This is not an earth-shattering trailer, but at least it doesn’t spoil everything and – peculiarly – it refers to the movie as “Solar Warriors”, but don’t worry, it’s definitively the same film! It paints a reasonable picture of what we’re about to be served and shows some of the odd aspects we’ll refer to later, including the baby blue Nazi suit, the ridiculous vehicles and the main protagonist – Bodhai.
Imagine a post-apocalyptic desert prison camp, filled to the brim with teens, lacking water and deodorant, can you imagine the smell? You can practically inhale the raging, adolescent hormones and shape the grease they leak from their clogged pores into romantic, brown candles. This is the setting of Solarbabies. Which is also the least inspired name for a movie, ever. Period.
This movie is the abortion of an orgy between Mad Max, Walt Disney and Rollerball – and if so I’m pretty sure James Caan organized it, Walt had his drink spiked and Mel Gibson became Catholic afterwards. But believe it or not, and this will be a hard one to sink in, the people that actually worked on it are almost as weird. Get ready.
You know who Mel Brooks is, right? Infamous director/producer/actor of such high cinema as “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Blazing Saddles”. Well, Mr. Brooks is the producer behind this inspiring sci-fi flick – and I use that term loosely – and that should already raise some questions. But it gets better!
Guess who the director of the movie is? The choreographer of such high cinema as, you guessed it, “Blazing Saddles” and “History of the World: Part I”. Yes, Mel Brooks’ go-to choreographer directed this movie, can you hear the prison alarm going off? This is not a drill!
To be clear, I’m not taking a dump on choreographers, that’s some real talent and hard work. I couldn’t do it, I can’t even dance, and I viciously despise musicals to a point that whenever characters spontaneously break out into singing and dancing – I in return break out in cold sweats and uncontrolled dry-heaving. But I do respect their trade. But there’s a saying that aptly applies to Solarbabies, and director Alan Johnson, and that is – shoemaker stick to your last.
What we have here is an odd combination of a sci-fi film, an adventure movie, a teen-flick and post-apocalyptic cinema, none of which come out well. Basically, it’s a lot like preparing a “super dish” composed from daily meals. Sure, it’s fine to eat cornflakes for breakfast, a tuna sandwich for lunch, and spaghetti with pastrami for dinner with some pudding afterwards – no objections there. But have you ever tried putting them all into the blender and then eating the thick sludge that follows? Yeah, that.
I won’t give much away in the introduction, since the plot itself is pretty meager, but I will say this – Solarbabies is not a juicy cult-film. At all. But there is one – minor – pro to that.
This one is totally kid-proof, okay? Sure, someone’s pet dies and there’s one or two “scary” moments (one of which is virtual reality, anyway) – but let’s face it, pets die and the internet today is a scarier place than any “virtual reality” predictions of the 80’s!
It is the Year 41 after “something” – we’re never told all the details, but what seems most plausible is that Nestlé has definitively gained ownership over all water sources, in order to keep up with George Clooney’s insatiable need for Nespresso, and that all education has been thoroughly – permanently – Betsy DeVossed. It’s a disaster of sorts.
We are told all this in voice-over – always a sign of a great storyline – and that society has been completely destroyed. There is only the E-Protectorate, outside of it exists only small “colonies” in the desert wastelands, and the rest of the people work in camps where they receive rationed portions of water. There are also “orphanages” that are really nothing more than a prison – even though the warden explicitly insists he’s not running a prison – in which hundreds, if not thousands, of orphans spend their time being indoctrinated into a life of slave labour as part of the system, or serving in the violent “E-Police”. The latter we will come back to soon.
The movie then really opens with a less-than-exciting scene of what can only be described as “Roller LaCrosse” but which has simply been named Skate-Ball because that’s just so much better. Either way, we are shown two teams – one composed of scruffy misfits: the Solarbabies, the other semi-fascist pro athletes: the Scorpions. They’ve come together at a “secret” location, some sort of arena, which is kept very stealthy by turning on all the runway-grade stadium lights. They are watched by a mysterious figure we will later come to know as Darstar (Adrian Pasdar) – I guess they figured if they removed a “K” we wouldn’t notice – and the Solarbabies’ mascot, Daniel (Lukas Haas), an otherwise cute, floppy-eared kid who is deaf for the first five minutes of the movie.
