From the conceptual, Michael Crichton penned sci-fi thrills of Jurassic Park and Westworld, to the exploitative excess of The New Kids and Slayground all the way to the absurdity of Beverly Hills Cop III, the amusement park has an earned history in genre cinema even if it tends to get overlooked. 1977’s Rollercoaster, directed by TV veteran James Goldstone, is one of the better thrillers to involve an amusement park. Especially in regards to its titular attraction.
I really wanted to avoid being silly and saying that Goldstone’s film moves like a rollercoaster but, well, it does. Featuring a terrorist/bomber villain who structures his chaos very similarly to Simon in Die Hard with a Vengeance, the whole thing feels like one extended ticking timebomb sequence with our lead George Segal trying to chase down the antagonist played by Timothy Bottoms, a young man hell bent on wreaking havoc at amusement parks. Goldstone keeps the pace brisk here, even with a 119 minute runtime, never letting the viewer get ahead of the characters on screen. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, and Susan Strasberg making it a pretty classy production from Universal. But, it had the great misfortune of being released in summer of 1977, shortly following Star Wars. It’s safe to say that it didn’t light the box office on fire (keeping good company with William Friedkin’s Sorcerer released only a week later) when released, but holds up better than many other genre films of its time.
It’s worth mentioning that this was a Sensurround release, a sound process created by Universal to coincide with their release of Earthquake from only a few years prior. Other major titles from the distributor used the process as well, like Midway and Battlestar Galactica. It proved popular enough that Universal could rely on the Sensurround name alone to sell tickets. Until Star Wars came along. The process basically allowed for additional levels of bass that would cause the theater to rumble, much to the dismay of patrons in adjacent theaters as well as to theater owners that wished for their auditoriums to maintain some basic structural integrity. The process was later spoofed in Joe Dante’s (also distributed by Universal) Matinee.
Shout Factory have brought Rollercoaster to Blu-ray with favorable results. Previously existing only on a non-anamorphic DVD from Universal, this is a huge step up for fans of the film. Shout’s 1080p transfer preserves the 2.35:1 aspect ratio – which Goldstone uses wonderfully – and maintains a healthy level of grain in the image. Colors appear to be represented faithfully, with deep blacks and solid contrast. This is a very nice transfer and should greatly please fans. The audio is treated similarly with Shout admirably providing a 2.1 Sensurround track, that obviously can’t replicate the true Sensurround experience but it’s a nice try. A more standard DTS-HD 2.0 track is also included if you want to give your subwoofer a rest. Great presentation all around.
The only major supplement included is an interview with associate producer Tommy Cook, which runs about 12 minutes. Cook apparently came up with the original story for the film and talks about how it came to be a feature and some of the production history. It’s a rewarding watch even if Cook doesn’t seem to be all that thrilled with the movie itself. Promotional materials – radio spots, stills and a trailer – round out the package.
Rollercoaster is an above-average thriller that was unfortunately put on screen at exactly the wrong time. Luckily, Shout Factory have finally brought it to home video with an anamorphic widescreen transfer and an audio presentation that does its Sensurround presentation justice. It doesn’t break the mold, but it serves it very well. Recommended.