the film is a wonderful way-back machine to the 1970s heyday of amusement parks. I grew up in Chicago where Marriot’s Great America in Gurnee was the gold standard in Illinois. Rollercoaster has some beautiful scenic shots of Ocean View Park, King’s Dominion and Six Flags Great Adventure, where the film’s climax takes place on the opening day of The Great American Revolution rollercoaster – a ride which still stands and has since been renamed The New Revolution. I also love the sights and sounds of that Americana look the parks had in those days : a throwback to old times, but washed over in a 70s gloss of stripes and pastels. In one scene, there is a barbershop quartet of trippy animatronic mushrooms, and apparently they are still in King’s Dominion.
In doing some research for this review, it’s easy to start going down an insane amusement park history rabbit hole. Many other films and shows of the 70s used these locations. Most notably, KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park was also shot in Magic Mountain. And even though I’ve seen Rollercoaster dozens of times, I never once noticed that Fleegle from The Banana Splits makes a brief appearance. I learned this makes sense as King’s Dominion featured many Hanna-Barbera characters.
The cast is rounded out by heavy hitters Peter Fonda and Richard Widmark, and look for small appearances by Helen Hunt and Steve Guttenberg. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 fans can spot Craig Wasson – the man who helped John Saxon bury Freddy – in a bit part as a stoned hippie who takes a ride on a bomb laden rollercoaster. I couldn’t end this review without mentioning the fabulous score by Lalo Schifrin, which manages to collide theme park instrumentals and thriller music into a soundtrack full of tense strings and calliope.
I’ve owned the film on DVD for years and finally we have this beautiful version on Shout! Factory Blu-ray. I did see that there was an Italian Blu-ray release, but I have not seen it to compare. This disc is also presented in Sensurround, a technology with a rich history that is a post in itself. Used by Universal, Sensurround was an audio technique for enhancing the low frequency in the theaters to make the seats “rumble”. It was specifically created for Universal Studio’s feature Earthquake, which helped its box office success. It was then adopted for other films, including Rollercoaster. I don’t have a system at home that can take advantage of the added bass, but I would be curious to know how it works for anyone else who does. Aside from a trailer, stills and a handful of radio spots, the disc is lacking any meaningful extras. It does have one interesting interview with associate producer Tommy Cook, who wrote the film’s original treatment. He shines some light on how the film was made and where he felt it could have been stronger after it strayed from his original idea. Disappointing on the extras, but I always like to point out that if Shout! Factory had access to more materials, they would have put them on here. This Blu-ray’s picture and sound quality alone are worthy of your summer job money.
Make sure you get a ticket and get in line, Rollercoaster hits the tracks June 21!