Solarbabies

I'm not a very nostalgic person. There are a lot of reasons why. For one, I'm just not that sentimental in general. My main mission in life is to absorb as much knowledge as I can, and that means that I get attached to ideas more than I get attached to people or possessions. Secondly, my work ethic makes me want to constantly keep moving forward and it's hard to convince yourself that something is special if you sandwich it between a few other things that were equally well crafted. But I'm also just not into the idea of nostalgia, because nostalgia assumes that one time period is better than another and that just isn't true. My childhood movies aren't sacred; they were probably made with the same amount of blood, sweat and tears as any modern movie. Besides, you can learn more from juxtaposing something new against something old than you can by looking at either of them in isolation.

That said, I'm not completely immune to nostalgia's charms. While I was watching Solarbabies yesterday I kept thinking about how much I like this particular strain of 80s movie, and how much I prefer it to modern young adult adventure stories. It was not the reaction I was expecting to have. Solarbabies had been recommended by a friend who could only provide me with a vague and unpromising description. All they remembered about it from their childhood was that it was set in a post-apocalyptic desert and there was a lot of rollerskating. Because, you know, there's no better place to stage a roller derby than on top of an unstable surface like a sand dune.

My friend was correct: Solarbabies is set in the desert and there is an excessive amount of rollerskating, but the ridiculousness actually extends much farther than that. Solarbabies focuses on a group of teens who are stuck in a military boarding school, all of whom have silly 80s haircuts, and whose main passion in life is playing a mutated form of lacrosse in night games against rival gangs. (Solarbabies is their gang name, probably because "Muppet Babies" was already taken by an edgier squad.) However, their life changes when they stumble upon a magic orb which psychically tells them that it has come from the sky to help them bring the water back to Earth. (Where 70% of the Earth's surface went is never explained.) They assume that the orb means business after it restores their deaf friend's hearing and brings them the first thunderstorm of their young lives. They decide to break out of their school and to go on a quest to give the orb what it needs to de-apocalypse the Earth.

 Just cold chilling with my wolfman statue. you know, like wizards do.

Just cold chilling with my wolfman statue. you know, like wizards do.

Solarbabies is an undeniably silly movie. The kids never take off their skates, not even when they have to climb stairs, and not once does anyone say "oh, man, I wish we'd brought shoes!" or "oh man, I hope we don't break out ankles when we land this gigantic jump." One of the teens has a pet owl which he seems to think is a falcon - more than once he juts out his arm and it swoops down to rest upon his falconer's glove. The villain dresses up like a Nazi for no reason. At one point the Nazi uses his pet robot to try to drill into the orb to steal it's secrets and it's mentioned that the robot has been programmed to enjoy inflicting pain. (Can you make something that doesn't have a mouth talk just by cutting a word hole into it? Can a glowing orb actually feel pain? Whatever, it's probably better not to think too much about a scene where a sadomasochistic machine tortures a flying fortune teller's ball.)

However, the best scene in the movie does not feature Nazis or robots - it has some dobermans chasing the kids down a long hallway. When the dobermans were far away I thought they had been given tiny miner's helmets, but no, it was nothing that fancy - they had just had flashlights taped to their heads. Nothing is scarier than a dog that doesn't need the overhead lights to be on in order to chase you.

That silliness, however, is what endeared this movie to me. Hollywood still makes a lot of these teens-escaping-oppression movies, and they have their plusses. Films like the Hunger Games generally have better special effects than Solarbabies, their worlds tend to be more fleshed out, and their characters actually have personalities. But those movies are also not for me, because they tend to have a dour tone that I don't enjoy. I grew up at a time when these movies were goofy and light, and so that's what I expect from this genre. Today's teens have different expectations, and more power to them, because those movies are actually meant for them. The fact that a cheesy film like Solarbabies scratches my itches in a way that modern teen movies don't says more about me (and how goddamned old I am) than it does about what "the kids" are into these days.

There's a part of me that wishes that Hollywood still made movies like this. There's a part of me that really wants to yell get-off-my-lawn! to Katniss and the other modern day teen adventurers. (Well, not get off my lawn, exactly. More like "get an owl you treat like a falcon!" - but you know what I mean.) However, I'm not going to let myself dwell on that thought for too long. There's no need for them to keep churning out films like Solarbabies because they already made a bunch of Solarbabies that I can still enjoy thanks to the magic of DVD. And besides, I might be partial to this type of movie but I'm not in denial - this is not a solid gold piece of cinematic craftsmanship. No, I'm glad to visit Nostalgia-town briefly, but I don't want to live there forever. After all, the dogs that live there only have flashlights on their heads, but someday if I keep searching, and if I keep trying new things, I might be able to find a movie that shows me the holy grail - a rotweiler with a miner's helmet on it's tiny dumb head.

Winner: Me

Solarbabies on IMDB