Either way, the two teams go at each other like a Wendy’s and Mickey D’s night shift crew in an empty parking lot. Brutal, but not that brutal. Or exciting. Or skilled. Really, it’s teens fighting each other on roller skates – what can I tell you?
For some reason, completely unnoticed by both teams, an armada of E-Police arrive and – under the watchful eye of what is best described as a Mussolini wanna-be named Grock, in a baby blue, foam rubber suit that would do great in any kinky, gay club – spectate as they battle.
While the Scorpions are dominant first, the Solarbabies fight back with “passion” and manage to take the lead, and when they do, the E-Police decide they’ve had enough. If their favorite team, the Scorpions, doesn’t win – nobody will. And so they intervene, with very ineffective means, and the game is broken up as the Solarbabies scatter like surprised roaches under kitchen lighting – the older ones flee into caves and other hidden parts, but their mascot, Daniel, is left to fend for himself.
When Daniel flees he ends up in an abandoned mine and, probably because his ears throw off his balance, trips over a wire and sets a mine cart off on a deadly descent. Thankfully, young Daniel escapes being flattened like a slice of hearing-impaired Cheddar cheese by hiding in a crevice in the wall as the cart thunders by – which, unfortunately, does destroy his hearing aid in the process. And that’s when it happens, the cart rams through a wall and uncovers something very special in a puddle of water: Bodhai – an ancient being spoken of by wasteland Bedouins known only as Tschikari.
Now, before you get excited, I want to get something out of the way. Bodhai sounds like a buff surfer dude with golden locks who loves pizza and weed. Which could potentially have saved this film, but no. Instead, Bodhai is what is best described as a magical volleyball that makes noises. He also has the ability to do everything necessary to make the entire plot of the movie unnecessary, but we wouldn’t want him to do that or we’d miss out on all the greatness ahead of us.
Anywho, Bodhai’s first act of magic is to fix Daniel’s hearing in an instant. Because he can.
Needless to say Daniel is infatuated with Bodhai the glowing volleyball, and brings him with back to the orphanage. He hides it in a big box in their “club house”, which is some sort of machine room where the group hangs and reads “literature” (yes, really), particularly on the climate of the “old world”. This small group, the Solarbabies, consists of Terra (Jami Gertz), Jason (Jason Patric), Metron, Rabbit, Tug and, of course, Daniel – all playing obligatory roles as the hottie (Gertz), the nerd, the comedian, the jock and the hero (Patric).
As Terra quotes from the book about the concept of thunder, a sudden “indoor” lightning storm breaks loose, and rain pours down from the ceiling – bringing the teens into a seemingly orgasmic ecstasy, including wacky dances. Once the miniature storm has passed, Daniel comes out with his renewed hearing abilities and introduces the rest of the group to Bodhai.
Over the following hours, they befriend and recognize the “alien life-form” as something unique that must be protected.
However, unbeknownst to them, they are again watched by the mysterious figure Darstar – who finds Bodhai more than intriguing and decides to steal it for his own purposes. And so he disappears into the desert wastelands while the prison orphanage goes on red alert. But there’s one person who knows exactly where Darstar is – little Daniel, who can hear Bodhai singing to him in his head. Otherwise known as a severe psychotic episode, but sure. As such, little Daniel, without proper access to mental help, goes after Darstar to retrieve his magical friend. By himself.
When the rest of the Solarbabies find out, panic breaks loose because “He’s just a little boy!”, which is particularly funny because at the beginning of the movie, they didn’t seem quite as concerned with his well-being and left him behind as they fled – but sure, whatever. Either way, they pack their belongings – which is nothing, so that helps – and sneak out of the orphanage, which apparently has more holes in its security than a well-seasoned Swiss cheese.
