Solarbabies (1986)

Solarbabies takes place in arguably the same universe as “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”; the earth is now a desert, and the remaining water is being controlled by the Eco Protectorate, a fascist police entity led by a homoerotic M. Bison. All the children are taken at birth to be raised in orphanages where they are indoctrinated to serve the Eco Protectorate, but are allowed to play a game called skateball – a cross between lacrosse and roller derby.

The movie begins with a narrated explanation that an alien has crash landed on earth.  We see Daniel, the human equivalent of Fievel Mousekewitz (played by Lukas Haas), awkwardly skating through what appears to be an industrial skate park.  Actually, the entire world seems to have been designed as a giant skate park, which comes in handy for our heroes who impractically choose to spend 75% of the movie in roller skates.  Fievel hits a breaker that lights a giant concrete bowl covered in graffiti, and two teams of teens on skates enter the arena.  There’s never a question of the two teams’ moral alignment, as our protagonists are decked out head-to-toe in symbolic red, white, and blue starred and striped homemade equipment.  Their heel opponents, in contrast, wear slick, manufactured black plastic armor with angry facemasks.  The only thing missing is an over-the-top villain to lead the stormtrooper youths against their… oh wait, suddenly Grock, a smirking military officer in a comically exaggerated blue plastic SS uniform (the aforementioned diet M. Bison), steps ominously into the light on a nearby cliff to oversee the match.  At this point I’m thinking, “Why didn’t they just make this an animated movie?”

Since they were already on a roll with the 80s movie clichés, we then see Darstar (played by Adrian Pasdar before he learned how to fly), the stereotypical native American/gypsy kid with long, dark hair in a side-ponytail (rad!) watching quietly from atop a crane…oh, and in case we didn’t get his archetype right away, an owl then lands on his arm.  Then meet our heroes; a gang of teens as creatively diverse as the original cast of Power Rangers. Jason Patric plays Jason (red/green/white ranger), the Leonardoesque fearless leader and love interest to the token female, Terra (pink ranger), played by Jami Gertz.  They are essentially the exact same characters they would play a year later in “The Lost Boys”, minus the vampirism.

James LeGros plays Metron (blue ranger), the nerdy, awkward kid with glasses (which means he’s smart) who acts as the teams answer to any problem involving technology.  Claude Brooks is Rabbit (black ranger), the only African American kid in the entire orphanage, who actually has one of the most uncomfortable exploitations in the film, which we’ll get to later.  Lastly, Peter DeLuise (mullet ranger) plays Tug, the group’s token muscle, though his role is only really utilized in one unnecessary scene, and he has the least dialogue of any character…leaving me wondering why he was included at all.  The midboss, Gavial, Grock’s underling and the leader of the “evil” skateball team is played by a very forgettable Pete Kowanko, who’s hyperbolic thuggery and rockin’ skunkhawk remind me of those PSA videos on bullying that they made us watch in elementary school.

The two teams square off in skateball, with the solarbabies (the good guys) getting the better of Gavial’s team, leading to Grock calling in his troops, the E-Police, to break up the game and capture the solarbabies – who are apparently breaking curfew.  The solarbabies (that sounds more and more stupid every time I say it) escape via a series of old mine shafts, but Fievel gets separated from the group and displays the first of many examples that caused me to question the wisdom in choosing rollerskates as your preferred post apocalyptic footwear – he is forced to descend the steep mineshaft by sidestepping painfully slowly, despite the fact that he is being pursued by stormtroopers who are comparably fleet-footed in their jack boots.  Fievel barely avoids a runaway mine cart which breaks his headphones, revealing that they were actually hearing aids (probably built by Metron) and that he is deaf.  This is actually pretty cleverly shown by muting the movie’s sound, though it doesn’t take three minutes for the writer to once again assume that the audience are idiots.  Fievel descends deep into the mine and finds a glowing orb, the crashed alien, that introduces itself telepathically as “Bohdai” and then heals Daniel-san’s ears.  We suddenly hear sound again, and Daniel looks around, confused, as he hears water droplets echoing  off the cave walls.  As I said, however, the writer assumes we’re idiots, and Fievel suddenly yells out, three times, “I can hear!  You fixed my ears!  I can hear!  I can hear!”

The next day at school, the children are scolded by their kindly old warden, played by Charles Durning – the most anachronistic character in the post-apoc wasteland.  First of all, Durning is fat.  I’m not knocking portly people, but in a hot desert world where no animals or vegetation exist, and water is the most prized commodity, would there really be fat people?  If that weren’t bad enough, Durning looks like he walked off of a civil-war era southern plantation in his oddly cut yellow suit and his black ribbon tie.  He sweats profusely, which is all the more noticeable in his conversation with Grock, who remains almost plasticine in his dryness, despite wearing multiple layers of blue vinyl.

