Produced by Jennings Lang and written by the acclaimed team of Richard Levinson and William Link, Rollercoaster rumbled into movie theaters in the summer of 1977 with Sensurround. One of only four films to ever feature the then revolutionary technology—the others were Earthquake (1974), Midway (1977), and the theatrical version of Battlestar Galactica (1978)—special low frequency speakers were used during the rollercoaster sequences.
Timothy Bottoms plays a nameless bomber who is sabotaging amusement park rides using remote control bombs. He plants one of those bombs on the tracks of “The Rocket,” the wooden rollercoaster at Southern California’s Ocean View Amusement Park. When he sets it off later that night, the ride derails, killing several people. California Standards and Safety field inspector Harry Calder (George Segal) had inspected “The Rocket” just three months earlier, is sent by his cantankerous boss (Henry Fonda) to investigate the accident. The next step for the “mad bomber” is Pittsburgh’s Wonderworld Amusement Park, which he sets on fire.
By now, Rollercoaster isn’t really a disaster film, but rather a clever battle of wits. Bottoms’ character is calmly calculating, seemingly not concerned about getting caught. Meanwhile, doing a little digging, Harry discovers that heads of the five biggest leisure corporations are gathering in Chicago. He travels to the Windy City and forces his way into the meeting; as it turns out, the “mad bomber” is blackmailing the group for one million dollars. Harry advises calling in the Feds, because the bomber is smart—an assessment the young man, who bugged the room, appreciates. Agent Thomas Hoyt (Richard Widmark) arrives, and dismisses Harry, but the young man has other plans. He wants his new friend Harry to deliver the money at Kings Dominion in Virginia. Harry is now fully caught up in the “mad bombers” web of craziness. Can he stop the young man before he strikes again?
Rollercoaster is helped by a cast filled with recognizable names. Timothy Bottoms’ “masked bomber” is so calm throughout the proceedings, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was popping some valium during filming. George Segal, doing little more than looking terribly concerned and making the occasional wisecrack, is capable, if underused. Richard Widmark’s FBI agent is remarkably similar to several characters he played throughout his career: angry and barking orders at every turn. Henry Fonda turns up in a couple of brief scenes as Harry’s ornery boss. Rollercoaster marks the film debut of Helen Hunt as Tracey Calder, Harry’s daughter. Also, blink and you’ll miss a cameo by frizzy haired Steve Guttenberg.
Rollercoaster isn’t a great film, but it’s still better than it has a right to be. The amount of genuine tension woven into the story makes it a fun way to spend some time on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Presented in the 235:1 aspect ratio, Shout Factory has done a surprisingly good job with this 1080p transfer. For a film that’s nearly forty years old, the image shows a solid amount of clarity. I noticed only a couple of minor scratches throughout and colors look natural and appropriate. Black levels are solid.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 3.1 in “Sensurround,” likely to try and give home viewers a taste of the original theater experience. However, it’s not much to write home about. The track is rather front heavy and not particularly dynamic. That said, the film geek in me is glad it was included.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Interview with Associate Producer Tommy Cook (HD, 12:47) The former child actor discusses how he came up with the original story for Rollercoaster, the development process and some general thoughts on the film.
- Four Radio Spots
- Stills Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer