Movies That Molded a Geek: Solarbabies

This movie is bound to cause a little controversy; it’s one of those films most people either love or hate – if they’ve ever heard of it at all.

Solarbabies was released in 1986 – when I was only three years old.  I know I didn’t see it in the movie theaters, so I think we had a copy recorded from HBO; at any rate, this was a movie I watched over and over again from a very young age.  Undoubtedly I’m biased; but I think this movie would make for interesting viewing, even today.

The movie is set in a bleak future; there’s very little water left on the entire planet, and what water remains is contained and controlled by a militaristic world order (the Eco Protectorate)Solarbabies centers around a group of teens in an orphanage run by the Eco Protectorate, and their days seem to center around military training.  Their recreation is a game that’s basically a mix of lacrosse and roller hockey, with a touch of basketball.  Oh yes: in this 80′s depiction of the future, roller skates feature heavily.

The youngest member of the ragtag group of kids, a deaf boy, finds a mysterious glowing orb (it’s implied that it fell from space).  The globe communicates with the boy, and restores his hearing to boot.  The orb is stolen by a fellow orphan (Adrian Pasdar, long before he was Senator Nathan Petrelli), and soon the whole gang has broken out of the orphanage to save it.  But little do they know that the orb has also caught the attention of the Eco Protectorate, the most dangerous force of all…

I’m not going to lie: it’s a silly movie.  The actors, mostly teens (I can spot Lost Boys and 21 Jump Street alumni in there) aren’t exactly Oscar-worthy, and the plot gets a little convoluted in the middle.  And there’s a little… well, sort of a dance sequence.  With very 80′s moves.

That aside, however, I genuinely believe this film has strong points.  For one thing, the world-building, while fairly simplistic, is convincing.  The shooting locations – apparently in the deserts of Spain – are eye-catching and not what we’re used to seeing (Australia or Tunisia, for example).

I also like that the movie is fantasy that attempts to walk a fine line with science fiction.  As an elementary-school-aged child, I was adamantly opposed to what I thought fantasy was; I was not interested in reading or seeing “unicorns dancing on rainbows.”  Solarbabies was sort of sci-fi-lite – which suited me just fine at the time.

In terms of how it affected me, personally – well, it felt like there weren’t many girls (or likeable girls) in the kid-adventure movies of the time (like The Goonies).  As in The Lost Boys, Jami Gertz is the token girl in this film.  However, I always liked her more in Solarbabies – she seemed (to the best of the script’s limits) to be an actual person, not the object of desire, not shrill and needing saving.  She winds up with her own goals, and has her own story.  And there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the fact that she was the only girl in a group of boys – perhaps something that subconsciously influenced me later when, in middle school, I seemed to more easily make friends with the boys than the girls.

Is the film worth a watch today?  Well, it depends.  It’s not high art, but it’s fun to look back on actors we know today (Adrian Pasdar, I’m telling you, he’s an entirely different person in this film).  It’s possibly an example of how Mad Max influenced films for years to come.  If you’re in a silly mood, this is a good one to watch.

But the best audience?   Kids.  Aside from some bloody noses and a few semi-intense scenes toward the end, this is a pretty tame movie (rated PG-13).  Some of the more sensitive younglings might be freaked out here and there, so I’d say the 8-10 range is good (if such an ‘old’ movie can hold their attention).

But beware: later, you might want to strap on a pair of roller skates.

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