The Solarbabies are on a mission out in the desert using the best, most effective form of transportation when dealing with an endless terrain of rocks, sand and pebbles – roller skates. Because nothing works better than tiny, flimsy little wheels that would jam on a ladybug should you strike it from the right angle.
Anyway – needless to say. the Solarbabies are in for quite an adventure exploring the wastelands, being chased by E-Police, and trying to catch up with Daniel, Darstar and of course, the beach toy it all revolves around – Bodhai the singing volleyball from outer space. Magical.
This is a bit of a tough one. Technically speaking, the acting in this movie really isn’t that bad, but the problem is that the dialogue is terrible – the actors didn’t have an awful lot to work with. To give you an example, when a creepy guy (one of the main antagonists) jumps up on Terra (Gertz) to feel her up, she replies with: “Get out, you creature of filth!”. Who OK’d this dialogue? I’ve been a script doctor to very small independent movies – which I’m not even sure were ever completed – but lines like these were the first things I’d attack like a hungry tiger.
Of course, like most 80’s movies, the acting is a bit stiff, but the young actors really do have their acting skills in order, and Gertz (Terra), Patric (Jason), Haas (Daniel) and Pasdar (Darstar) are still very active on TV and in movies – so don’t worry too much about the acting of the “stars” of the movie.
Most of the other actors are quite over the top or just plain boring. The warden, who is supposed to be a good guy, is alright. Strangely, the main antagonist, Grock, who is an officer of the E-Police, is played by the accomplished (seriously!) actor Richard Jordan, but is just plain awful, which again I think is due to the fact that the role was awful, more so than who played it. The same goes for most of the others. They are all stereotypes of sorts, and that includes in particular the two mercenaries Malice & Dogger – played by British comedian Alexei Sayle and actor Bruce Payne, respectively – who were clearly added for humorous effect, but hardly provide any. They’re greasy drunks who stumble and bumble around being silly, and it just doesn’t work – not for me, at least. And that’s the problem with the whole movie, nothing really works. But it’s hard to pin it on the acting, per se.
Sound(track) & Special FX
If, like me, you’re a child of the 80’s and 90’s you will probably remember the quality of music of early consoles like the NES and Sega 8-bit (I had both!) or, perhaps even better, the early sound cards for PC. They were functional and could play “music”, but it certainly wasn’t comparable to even the simplest keyboard music today, nor had they the ability to play or even properly mimic “normal sounds”. The Solarbabies soundtrack is exactly that, the distinct “uber-simple”, early mono MIDI-generated music of those days. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, it really adds to the cult value and the authentic 80’s feel. But I doubt the synthesizer songs of Solarbabies will find many fans – they’re just simple and a dozen a dime. Faintly uninspired, if you will.
The only upside regarding the soundtrack is Smokey Robinson’s “Love Will Set You Free”, which is smooth and slicker than holding a lube-covered oyster with sweaty hands. This song will make you want to make sweet love to a soft stick of butter. It’s sticky and greasy, but you just can’t get enough.
Regarding Special FX, there aren’t that many besides the standard effects like big fireball explosions, but there are some moments where Bodhai pulls out a trick or two, which are all animated and have a high “Disney movie” value to them, but are not too bad.
One of the few scenes with “real” Special FX is the one in which Grock scares one of his minions by forcing his hand into the virtual reality machine and all the flesh comes off – virtually, of course – which is reasonably well done. Other than that it’s mostly a bare few lasers and sparks flying from machinery. Solarbabies does not rely on quality Special FX. Or quality writing. Or quality soundtrack. Or anything that has anything to do with quality.
Ah! Now here’s something! Right, so – when we look at the movie, there are some notable things. The locations really aren’t half bad, the movie was entirely shot in Spain which – essentially being the Mexico of Europe (minus drug violence!) – functions really well with its semi-deserts that are identical to those you’d stumble upon in the arid parts of America.
