Julien Neaves, Editor
Greetings RedMangoReaders. I have a request. Ask me what’s my favourite genre. Go on, don’t be shy. Thank you. It’s science fiction. Sure I have a most eclectic taste that runs the gamut from B-movie horror schlock to stuffy high art period pieces, but the way Sci Fi expands the mind to encompass the strangest alien world while shining a microscopic light on the human condition that has ultimately won my heart. And one of the Crown Jewels of the genre, and a personal favourite as well, is Sci Fi action film Enemy Mine, which turned 35 on December 20.
The film was directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, The Neverending Story, In the Line of Fire, Troy, Air Force One) and based on the novella of the same name by Barry B. Longyear. I remember being captivated by this film when I saw it many years ago and when I rewatched it recently it had lost little of its lustre. Sure the film was a box office dud upon release but it has gone on to become a bona fide cult classic. So with a SPOILER ALERT (cause I know somebody’s gonna gripe about it) let’s go back (and forward) in time for a retrospective review of Enemy Mine in four slices:
Slice 1: Going Down
The film is set in the late 21st century when expanding human colonists (the Bilateral Terran Alliance or BTA) have gone to war bipedal reptilian humanoid aliens called Dracs, who have been claiming “squatter rights” on planets the humans are seeking to colonise.
Our story picks up in the middle of the war and a skirmish between hot shot fighter craft pilot Willis E. Davidge (played by 80s mainstay Dennis Quaid, who featured in other genre classics like Innerspace and Dragonheart). He hates him some Dracs and happily blasts their Cylon-looking ships into space dust. After one of his crew is destroyed he is determined to take down the Drac ship that did it and even follows him into the atmosphere of a planet despite warnings from his squadmate. The two ships crash, the squadmate dies and Davidge is marooned together with a Drac pilot named Jeriba “Jerry” Shigan, played by an unrecognisable Louis Gosset Jr., Academy Award winner and star of the testosterone-infused fighter-pilot action series Iron Eagle as well as more than 60 other films and more than 100 television appearances.
Slice 2: The Odd Couple
Enemy Mine stood out in a post-Star Wars world for the originality of its story and the depths of its themes. Instead of a light, popcorn, good versus evil space opera this was an intriguing interrogation of the nature of war, colonisation, racism, prejudice, friendship and fatherhood. We’ll get to the fatherhood later, but let’s talk about the beautiful friendship between Will and Jeriba.
Will literally goes from trying to kill Jeriba, including pouring gas into a pool and burning him alive, to calling him “Toad Face” and begrudgingly eating his disgusting food, to calling him “Jerry” and becoming his best bud. Both Quaid and Gossett deliver some of the best performances of their respective careers (I will suggest using closed captions as Gossett can be difficult to understand sometimes), and the bond they forge and their crazy misadventures are touching, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. And they realise that while it is easy to hate someone from afar (and kill them as well) it is much harder when you get to know the person and see them as a person and not just the “enemy” or the “other”. And that is a message relevant then, now and for all time.
The practical effects on Gosset (and the other Dracs) is phenomenal and still holds up to this day. A lot of work is also put in into developing the culture and biology of the Dracs, and I adore when there is that high level of attention to detail. A species with one sex that reproduce asexually and at a set period? Now that is some interesting stuff. Some of the other flora and fauna on the barren planet are less interesting and their practical effects do not hold up that well, but these just pop up and disappear so it’s not too bad. And praise must also go to cinematographer Tony Imi for some gorgeous planet landscape shots.
The second act of the film ends with the emotional gut punch of Jerry’s death during childbirth and the birth of little Zammis, who as a baby still looks more real than that terrifying CGI infant from Twilight. Zammis grows up very quickly (ah, kids) and soon “Uncle” Will is teaching him football and why they both look physically differently. And this sweet period is set to some lovely orchestral music. Quaid and young actor Bumper Robinson have splendid and very believable chemistry, and it is superb presentation of a surrogate father and son relationship.
But all good things must come to an end, and that end comes on the form some reprehensible Drac slavers and scavengers arriving on the planet. There are no shades of gray here as these guys are just plain evil and reprehensible. The scavenger leader Stubbs is played by Brion James, who you will recognise from films like Blade Runner, 48 Hrs. and Another 48 Hrs., Tango & Cash, and The Fifth Element, and here he gleefully chews up the scenery.
From this point the film takes a decidedly darker and more action-heavy turn. The scene where Will shoots an arrow through the neck of a scavenger was like something out of a horror movie. But hey, he deserved it.
After Will is left for dead he gets rescued by the BTA. But he has to save Zammis so he steals a ship, literally blasts out of the space station and returns to the planet. If the opening space fight was a bit of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, at this point the film goes full Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with all the sneaking around, action, close calls and bloody deaths. It’s not as deep as the first two acts but it is fun and you appreciate his desperation to save Zammis. I especially liked the scene where he speaks to the enslaved Dracs and meets one who speaks English and tells him where the find the young Drac. And the scene where he finds Zammis and is not sure whether he is dead or alive is still powerful. And when Zammis starts to stir the waterworks start to flow. Yes I remembered that he lived, but it was still very touching. After the Drac slaves revolt, Stubbs gets brutally offed and the BTA arrive and decide to help, things pretty much get tied up for there. Zammis waking up and telling “Uncle” he looks terrible is a funny and heartwarming way to end the affair. The last scene of Will and Zammis on the Drac home world is a welcome visual touch but if it wasn’t included I wouldn’t have missed it terribly. Even before that scene the Enemy Mine had already won me over.
Julien’s Score: 9 out of 10
For Sommer’s review of 80’s Sci Fi classic The Hidden you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.