This week, BAD is celebrating the release of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer by posting a week-long series of post-apocalyptic movie trailers. By the time I made it to the table, many of the big titles had been taken, but I had an ace up my sleeve: 1985 desert-skating adventure Solarbabies.
Roller skates are inherently cinematic, and roller skate movies are a favourite subgenre of mine. Roller Boogie is legitimate top-5 material for me. I am, no joke, pitching a roller skate movie to my country’s Film Commission today. But drill down deep enough and you’ll find there’s actually a bountiful sub-subgenre in the form of post-apocalyptic roller-skating movies. Rollerbabies (no relation) sort of kicked it off pornographically in 1976, though its future is more dystopian than post-apocalyptic. Donald G. Jackson made a series of five utterly bizarre post-apocalyptic Roller Blade movies in the Eighties and early Nineties, while Prayer of the Rollerboys brought Corey Haim and surprisingly serious ideas to the party. I don’t know why this tiny niche exists, but I’m sure glad it does.
The trailer I’ve linked here is from VHS, as theatrical trailers for this film are not forthcoming. Executive-produced by Mel Brooks, Solarbabies was directed by Alan Johnson, who did choreography on several of Brooks’ films and whose single other directorial credit is To Be Or Not To Be. It takes place at an indeterminate time in the future (“year 41”) and follows a group of roller-skating orphans rebelling against the Eco-Protectorate, a fascist state that controls all water in the now precipitation-free Earth.
Rollerbabies’ desolate future is populated by an impressive cast of mid-eighties youths, including Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James Le Gros, Adrian Pasdar, with perplexing guests Charles Durning and Alexei Sayle. The Solarbabies characters themselves are mostly insufferably chipper, particularly Haas’ deaf Daniel’s cooing over the mystical creature Bohdai, and Adrian Pasdar’s Darstar, a triumph of vague shamanism and owl-husbandry. At least they all practice sensible, safe skating, wearing pads and helmets and sticking to the concrete paths that helpfully and inexplicably wind through the desert.
Many post-apocalyptic movies want to be The Road Warrior, but Solarbabies wants to be Star Wars. There’s an insane amount of world-building in this expensive-looking movie, as our gang o' Solarbabies roam from village to village, finding creatures and cults and killer robots along the road to victory. The conflict between the hippie rebel Eco-Warriors and the Protectorate is set up as potential franchise fodder. The film’s environmental message is charmingly heavy-handed and utterly clumsy, making for a good representation of the film as a whole. Solarbabies tries so hard to entertain, you can see the pulsating veins on its neck, but it never quite skates up the inclined plane of true watchability.
That said, I do admire a trier.