Our heroes (whose team name I refuse to use again) meet in their super secret basement hideout where it is revealed that their pet lightbulb can actually make it rain…in the basement…complete with lightning…Hmm.  They take Bohdai out to the industrial skateball arena where they were almost arrested, and start tossing him around with their lacrosse sticks.  In a shocking asshole move, Jason asks that Bohdai be tossed to him, at which point he SWINGS HIS STICK LIKE A BAT AND SHATTERS BOHDAI INTO DUST. I’m not even kidding!  He maliciously MURDERS their rainmaking spherical messiah FOR NO REASON.  WHY!? Luckily, the dust reforms into the orb and everyone laughs…but what if it hadn’t?  Huh?  What if that had been the end of the movie?  Pretty irresponsible dick move, Jason.  This is where we see Rabbit in a very racially uncomfortable Harlem Globetrotters moment as he dances, rolls the orb across his wingspan, and spins it on his finger like a basketball before bouncing it off of his hip to someone else.  Yeah.  It’s pretty much his only moment to shine in the entire movie, and it’s a cheap racial stereotype.

It is decided to keep the orb and its powers a secret, but unfortunately, Darstar the birdman, finally tired of seeking attention by drawing native symbols in the schoolyard, spies on the gang and steals the crystal ball because he wants its “magic”, and subsequently escapes from the orphanage.  By the way, if Darstar was taken from his tribe at two months of age, as he later says, how does he remember the symbols and trademark side-ponytail of his people?  Jason and Terra are in class when they hear of Darstar’s escape from the compound, and Jason remarks casually how he’ll get caught…because they always get caught.  However, when Fievel is summoned telepathically by Bohdai to follow Darstar, the rest of the team decides to escape in order to protect him.  They easily escape the compound, destroying the ONE motion sensor with a rock, and then casually rollerskate to freedom on the convenient paved roads that stretch across the desert wasteland.  Darstar somehow finds and returns to his tribe, only to have his village burned by the E-Police as they search for the alien orb.

An interesting detail: during their escape, the teens manage to jump a thirty foot chasm by holding hands and using their centrifugal force to fling one another toward the gap.  Somehow, going faster also allows them to jump ten feet in the air without a ramp.  In one of the dumbest oversights in the history of bad screenwriting, the biggest and strongest person in the group, Tug, is flung over the gap first.  Shouldn’t he have been the one flinging the smaller, weaker members across?  Or maybe it required every other person to toss his fat ass across.  I have a degree in English, not physics.  Either way, the kids get away without a scratch… and the E-troops pursuing them are unable to jump the chasm on motorcycles – the same chasm our heroes can jump on skates.

So…what was so hard about that?  Why didn’t these kids escape a long time ago?  One might argue that they were given food (presumably), water, and shelter at the orphanage, but in no time at all they end up at Tire Town – a blatant rip off of Mad Max’s Bartertown, nestled in an automotive scrapyard.  The market in Bartertown, I mean Tire Town, has everything from prostitutes to potatoes (which Terra can’t stop fondling…no, the potatoes), so obviously these people not only get enough water to survive on their own, but they get enough to grow enough potatoes to subsist as well.

It is revealed that Tire Town gets its water by extracting it from melted tires.  Wait, what?  Yes…the citizens of the scrapyard melt down pre-apocalyptic tires into molten rubber, and EXTRACT POTABLE WATER from it.  Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure this is impossible, it is mentioned early in the film that there is uncontrolled water a mere 100 miles from the orphanage.  Even walking at 4 miles an hour, that’s only going to take a little over 24 hours to reach.  Why would you waste time and effort drinking melted tires instead of just cruising over to the uncontrolled water source?  Am I over-thinking this movie?

They happen upon Darstar, who is working in Tire Town after the destruction of his village.  He’s disillusioned that he wasn’t able to use the magic of the orb, and apologetically gives it back to the heroes just as the E-Police attack.  The E-cops chase the now roller skating protags into the tire/water refinery and are systematically beaten with a series of roller skating stunts – nevermind the fact that the cops have “pew pew” laser guns.  In one scene, they skate through the storage area where they knock over shelves containing countless bottles of water…completely unguarded and unsecured.  The most valuable resource in this fictional universe.  No guard.  Not even a padlock.  *sigh*

During this melee we get to see Tug’s only apparent usefulness as he picks up a steel beam and throws it on a group of cops.  The cops are slapstick in their incompetence, and the kids easily escape by rolling down a hill in tractor tires.  Behind them, the refinery explodes… from all the tires and water inside, I guess?  I give up.  The kids land at the bottom of the hill and realize that Terra has been left behind.  They also don’t seem to notice the POND next to them.  Granted, it’s full of trash and scrap metal, but the water’s still probably better than drinking melted tires. Somehow, though, it has escaped the radar of the nearby town of desperate wastelanders who can filter potable water from anything.

