I can't say I was expecting great things from a film called Solarbabies. Despite a pretty impressive cast-or, OK, a pretty impressively ‘80s cast-I'd never heard of it. And as I watched the dated sci-fi flick, I realized there was probably a reason for that. Solarbabies is flat-out bizarre, and not in the fun, rewatchable way. It's alternately a kids' adventure movie that wouldn't really appeal to kids, and an eco-centric sci-fi drama too dumb to entice most adults.
Solarbabies takes place in a future almost entirely devoid of water. (Think Waterworld, but backwards!) Our heroes are a rag-tag gang of orphans forced to live in a pseudo-prison and work for their meager water rations. It's pretty dark, but they have their entertainment, too-a lacrosse-on-roller-blades game called "skateball." The good guys play for the Solarbabies, and yes, the film does at least acknowledge what a stupid name this is. The other team, who could be the adversaries in almost any other ‘80s movie, are the Scorpions.
But the real story of Solarbabies revolves around Bohdai, the mystical savior of mankind. For some reason, Bohdai takes on the appearance of a sentient orb that glows, leaves glitter trails, and likes to be fondled. (Seriously, these kids pass it around and Bohdai coos appreciatively. It's awkward.) Bohdai has the power to make it rain (indoors, apparently), so naturally the evil adults in charge want to destroy it. I get that they like being in control, but wouldn't they prefer, you know, water?
The Solarbabies include beefy Jason (Jason Patric), Terra (the omnipresent Jami Gertz), uptight Metron (James Le Gros), and a little deaf boy named Daniel (Lukas Haas). There is one token black character, who-in true bad ‘80s movie fashion-is mostly there for comic relief. In one scene, Rabbit (Claude Brooks) actually beatboxes with Bohdai, the most embarrassing moment in a film chock full of embarrassing moments. Rounding out the cast are Richard Jordan as primary antagonist Grock and Heroes' Adrian Pasdar as indigenous outcast Darstar.
Pasdar does some of his finest work here, and Darstar is the only thing I really enjoyed about Solarbabies. He is a member of the Chicani tribe, which means he has a special relationship with birds, including his owl sidekick. He doesn't do much talking until he stumbles onto his people's camp. "The owl, it's yours?" the leader asks. "As much as an owl is anyone's," Darstar gruffly responds. His hair is particularly delightful-think Jareth the Goblin King with bedhead and some shoe polish. Kudos to Pasdar for making me temporarily forget the incessant frustration of Heroes for 90 minutes.
Perhaps I would have had an easier time with Solarbabies if it had been pure fantasy, because it's the science aspects that really boggle the mind. Midway through the film, we discover that Terra's people, the Eco-Warriors, are living happily in their little Ewok village, complete with an unlimited supply of water. As her long-lost father explains, "Thousands of years ago, a giant glacier was trapped under a lava flow. As it melts, it feeds the springs." Which is almost as whacked-out as the scene in which the Solarbabies leap over a giant gorge by linking arms and forming a human helicopter blade to fling themselves to safety. Physics!
And yet, all the madness would be forgivable if Solarbabies were actually fun. There are a few moments of campy joy (see above re: Darstar), including lines like, "Cut your breath before your betray your putrid thinking!" and "Get out, you creature of filth!" But nifty futuristic insults aside, it's a real drag. Aside from Darstar, the character with the most personality is Bohdai, and he doesn't do much other than float around. Why was Solarbabies made? We may never know, just as there's no explanation for why the movie's bounty hunters have Australian accents. At least one thing is sure-there's no question why Solarbabies was forgotten.