Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Solarbabies (1986)

Title: Solarbabies (1986)

Director: Alan Johnson

Cast: Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James LeGros


Solarbabies is one of the few post apocalyptic movies made specifically for kids. The only other one that I can really think of is City of Ember (2008), but correct me If I’m wrong here. Because Solarbabies was aimed at kids, it's a bit sillier than your typical post apocalyptic film. This silliness can also be attributed to the fact that Solarbabies comes straight out of the eighties, where movies were sillier, and yeah, for lack of a better word 'cornier'. Some of these eighties films really make you wonder how they were ever greenlit, but that’s precisely why I love 80’s stuff; they had the guts to be really cuh-razy!  How nuts is this movie? Well, just the fact that it’s a sci-fi film produced by Mel Brooks makes it zany enough in my book; and it’s not even a comedy! Well, at least not intentionally so. This is a film I used to watch a lot back when I was a kid; but even with my nostalgia goggles on, I couldn’t get passed the fact that this wasn’t a very good movie.

Solarbabies tells the story of a group of kids who live in this Nazi-like orphanage in the middle of a post apocalyptic dessert wasteland. This orphanage exists solely for creating soldiers for ‘The Protectorate’. In this place, kids are indoctrinated in the ways of submission and violence. They are allowed to roller-skate in certain designated areas while huge television screens play government films that tell them what to think and how to behave. They tell them things like “Behavior determines existence. Stick with us, learn to serve The Order and you’ll achieve a decent life-grid” In other words, freedom for these kids is out of the question; but is there something else out there in the post apocalyptic wasteland for them? At the same time, the Nazi like government has control over every drop of water on the planet. When will water be free for everyone? One day, a magical glowing sphere called ‘Bohdi’ falls from the skies and befriends the kids. The magical sphere is alive! It performs miracles! And it likes to play Rollerball! Will ‘Bohdi’ help these kids escape the oppression?

Solarbabies is like a who’s who of 80’s teen idols. We get the always beautiful Jami Gertz who once again  works next Jason Patric’s who does his first performance in a film on this one. Jamie Gertz and Jason Patric apparently got along so well that they later collaborated again on The Lost Boys (1988), one o the most recognized vampire films of the 80’s. Their characters fall in love in both movies, which leads us to believe their might have been something else going on behind cameras? We also get James LeGros’s first performance ever, I remember him for his participation in films like Phantasm II (1988) and Near Dark (1987) and speaking of Near Dark, actor Adrian Pasdar who plays the character of ‘Darstar’ on Solarbabies also appeared in Near Dark, which by the way is another great vampire film from the 80’s. Lukas Haas was the child actor of the moment at the time, he had already worked with Harrison Ford on the critically acclaimed film Witness (1985). And interestingly enough, Solarbabies would mark Lukas Haas second foray into post apocalyptic films, his first one being the highly dramatic television film Testament (1983), where he acted along side Kevin Costner. So I think it’s safe to say that Solarbabies is filled with what were the ‘it’ kids in Hollywood at the time. Some of them would go on to have great careers and appear in great films, others would disappear into obscurity.

The film has many faults going against it, most of which have to do with logic. Here’s one for you, the kids live in a Nazi like concentration camp, which is protected by armed cops and cars and watchtowers and all that, but when the time comes to escape, the kids simply waltz right out of the place, no fuss, no problems. Nobody even tries to stop them; they simply roller-skate their way out of the place. They leave the place screaming “We’re free! We did it! Yay!” Hey kids, newsflash: all you had to do was roller-skate out of there, apparently you were never really prisoners to begin with. And that’s another thing, in this world, every single place has a flat surface for them to skate in, even the open dessert! First their mission is to escape The Protectorate, but then by the end of the film their mission becomes going right back to the place they first ran away from! And they waltz right back in again, without any weapons or anything! These kids skate into a Nazi like concentration camp with only hockey sticks in hands! Nothing more! What else is up with this movie?

The film borrows heavily from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1986) and Dune (1984), but mostly from Dune. Let’s see, characters live in a dessert like planet, where water is a precious commodity. We have a group of people who live out in the open dessert called the Eco-Warriors, protectors of water and freedom…damn, this sounds a lot like the Fremen from Dune! Heck, there is this one scene that was ripped off directly from Dune in which a character puts his hand on a device that apparently burns the skin off of his hand, but then he realizes it never really happened, it was all in his mind. It was all his own fears playing with him; same as that test they perform on Paul Atreides on David Lynch’s Dune. There is a town on this film called ‘Tire Town’ which looks and feels a heck of a lot like ‘Barter Town’ from Beyond Thunderdome, plus there's the similarity of having kids survive alone in the wasteland, just like the crazy kids from Thunderdome. And then there’s the evil dictator controlling the land, which is kind of like a staple in most post apocalyptic films. Tank Girl (1995) for example has the same exact premise of an evil Nazi like government controlling all the left over water in a dessert like planet. 

