Arriving a year after Beyond Thunderdome and a decade after Logan’s Run, D.A. Metrov’s Solarbabies (renamed Solar Warriors in the UK) is an appalling, amateurish mess of a movie, a sub-children’s TV effort with an artless plot and toe-curling dialogue, that attempts to marry the cynicism of Mad Max with the wonder of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial so haplessly that it is at times quite shockingly slapdash, and yet that has somehow managed to gain for itself a cult following – and not, surprisingly, among the kind of people who might celebrate its ineptitudes.
Taking place some years after a nuclear war has rendered the entire surface of the Earth as desert, a surprisingly effective juvenile cast are living in a training camp (for skateboarders, apparently) belonging to the Protectorate, the organisation that controls the planet’s water supplies and rules with a fairly limp iron fist. When Witness’ Lukas Haas – here playing the other kids’ previously-deaf “mascot” – discovers a Chocky-alike stranded alien glowing globe with magical powers (that extend to creating rain indoors in one of the film’s many embarrassing scenes, and one that should have stopped the plot dead), the new arrival becomes the catalyst for change and thus a target for the Protectorate. And so our varyingly callow protagonists get on their skates, heading into a desert landscape dotted with shanty settlements with names like Tiretown, populated by leather-attired, eccentrically-coiffed characters called Malice and Dogger and the like.
The most striking thing about the film (co-writer and wannabe director Metrov was replaced at the helm by executive producer Mel Brooks’ Springtime for Hitler choreographer Alan Johnson, after Solarbabies’ budget began spiralling out of control) is its absolute lack of sophistication; almost every single plot and production decision reeks of an almost inconceivable ingenuousness, such that the cast – who were apparently close to mutiny thanks to director and material, until Brooks himself visited the set threatening to fire them all – are almost visibly bewildered by dialogue that reaches a nadir with Jamie Gertz’ “Get out, you creature of filth!” riposte to another character’s unwanted advances. The costumes, especially on “Strictor” Grock and Servalan substitute Shandray, are so elaborately exaggerated they make the rest of the 1980s look improbably austere by comparison. Apparently a Strictor is an official who administers strictness, by the way.
Wasted inside this mess are the likes of Charles Durning and, inconceivably, Alexei Sayle – plus a score by Maurice Jarre – and almost all the younger members of the cast went on to better things afterwards. Which begs the question of how Solarbabies turned out quite so incompetently, a question it’s impossible to answer. Better to either wallow in the nostalgia, or boggle at the ham-fistedness of it all.
SOLAR WARRIORS (aka SOLARBABIES) / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ALAN JOHNSON / SCREENPLAY: WALON GREEN, DOUGLAS ANTHONY METROV / STARRING: RICHARD JORDAN, JASON PATRIC, JAMIE GERTZ, LUKAS HAAS, JAMES LeGROS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW