Solarbabies (1986)
Solarbabies (1986)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: November 26th, 1986 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Alan Johnson Actors: Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James Le Gros, Claude Brooks, Adrian Pasdar, Sarah Douglas, Charles Durning




n a new time, a year designated as 41 (long after the Eco Wars), the E-Protectorate controls all water on the planet. As a result, human life is relegated to select realms separated by massive wastelands. One of those is Orphanage 43, run by a warden (Charles Durning), tasked with putting to work the various children stolen and brought to the facility to serve the cruel prison system (mostly as soldiers or laborers). Of course, as with any dystopian nightmare of an existence, a legend has arisen, speaking of a visitor from the heavens who will come to free the waters on Earth once again.

In the meantime, the preteens and teens occupying the orphanage play a rough, hockey-like game with roller skates called “skateball” (looking a bit like “Rollerball”) to pass the time and to stoke rivalries – something of a combative sport sanctioned by the adult supervisors (called the E-Police), who pride themselves on the children’s skills. Sadistic Strictor Grock (Richard Jordan) coaches the Scorpions, a gang of the more ruthless bullies captained by Gavial (Pete Kowanko), while the warden manages the Solarbabies – a curiously playful team name that lacks the generally expected menace – consisting of Jason (Jason Patric), Metron (James Le Gros), Terra (Jami Gertz), Rabbit (Claude Brooks), and Tug (Peter DeLuise), along with diminutive mascot Daniel (Lukas Haas). But when Daniel discovers a purplish glowing orb that can conduct seemingly magical actions – such as generating rain from nothing – the Solarbabies are suddenly in charge of a very powerful secret.

The sci-fi setting struggles at first to feel original, especially with so many other postapocalyptic premises preceding it, but it’s moderately unique in its targeting of a specific audience. This isn’t in the morbid, adult styling of “Soylent Green” or “Blade Runner” or “The Running Man,” nor is it in the vein of violent thrillers like “Robocop” or “Death Race 2000”; instead, “Solarbabies” pointedly targets younger viewers, keeping the action and scenarios tame and temperate. It’s far more of a lighthearted adventure (like a Mad Max picture for kids) than it is a practical investigation of an ecologically-crippled society.

Once the youths get a taste for freedom outside the walls of the orphanage, the world expands a touch, introducing factions of warring peoples like in “The Road Warrior,” as well as armored vehicles, helmeted troopers, and laser weapons. Unfortunately, many of the costumes, conveyances, and sets betray a notable flimsiness; clearly, the budget doesn’t allow for state-of-the-art props and materials. Nevertheless, this film predates more notable productions, such as “Waterworld,” which shares a number of similarities. But the action here is extremely mild, as are the conflicts, making the production as a whole largely unstimulating. Never do life-or-death situations actually feel real; genuine peril is permanently absent.

The finale involves a grand rescue of sorts, though the motivation and planning are as rickety as the pseudo-futuristic environments and the cheesy dialogue (primarily from the over-the-top villains). And the abundance of unintentional laughs doesn’t help the cause, especially when it comes to combating the likes of an evil robot – hilariously programmed to take pleasure in its savage assignments. Though the tone is consistently – and purposely – insincere and juvenile, the story and its execution are terribly ineffective (and intermittently nonsensical), lending to a routinely yawn-inducing sci-fi yarn.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10