The “orphanage” seems to be a mine of sorts – I think they may have actually converted an old one – and looks good. Other locations such as “Tiretown”, which is pretty much a tire-based boom town the way the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, envisions a more environmentally wise America, is also reasonably well done – strongly Mad Max inspired.
But other locations make no sense whatsoever, such as the Aqua Bunker, in which, believe it or not, “all the water in the world” is stored – and we’re talking an ocean, as we later find out. Now, I don’t care how ingeniously you can build or how much money you have – you’re not storing an ocean. It’s just that simple, there’s just no plausible way to do this thing. I guess they locked Free Willy in, too, together with all his friends, or maybe they filtered them out and are serving them to hungry, slightly drunk Japanese businessmen singing karaoke.
As mentioned earlier on in the review, some of the outfits are pretty far out – especially Grock’s baby blue SS-style uniform, which seems wholly impractical in the scorching heat of the desert – but the E-Police as a whole are an oddly dressed lot. They wear black suits and motorcycle helmets 100% of the time – in the desert! Not only will you stand out like a sore thumb because of contrast, you’ll also be absorbing enough sun and heat to power a Tesla cross-country.
Speaking of Teslas, the E-Police also seem to have the world’s most ill-designed, outright shitty electric vehicles man has ever witnessed. This supposedly takes place a thousand years into the future – yes, really – but it seems they didn’t spend much of that time on practical vehicular design or mechanical engineering. Okay, sure, they seem electric – logical since there’s no lack of sunshine – but that’s about the only thing that makes sense. Let me give you an example.
Police use motorcycles because they are fast, mobile and agile – they don’t have the same restrictions as cars and allow for a more strategic use of officers. Now picture a motorcycle with a sidecar – that’s already a lot less practical. It can work, but you’re now wider, less agile and likely slower. It’s the reason we haven’t really used them, except for recreational purposes, since WWII.
Now imagine a triple(!) sidecar-motorcycle-trike monstrosity which is horrendously slow, triple wide, and consisting of three separate elements, and the bikes are some sort of scooter/motorcycle cross-over because small tyres are awesome in sand. Oh, and they have to detach the individual motorcycles before giving chase, because that’s what you want when in pursuit – to manually detach a vehicle while the suspects run off. Or skate off, in this case.
And then there’s the “prison van” that, for whatever reason, is shaped like a weevil with a narrow front and trendy revolving door for super slow entering and exiting. Again, nothing about this makes any sense.
6.5/10 – This is probably a higher score than I should give it. I’m not even entirely sure if I can justify it. The reason I’m still willing to give this a reasonable rating is because the acting is alright, the locations are good and all of it comes with a strong 80’s teen-flick feel.
You can overlook many of its flaws based on the camp value, but only when looking at it that way. Any other way will bring you great disappointment. And it reflects in the film rating. I’ll be more explanatory there.
4/10 – Yep, that’s got to sting. As a movie, Solarbabies sucks. With plot holes wide enough to store an ocean in (see what I did there?), dialogue that couldn’t even be saved by Shakespearean stage actors, stereotypical characters and some terribly illogically designed props and costumes, you’re not going to score well.
Still, Solarbabies scores higher than some other movies reviewed here. But that’s largely because there’s a budget pushing this one that allowed the filmmakers to make up for some of the flaws simply by throwing money at it. Good for them, but that still doesn’t make this a movie that could serve as any other other standard than “a lot went wrong”. And a lot did go wrong – Mel Brooks’ production company spent at least $20 million dollars on it and it was purchased by MGM for $15 million and then still flopped badly at the box offices.
Only in recent years, through VHS and DVD release, did Mr. Brooks break even – which he himself calls a miracle.
The director, Alan Johnson, never directed a movie again – Solarbabies was his second and last major flick. And, I’m sorry to say, deservedly so. This is not a movie to aspire to, and though I’m sure some people will come away with fond memories of “The Bodhai Bunch”, I think it’s mostly the happiness of that time and period in their life they recall and cherish, rather than the actual movie.
