Enemy Mine, 1985.
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.
Starring Dennis Quaid, Louis Gosset Jr., Richard Marcus, Carolyn McCormick and Brion James.
The future. Humanity fight for distant star systems against an alien race called the Drac. When human pilot Davidge crash-lands on a hostile, barren alien world, he must forge an unlikely alliance with Jeriba, a Drac pilot who crashed nearby, in order to survive…
You may not have heard of Enemy Mine, despite the involvement of a fair few luminaries in various departments. That’s because it sank like a stone in the winter of 1985 at the box office, following a misjudged marketing campaign, production difficulties that saw Wolfgang Petersen replace original director Richard Loncraine and start again, even after millions had been spent on shooting, and no doubt the simple fact it was lacking some major tentpole stars in an age where movies were opened by the men (usually) whose names went above the title.
Petersen’s second Hollywood movie after the much more beloved The Neverending Story may not be a classic piece of science-fiction, but it’s neither worthy of scorn or equally forgetting. Eureka Classics have now, for the first time, restored and polished Enemy Mine for the medium of Blu-ray, allowing people to appreciate a fairly cult piece of 80’s sci-fi which holds a strong moral and emotional core at its heart.
The story will be fairly familiar for anyone who has watched an episode of Star Trek or The Outer Limits, as Petersen’s film feels like a big budget version of either; in the distant future, humans war an alien race called the Drac (no, they’re not vampires before you ask) over star systems they seek to colonise, and after a pitched battle between squadrons in deep space, Dennis Quaid’s confident human pilot Willis Davidge crash lands on a hostile, stark, lonely alien planet along with a Drac pilot named Jeriba (or ‘Jerry’ as he ultimately names him), played by Louis Gossett Jr. under heavy make up. On a world full of sudden meteor showers, harsh weather conditions, and man-eating gribblies living under the surface, Davidge & Jerry must learn to put aside their alien differences and forge common ground if they hope to survive.
That’s the core of the picture, for the first two acts at least; Quaid’s pilot steadily growing a mega beard, staving off madness and coming to rely on Jerry’s company, while Gossett. Jr’s alien slowly comes to adopt human language through rote learning and comes to appreciate the bravery of his opposite, and start letting him in on his cultural aspects. It’s all about intolerance, understanding, and extreme circumstances forcing people from different literal & ideological worlds discovering they share the same fundamental ‘human’ characteristics. You’ve seen this kind of tale told many times before, but Petersen executes it well.
Admittedly the first half spins its wheels at times, taking quite some time to fully reach the point of its central story, but Petersen and Edward Khmara’s script (adapted by from Barry B. Longyear’s original short story) affords Quaid & Gossett Jr. time to grow into their characters, allowing them to personally evolve and change, while they face numerous survival challenges along the way. It’s the surrounding tissue of Enemy Mine that’s dated more; the lack of budget does show on numerous occasions, especially when it comes to realising the alien life indigenous to the planet they’re stuck on; the set design at times feels like a TV show with a few extra quid, capturing the atmosphere but feeling a touch too basic; and while legendary composer Maurice Jarre (quite a coup for this film) does provide several nice accompanying string pieces, he does give in to 80’s synth layered on top infrequently.
The script also takes a real lurch in its final act into the plot driven, suggesting Petersen really wasn’t sure how to end his tale of two brothers from distant worlds, and feared without a pulse-pounding action-based resolution the audience would feel cheated. There’s more plot, consequently, in the last 30 minutes than the first 75, and while it does allow Davidge a sense of full circle completion to his character arc, it also robs the picture somewhat of the same character depth it’s strived for across most of the running time. It may have worked better had it stuck to the strength of its convictions until the end.
Not in the same league as the great science-fiction pictures of the 1980’s, Enemy Mine doesn’t deserve to be consigned to the bottom of the heap either. An early exercise in fantastical storytelling from Wolfgang Petersen, who crafts a solid and engaging character story from the script, and delivers two committed performances from Dennis Quaid & in particular an unrecognisable Louis Gossett Jr. which taps nicely into the underlying themes about a shared brotherhood of basic humanity, when forced to survive; while the film loses its way in the final third, giving into narrative cliche and B-movie spectacle, it’s a perfectly good ride for most of the running time.
Eureka don’t provide, sadly, a great deal of extras in their Blu-ray release – there’s a theatrical trailer, a deleted scene & collectors booklet to keep you going, but given the production difficulties behind getting this film made, there was perhaps a more intriguing story to be explored in this release. It looks great in polished HD though, so if you want a cult, under looked sci-fi movie, this may fill the void nicely.
Enemy Mine is out on Blu-ray for the first time now.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.