That is the future posited by the 1986 sci-fi/post apocalyptic teen movie Rollerbabies, directed by former Mel Brooks choreographer Alan Johnson. Of course, the notion that the future would be dominated by rollerskating isn't exclusive to Solarbabies. There's the 1975 Rollerball. And there's Prayer of the Rollerboys. And the Rollerball remake. I mean, the list goes on and on. And, to be fair, rollerskating doesn't really dominate Solarbabies. It's just one of the many "futuristic" ideas to which the movie can't be bothered to commit.
This was my first viewing of Solarbabies, and it is the kind of movie that's so bad it makes your head explode trying to keep up with all of the terrible choices being made by everyone involved. It is, in many ways, the logical conclusion of the genre-happy '80s -- a conclusion that arrived four years before the decade was even over, because that's how fucking stupid Solarbabies is. It killed the 1980s. There was so much science fiction in the decade, and so much of it was directed at teenagers and kids, that a movie like Solarbabies somehow made it past the "What the fuck are you talking about/you're fired" stage of the filmmaking process.
Seriously, the movie becomes something different every five to 10 minutes. First it's a movie about the violent futuristic sport of roller rugby. Then it's about orphans who are in prison. Then it's about a boy who befriends a magical glowing ball that's actually an alien. Then it's a movie about a jailbreak. Then it's a movie about trying to bring water back to a desert planet. Then it's a movie about a band of rebels fighting an army. Or something.
Let's not leave out all the crazy detours, either. Like Adrian Pasdar's character, the mysterious orphan Darstar, who has long hair and braids and a pet owl on his shoulder and who stares off mysteriously all the time. It seems like his character is going to pay off at some point, like he's the key to all this. He isn't. WHY IS HE IN THIS MOVIE AND WHAT IS WITH HIS HAIR? Richard Jordan shows up dressed like Raul Julia (RIP) as General Bison (RIP). In the last 15 minutes, he introduces a murderous robot bird. Do you know how jarring it is to watch a movie that for 75 minutes has been basically robotless and then have it introduce a robot at the very end? The robot bird's function is to figure out the deal with the glowing sphere -- which, yes, has a name, but I refuse to use it. Ok, ok. It's Bodhai. Pronounced "Bode-eye." Sometimes, people call it Bodhi. Pronounced "100% pure adrenaline." Then Lukas Haas corrects them. This serves no purpose and never pays off. Also, Lukas Haas is wearing electric ears at the beginning of the movie, but his hearing is cured when he meets Bodhai. This doesn't really pay off, either, except to introduce that Bodhai has magic powers. The second demonstration of these magic powers is when he makes it rain indoors for about 90 seconds. Then he shuts it off. First taste is free, fuckers. Then you have to pay for it.
Seriously, though: this glowing ball is on a planet with no water, has the power to make it rain but doesn't? Glowing ASSHOLE is more like it.
The most egregious stuff in Solarbabies -- besides the stupid shit I just mentioned -- is that it's one of these fucking sci-fi movies in which the screenwriters think that just changing a few words around (or, even worse, just adding on to existing words) somehow means it's THE FUTURE. The military douchebags who hog all the water are called the Eco Protectorate. The police are called the E-police. When Charles Durning orders the orphans to dig, he says "Give me 30 cubic meters." Because in the future, manual labor is measured by volume.
Oh, right. Charles Durning is in this movie. He runs the orphanage. At one point, he says "I don't want this orphanage to run like a prison!" He says this even though his character is named The Warden. And the orphans are basically wearing prison jumpsuits. And there are guards everywhere. And he makes them dig a hole as punishment. A 30 cubic meter hole.
The cast alone should make for a very entertaining movie, but everyone is stranded by the material and, as a result, does some of the worst work they've ever done. Jason Patric and James LeGros appear visibly embarrassed. Jamie Gertz throws herself into the nonsense with total sincerity, but winds up looking like a complete fool. Lukas Haas can't really be faulted because he's just a kid, but he seems to have learned a lot of his lines phonetically. He also walks around with such an expression of wonderment that, for a time, I became convinced that being in the movie Solarbabies was his Make-a-Wish. Peter DeLuise hardly registers, mostly playing the dumb muscle. That's even more disappointing because this is one of his only big screen credits. The only other one I can think of is Free Ride, in which he superglued his hand to his dick way before it was cool. Claude Brooks, as the movie's token black guy, has one little showcase in which he gets the glowing ball and breakdances with it. Because in the future, water might be gone but racism is not.
Because it was directed by his former choreographer, Solarbabies was produced through Mel Brooks' Brooksfilms. Consider the fact that Brooksfilms' other production in 1986 was the David Cronenberg remake of The Fly, which is a masterpiece. The only thing it was missing?
Some of you will feel I've been too harsh. You will say you have a soft spot in your heart for Solarbabies, probably because you saw it on HBO a lot growing up (I don't know how I missed it; it really was on all the time) and it has a bunch of random elements in it that a seven-year old might think are neat: rollerskating, glowing ball, bird robot, Charles Durning. A seven-year old can't figure out that none of these things connect. Or are good. This is the danger of these "It Came from the '80s" columns: we confuse nostalgia for quality. Do yourself a favor and rewatch Solarbabies. Let me know if you think it holds up.
I want to watch this so badly now. Is there something wrong with me? Or something very, very right?ReplyDelete
It's on Netflix Instant right now. I can't tell you that you should watch it, but I also can't tell you that you shouldn't.Delete
Actually, the biggest crime committed by SOLARBABIES isn't its nonsense, but its dreadfully slow pace. For a movie with skating as its big selling point, it just barely creeps along. You make note of the giant robot bird not because there were no robots in the movie before this, but because it's one of the few times in the movie that something actually happens.ReplyDelete
We fantasy fans can be forgiving toward the logical/narrative goofiness of movies like TRON or KRULL because those movies zip right along, taking the characters from one balls-weird adventure to the next, and to the next, and to the next, and so on. SOLARBABIES, though? It's just plain boring.
I agree that the movie is probably boring after you've seen it once. The first time through, my interest was held because every couple minutes I was amazed at what stupid thing was happening next.Delete
The last time I saw Krull (about a year ago), I was actually amazed at how slow it felt. Each little episode was entertaining, but the moments between each one felt like an eternity. They just kept riding horses in what felt like real time.
Uh-oh. My KRULL fandom is showing.Delete
Krull will be making an appearance in this column.Delete
Uh, Patrick, I kind of loved this movie until now. Also, it has that one reoccurring 80's moment: Are we supposed to think Sarah Douglas is sexy? She was in this right? Also can we watch the next bad 80's movie together if I promise to be good?ReplyDelete
We are ALWAYS supposed to think Sarah Douglas is sexy.Delete
She IS fuckin' sexy! Classy actress & beautiful woman - you guys have no taste. Stick to your silicone fake bitches & leave the real women to us real men.Delete
That's what I said. She is. So now do I get to be a "real" man? The kind that calls women "bitches?"Delete
Wow, huge slam against Walon Green out of nowhere! Actually, given the movie you're describing, it's a pretty well-earned slam but a little harsh ('murdered a whore?' Dear God! :-O). Walon is actually a favorite writer of mine because of his screenplay for "The Wild Bunch" and scripts for "Law & Order" (early 90's) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (late 2000's), the latter of which he Executive Produced.ReplyDelete