As said before, it’s good to see that much of the young talent in the movie did not go to waste – they are still active today, which is likely not because of Solarbabies, but despite it.
So, should you watch Solarbabies? Well, the problem is – there’s a very select audience for this one. It relies almost solely on camp value, not on cult value, and is more of a teen flick than a sci-fi flick. This makes it hard to place. “It’s not for everybody” would be a massive understatement, but I won’t go as far as to say it’s for nobody – it is, but you have to belong to just the right niche group.
If anything the movie, as I said before, is very suitable for kids and young viewers – they’ll pick up on it easier and appreciate many of the qualities we skip over as being juvenile and silly. For them it’s more of an adventure movie, and they’ll probably even get a laugh or two out of it. It may be a great way to introduce them to cult movies before gradually raising the bar – and with any kind of supervision, this shouldn’t give any kids nightmares.
Unfortunately, ultimately this is not a movie I’ll recommend – it just doesn’t have enough to it. It’s inept in too many ways to work, it fails even the fields that could make it a cult classic. But if you don’t mind watching a flawed, goofy cross-over of Dune, The Goonies and Waterworld – well, it might still be worth it. And, to be fair, Jami Gertz was pretty cute at the time. Pet owls are also very cool.
How to Watch & After Thoughts
Okay, so you – and your friends – are going to watch Solarbabies. Cool, I commend you for your dedication to the field of Cult.
First of all – how to dress in style. You need to wear raggedy clothes, covered in sand or dust. Also no deodorant. Okay, a little deodorant. You don’t want the room to be too small because you have to sit six feet away from each other in order to breathe.
If you happen to have any foam rubber suits, preferably in baby blue, that will make you look like you should be commanding an army of internet trolls, that would also be very suitable. And plain black outfits with black motorcycle helmets would easily trick the E-Police into believing you’re one of them. Tying little LED lights to a set of old skates will do great, too, as will hockey sticks and a volleyball. The latter preferably glowing and de-materializing at will.
As far as drinks go – this is a world without water. Now I’d tell you to go without water for a few days but, honestly – that’s just not healthy. So instead, let’s celebrate that we have an abundance of cold, clean water! Or, that is, until Nestlé and the E-Protectorate get their hands on it. But really, keep some cold bottles around and hydrate.
I’m pretty sure, though, that even in the dried up world of Solarbabies, people would still find a way to get drunk – no one is going to tell me that Malice & Dogger were sober all the time. Or ever.
So what would they drink in a world like that? Well – I’ve done some research and thinking. Beer has been around since the Egyptians – sure, theirs was made out of honey, dates and ginger – but still! Beer! And its cousin, ginger beer! And the latter contains no alcohol so even the young ones can have some.
I’m also pretty certain that tequila is still a thing, especially given the semi-desert area we are talking about – somewhere out there some smart guy is getting rich making bottles of Mexico’s finest using what spare water he can buy illegally on the markets of Tireworld or from Tschikanis.
As far as food goes – we have to think dry. How about sand cookies? They’re sweet and tasty and they fall apart like little clumps of sand in your mouth. Who doesn’t like cookies or sand in their mouth? Crazy people, that’s who!
I’m also thinking good old potato chips, maybe even literally old, so they’re extra dry. The kind that snap when you bite on them. No give, just snap. And salty enough, because in the desert you’ll be sweating out all your minerals – so you want to put those back into your system. In which case, you might as well make it the kinds of minerals that make your chips taste like BBQ…
This isn‘t the only movie in which Jason Patric and Jami Gertz starred together; in fact, it’s not even the only movie in which they were lovers – the movie The Lost Boys, featuring Kiefer Sutherland, about a band of motorcycle vampires, also stars the two as leads and romantic interests. However, the real star of that movie is undoubtedly Kiefer Sutherland. I dare say, even Solarbabies would’ve been a lot better with Sutherland in it. No doubt.