A 'Sci-Fi Roller Skating Movie' Nearly Ruined Mel Brooks
Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: In the distant future, a ragtag group of attractive teen rebels fights an authoritarian sci-fi regime with the help of a powerful alien force. Sounds like every Star Wars rip-off ever cobbled together by an Italian editor. And if that excites you, then this trailer for Solarbabies will not disappoint:
Sadly, this trailer is a damn dirty lie -- for the two reasons that do make Solarbabies a unique film. The first reason, of course, is rollerskates. On the surface, Solarbabies may look like a dystopian sci-fi where a paramilitary dictatorship has taken control of all the earth's water and the literal unwashed masses that rise up against indoctrination and oppression. But a lot of the movie actually revolves around that hashtag rollerskate life, where the Solarbabies compete in an inter-orphanage roller-lacrosse league and against their Cobra Kai-like counterparts.
That is, whenever it doesn't waste precious time on Bodai, the alien superbeing sent to save the Solarbabies and the movie's answer to the question: "What if E.T. looked like a glowing testicle instead of a lumpy penis?"
As expected, Solarbabies did not skate by at the box office, netting only a measly $1.5 million. And while the movie may look like a high school production that couldn't decide on whether to put on Starlight Express or Mad Max, its budget was staggeringly high. Which brings us to the other reason Solarbabies ought to be a memorable movie: almost costing the career of one of the most beloved filmmakers of all time, Mel Brooks.
Directed by Brooks' longtime friend and collaborator, Alan Johnson, Solarbabies quickly became a massive money pit for Brook's production company. Its $5 million budget was spent in the first 10 days (lacrosse outfits are expensive, ask any prep school dad), with its cost eventually ballooning to $23 million. To cover this, Brooks had to personally pony up his Blazing Saddles money, leaving him "legally broke and in debt for the first time in my life." Which he revealed in a 2016 interview, adding: "I'm getting a second mortgage on the house. I had two cars, I put them up. I mean, I'm practically ready to jump off a roof."
How did Brooks manage to stabilize his rollerskating flop? By pulling a reverse The Producers, of course. "I stay up for 2-3 nights in a row without sleeping, and I make a phony-baloney trailer so it looks like Star Wars," admits the gleeful nonagenarian. He then shopped around this "Solar Warrior" trailer until he managed to pawn the movie off to MGM, recovering his personal loss but still almost bankrupting Brooks' company. It wasn't until decades later, after the movie became a bad movie cult classic, that Brooks broke even, limping his way to success like an old Jewish comedian rollerskating through the desert with an alien testicle in his boot.
For more phoney-baloney tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.
Top Image: MGM