Kids. They can be so precocious can't they? The 80s took it one step further with a full on sub-genre of films that a friend of mine used to call "Whiz Kid Movies". This likely had something to do with the rise of home computers and the mastery that some youngsters seem to have over them (and how it was perhaps intimidating to adults). We would see these whiz kids exemplified in movies like WAR GAMES and REAL GENIUS. We'd see them glorified in movies like REVENGE OF THE NERDS. CLOAK & DAGGER and D.A.R.Y.L. come to mind as well. I am absolutely a fan of this particular cinematic trend. There is a certain relevance to them today with the rise of the "millennial" generation and their particular mastery of (and symbiosis with) technology. While none of the whiz kids have cell phones, they definitely have an understanding of the latest technology and are aware of short cuts and workarounds that many adults haven't thought of. They are clever and that allows them to stay one step ahead for the most part. In fact, I think my biggest problem with the movie derives from Christopher Collet's portrayal of the main kid. He's obviously incredibly intelligent and clever and I'm totally down with that. I think there's just a certain smugness with which he plays the character that is a touch irritating. I get though that that that has to be part of the character, a flaw if you will to help it make sense for him to do what he does (no spoilers, but with a title like THE MANHATTAN PROJECT, you may have a good idea of what this is all about). There's also some things he does in the movie that are beyond the realm of what he could be able to figure out based on limited experience he's had in certain situations. I can let that go I guess as this is supposed to be a genius kid. And I must admit that it's pretty enjoyable to watch the research and development phase of the kid's operation as their is no internet (so a lot of book reading and highlighting) and only late 80s computer technology to help out. Lots of movies have science fair-type scenes. Often there are nerdy kids present at said fairs, but few are as awesome as the nerds in this movie. They are among my favorite science fair nerds in cinema and part of it has to do with the fact that they start out as adversarial jerks and become allies. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the other cast yet. John Lithgow, plays the scientist that is trying to court Collet's divorced mother (Jill Eikenberry) and teenage Cynthia Nixon plays Collet's love interest. It all makes for a fun package for an 80s teen thriller. THE MANHATTAN PROJECT is one of the small gems of the whiz kid genre and one of my favorites. Double it with WARGAMES for a lovely evening of 80s tech and teen peril.
We as a culture are pretty sports-obsessed so it should come as no surprise that we would be fascinated with sports of the future. SOLARBABIES opens with a partial game of a future sport that combines elements of lacrosse and ice hockey (but on skates). The uniforms the players wear have a sort of DIY American Gladiators vibe. They seem to consist of makeshift baseball gear. After the game gets broken up, a young boy (Lukas Haas) stumbles into a cave and finds a glowing orb of purple light. He talks to the orb. It heals his deafness. Sound weird? Well it is, but it's a compelling 80s weird and the movie has a strong cast including Jason Patric, Jamie Gertz, Charles Durning, Richard Jordan, James Legros, Peter DeLuise, Adrian Pasdar and more. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sarah Douglas (the woman from General Zod's group in SUPERMAN II) among this movie's players.. She portrays another memorable villainess.In the best possible way, Richard Jordan's wardrobe looks like an big influence on the costumes in STREET FIGHTER THE MOVIE. It's clearly meant to evoke the Third Reich, but the dated nature of the outfit makes for some slightly unintended comedy. Overall, The post apocalyptic landscape of the film is extremely reminiscent of MAD MAX. I'm thinking specifically of THE ROAD WARRIOR, which must have been a production design influence. Water is scarce in this world and much of the landscape consists of rubble that was formerly buildings or windswept, dust bowl deserts. It's ultimately a cheesy movie, not tonally unlike say SPACE CAMP, or maybe GOONIES in that there is an adventure aspect to the story. For me, this was a fertile period for "gangs of kids" movies and this one is a bit underseen by many I think. For sci-fi fans, and 80s enthusiasts, SOLARBABIES is worth checking out. It's a bit overly dramatic and silly, but if you like the unabashed films of this decade, you will enjoy this one.
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