Bohdai has been given to the E-police by Darstar’s former tribal chief (who is tortured with ants for his trouble while Grock and skunkhawk get off by watching), and the heroes are captured by two more Power Rangers characters: Bulk and Skull, named Malice and Dogger in this particular film.  Malice is a perpetually smiling Aussie bounty hunter (also inexplicably fat), and Dogger is his chortling, pea brained sidekick played by English actor Bruce Payne in the biggest “WTF!?” role of his career.  They are all strapped to a makeshift rickshaw as Malice plans to sell them to the E-Gestapo.  They are confronted by a mysterious stranger in Persian garb who starts squirting them in the face with water from a goat bladder canteen, before they are surrounded by more Persians with impossibly huge crossbows.

The stranger reveals herself to be Terra, who in a matter of a few hours has managed to find and reunite with her lost tribe and father, and rally them to save her friends…who she also managed to locate.  Her tribe is called the Eco Warriors, and were apparently famous for having gone to war with the E-Nazis over water rights.  They are taken back to a subterranean volcanic cave that contains lush vegetation and clear flowing water thanks to a melting glacier.  Terra’s father “Greentree” (heh) looks like a 70s chiropractor, and explains the history of the Eco war to the kids.

Bohdai is busy being tortured by M. Bison and the Evil Queen from “Conan the Destroyer”, so the kids decide to leave paradise and assault the E-headquarters where all the known water in the world is being held (except, apparently, the water in Tire Town, the pond outside Tire Town, and the uncontrolled water 100 miles from the orphanage).  They decide to assault the HQ of the most powerful military in the world, which guards the largest amount of the most valuable substance on earth, and they plan to do so on roller skates…with no weapons.  They can’t fail!

Metron roller-skate-pole-vaults over the front gate and starts randomly pulling wires out of a fuse box.  Luckily, he pulls precisely the ones he needs to, both opening the gate and shutting down the base’s first line of security – Dobermans with flashlights strapped on their heads.   That’s the future of security, folks. 

Thanks to their skating prowess, they overcome more inept laser-armed guards and easily make their way into the base’s control room, where the Evil Queen has just introduced her giant robot – which she describes as the most technologically advanced weapon in her arsenal.  The kids simply break the robots eyes with their miniature hockey sticks, and it goes completely retarded.  Queen shoulder-pads tries to grab the orb with her bare hands, and it SETS HER HANDS ON FIRE in probably the most unintentionally funny scene in the movie. 

The now retarded robot grabs Grock by the arms and lifts him into air while Queen Firefingers stumbles back against a damaged control panel and is electrocuted to death.  The kids manage to escape with Bohdai, and again, the entire HQ mysteriously explodes behind them.  So, again, this is supposed to be the penultimate secure fortress, even though kids can break in at will, but if you spill coffee on a control panel, the whole place comes apart.

As the walls crumble, the water somehow contained within bursts forth into the wasteland.  The kids watch from afar as a thunderstorm forms, promising rain and thus a future.  Bohdai can’t make up his mind as to whether or not he wants to stay, return to space, or burst into dust and become one with the rainstorm…so, he somehow does all three.  I’m still not completely clear on this, but there you have it.  The kids hold hands and glow and talk about how “he’s all around us” and “he’s in each of us” and all the typical nonsense kids in these movies say when they don’t really understand what the hell is really happening.  As the credits roll, we see the kids stripping and running toward…the ocean?  So, the E-protectorate’s headquarters contained the entire ocean, which has now been released?  Or is the ocean the “uncontrolled water” they’ve just now decided to walk the couple day journey to?

Needless to say, I don’t think too much of this movie.  The writing is terrible, the acting is worse, and I think the “post apocalyptic” setting was chosen more out of budget concerns than for the actual story.  After all, shooting a movie in a post apoc desert means very little money spent on sets, scenery, and filming permits.  I think it tried to be a kid’s movie, but didn’t actually impart any moral lessons or hippy wisdom.  Even where there were opportunities for an ecological message, the best that they’re able to muster is “water should be free to everyone” and “controlling water is bad”.  However, because I hold “The Lost Boys” in such high regard, I will consider this movie a necessary springboard for Patric and Gertz…because that’s the only way I can justify its existence.  It should’ve been animated, and it should’ve been about half as long.

What lessons can we take from this movie for our Post Apoc playbooks?

1. If you ever find yourself the despotic ruler of a post apocalyptic wasteland, be liberal with rollerskate-proof obstacles (like stairs), and build facilities that don’t explode when people escape from them, or when some flaming feminazi stumbles into a control panel.

2. It’s better to have a handful of well trained goons than an army of inept fools with laser guns.

3. 100 miles is not nearly as far to walk as it sounds.

4. Rollerskates trump laser guns and Dobermans with flashlights on their heads.  Keep ‘em handy.

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