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Kino // PG-13 // May 10, 2016
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jesse Skeen | posted April 11, 2016 | E-mail the Author

If I may comment a bit more about how time flies, consider that when Solarbabies came out I had just discovered the joys of bad 1950s sci-fi movies which showed up reasonably often on late-night TV. I learned that the very fake-looking special effects and dated views of the future were half the fun of watching these movies. Now consider that those movies were then about as old as 1986's Solarbabies is now. Since I hadn't gotten to see this movie before, I'd always thought the title referred to some supernatural creatures but it's actually the name of a team of "skateball" players (a hockey-like game played on roller skates)- the name Rollerbabies had already been used by a porno movie so I guess MGM didn't want to cause any confusion with that. Skateball is one of the main things kids do for fun in this movie's post-apocalyptic setting, where the evil E-Protectorate corporation has cut off and taken control of all of the planet's sources of water (mainly by building a huge dam) and also places children in "orphanages" where they're trained to serve them later in life.

Charles Durning plays the "Warden" of one orphanage, and he begins the movie with narration explaining a bit but doesn't narrate any more after that. He tells us that basically the E-Protectorate has taken over and ruined everything on the planet, but "legend" has it that an energy force from the heavens called Bodhi will someday "free the waters" and make everything the way it was before. Young Daniel (Lukas Haas) soon discovers Bodhi in the form of a glowing ball. Right away Bodhi cures his deafness and begins communicating with him telepathically. Daniel packs it up and shows it to his older skateball-playing friends Jason (Jason Patric, the token jock), Terra (Jami Gertz, the token girl in the group), Metron (James Le Gros, playing the token tech-head), Rabbit (Claude Brooks, treated as the token black guy here) and Tug (Peter DeLuise, the sort-of secondary jock), who also feel its magic and find new reason to live after it starts a rainstorm indoors. But soon Darstar, a member of the opposing Scorpions skateball team, steals Bodhi and escapes, on rollerskates, from the orphanage with it. Daniel is compelled to go out after him also on rollerskates, and his group of friends then all go skating out to search for Daniel as soon as they discover him missing. They get a reasonable head start out into the big bad outer world before the people in charge start tracking them down, and the E-Protectorate baddies learning about Bodhi's existence and of course wanting to use it for their own evildoing.

Most of the critics weren't very kind to Solarbabies upon its release, but it's definitely one of those movies that gets more entertaining with age. The term "80s Cheese" describes this movie perfectly- you've got the requisite purple and pink colors everywhere, gratuitous rollerskating, flashlights on almost everything including a herd of guard dogs (the Maglite company gets a well-deserved screen credit for all of this), and a cheap-sounding synth score surprisingly written by Maurice Jarre along with a very 80s theme song from Smokey Robinson. The post-apocalyptic setting appears to have been ripped off mainly from the previous year's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, with civilizations built with discarded junk that at least three times causes the kids to ask "What is this place?" The primary one is "Tire Town," with walls consisting of old cars stacked on every possible side and of course a lot of tires everywhere you look. The kids are certainly helped being on skates all the time, as they're able to outrun and out-jump the vehicles chasing after them- but they've also packed their shoes for the times when they aren't in a big hurry. One of the most famous stunts in the movie is where Metron pole-vaults over a fence while on rollerskates, but his skates magically disappear while he (or his stunt double) is in the air and come right back once he hits the ground. Unfortunately many ideas in this movie are quickly discarded- while the first few minutes might make you think the game Skateball is going to be a big part of it, the big Skateball tournament you would expect near the end to decide the fate of the world never materializes.


MGM's hi-def 2.35 transfer looks pretty good here (the back cover mistakenly indicates it as 1.85), very clean and sharply focused with lots of detail visible, down to almost every piece of dirt on the ground. A few shots are intentionally grainy, and you can often see the outlines of the optical visual effects, which certainly look dated but still appear more authentic than many CG effects in more recent movies. (I'm almost sorry that I never rented this movie on VHS, as I'm sure the panning and scanning must have destroyed more than a few shots here.) It's a bit harder to judge the encoding on Kino's Blu-Ray disc however- while the picture area looks mostly fine, certainly better than many other Blu-Ray discs I've seen, there are some distracting horizontal lines that intermittently appear in the black areas above and below the picture which suggest the video wasn't given as high a bitrate as it should have. It was almost enough to make me wish for a 2.35-ratio projection screen so I could crop that area out. There is also some analog-like ghosting of the ending credits against the black background, but overall this presentation still looks pretty good.


The matrixed Dolby Stereo soundtrack is encoded in 2-channel DTS Master Audio and flagged for bitstream output, which on my equipment plays in straight 2-channel stereo unless I manually set my player to output the sound as PCM. When properly played in Pro-Logic mode the front channels use some strong separation, but the surrounds are rather subtle compared to similar movies of this period- there is some echoing of dialogue when the characters are in cavernous environments, but nothing that would really show off a surround system in the 1980s.


A 1.85 copy of the theatrical trailer is included in standard definition, which gives away one of the movie's last shots though a bit out of context.

Final Thoughts:

Solarbabies is an easy movie to pick on, but now it pushes most of the right buttons for those who are into 80s cheese (yes, I said "80s cheese" again.) Although the premise is pretty hokey, it's executed in just the right "so-bad-it's-good" manner that it will more likely keep you laughing than put you to sleep (the running time is also quite short at about 95 minutes- the back cover makes another mistake listing it as running 112 minutes which would probably be a bit too long.) Besides, the main theme of the movie is restoring good to a world taken over by evil, and when is that ever a bad idea?

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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