But the thing I hated the most about this movie is that it functions in the same way as the Chronicles of Narnia films work: they are a metaphor for believing in Baby Jesus and Christianity in general. That’s right, this movie is all about Christianity, and any movie that propagates the idea of religion goes down a couple of notches in my book. Let’s see. The kids are oppressed, but a magical being comes down from the heavens to help them! It performs miracles, cures decease, makes it rain inside of a room, for all intents and purposes the magical sphere on this movie is Jesus. Sometimes the sphere is not with them, but “they can feel it”, the overall idea being that Bohdi (the magical alien sphere) is always with them and will always be with them. The magic of the ball unites them, they are always ultra happy whenever the ball is with them. One moment in the film has Jason Patric’s character (daftly enough also named Jason) talk to Bohdi telling it that he doesn’t know what it is, but he wants to believe. Characters have these questions about Bohdi, in the same way that people question the existence of God. In the end, to me both Bohdi and Jesus are the same thing: imaginary beings performing miracles that can only come to life through the magic of fiction. Be it a book, or a movie, these miracles never happen in real life.

The Power of Bohdi Unites Them!

In the end, Solarbabies in a mess of a movie with a bunch of disparate ideas that are never really followed through completely; for example, take those Eco-Warriors, why didn’t they go against the system instead of letting all these kids do it by themselves? Could it be that it would cost too much money to present the idea of an army? This group of Warriors we only meet briefly then they disappear from the film entirely. Same with another group of warriors that live out in the dessert. They are presented, and eliminated in the blink of an eye. So we have a movie that’s all over the place in terms of story and plot, it goes from one place to the next without any natural flow. We jump from one plot point to the next with childish enthusiasm “Let’s go! Let’s do it! Yay!” This film simply throws logic out the window. Ultimately, even though I enjoyed watching this one as a child, I ended up not enjoying it so much as an adult because it has so many faults going for it. But then again, this film was directed by a choreographer, a guy named Alan Johnson. Apparently Johnson convinced his pal Mel Brooks to fund the film; Johnson had directed Brook’s To Be Or Not To Be (1983), so they already had a professional relationship. By the way To Be Or Not To Be is the only other film in Johnsons repertoire. In my eyes Johnson is a great choreographer, but not a great director which is probably why he’s never directed again. Or maybe he’s never directed again because because Solarbabies was such a huge flop, take your pick. Solarbabies cost about 8 million to make, but only made 1.5 million back; sad indeed. Still, I think kids would enjoy this film, I know I did when I was about 10. I’d also recommend it to all those Christian parents out there who want to help their kids get used to the idea of a magical imaginary being that’s always looking out for you in life. My kids will be watching Mad Max Beyond Thundedome instead (1985).

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 


Manuel Marrero said...

Love it as a kid, hated it as a adult...But it has a nostalgia factor to it.

Jack Thursby said...

This one has completely passed me by. Never even remotely heard of it.

The Christian overtones put me off giving it a chance but I'm intrigued to see what they've stolen from Dune and Mad Max.

Franco Macabro said...

@Manuel: Yeah, I mean as a kid I enjoyed it, but thats about it.

@Jack Thursby: This one escaped a lot of peoples radars, it made next to nothing at the box office, but it was shown a lot on HBO which is where I got to watch it as a kid.

The allusions to christianity are not blatantly obvious, but they are definetly inferred, it's very subtle, but its there, just like the Narnia movies.

From Dune they took the thing about it being a dessert planet, and the need for's funny because they make you think that the kids 'liberate' the water, so at the end we see them playing at the beach. But how'd the bad guys get a hold of so much water? And much less have a place to contain it?

Dom Coccaro said...

I'm not into post-apocalyptic movies, but this looks like fun cheese. The title alone makes me smirk.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Dom, it certainly is good for a laugh. Also, it has decent production values, but thats about it. They have this killer robot in the movie thats supposed to be oh so deadly, but its a clunky piece of metal that doesnt even move properly! Hilarious, yeah, check it out one of these days when you want to see a silly movie that will put a smile in your face.

Thanks for commenting dude!

Unknown said...

I loved it as a kid and I still loved it as an adult. True, it has some faults, BUT ITS FOR KIDS AND YOUNG PEOPLE. I'm sorry that the one who wrote the article don't believe in Chirst or the bible but that's what made the movie special. It was entertaining and fun and you could see some moral lessons in the movie. 😀👍👍

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting Archie, I might have come off a bit too harsh with this film in my review, but I actually have a soft spot for it since I grew up watching it. Its just that I cant get past the preachy undertones now as an adult. Still,a totally watchable 80s cheese fest.


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