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DVD SAVANT

Savant Review:

ENEMY MINE


Enemy Mine
Fox Home Entertainment
1985 / Color / 2:35, enhanced 16:9 / 108 m
Starring Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett, Jr., Brion James
Cinematography Tony Imi
Production Designer Rolf Zehetbauer
Film Editor Hannes Nikel
Original Music Maurice Jarre
Writing credits Edward Khmara from the story by Barry Longyear
Produced by Stephen Friedman
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Many post-Star Wars science fantasy films seemed derivative and tame next to the thrills of Luke Skywalker and co., and usually outdid themselves trying to be even more disposable, as with the successful, video game-like The Last Starfighter. The handsome and thoughtful Enemy Mine starts out with yet another familiar space battle, with noisy rocketships making banked turns in the vacuum of space as if they were jet fighters.  But it soon develops into a close interpersonal drama.

Synopsis:

Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) is an impetuous fighter pilot for Earth, which is engaged in an outerspace war against an alien civilization called the Dracs.  He manages to shoot down an enemy, only to crash himself on the same hostile planet.  With his co-pilot dead, Davidge tries to survive on his own, but eventually links up with his opposite number, a leathery, lizardlike Drac fighter pilot (Louis Gossett Jr.) whom he dubs 'Jerry.'  An unexpected personal alliance forms, which only becomes more complicated when the pair tangle with renegade Earth miners, who use Drac slaves for labor.

Enemy Mine sold itself as an action-packed clash in outer space, a marketing move that undermined its potential appeal.  Audiences watching Starman didn't feel cheated when it revealed itself as an intimate romance, but in Enemy Mine there was a decided lack of enthusiasm, when the kid audience that turned out to see blazing raygun action realized that all the Buck Rogers stuff was over after the first five minutes.

This was possibly the 'hump' movie for Dennis Quaid, where his amiable good looks and personality were either going to put him over the top into front-rank stardom, or weren't.  He's at his most controlled here, unlike later films where the feeling of career desperation was sinking in.  Of '80s actors, only Tom Berenger had more interesting parts in not-quite-winning movies, and also failed to become a star.  Buried under head-to-toe Chris Walas makeup, Louis Gossett Jr. interprets his Drac character very well.  'Jerry' is a fairly original creation, not an interpretation of anything else, or a second-hand character.  He's naturalistic.  With a parrot (or octopus?) beaked mouth, he's the most successful full body monster suit since The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Chewbacca does indeed look like a walking carpet next to this painstaking piece of work.

The pre-CGI special visual effects are impressive, even technically improved over Star Wars if only by virtue of practice.  1  The dramatics are sound, especially when Enemy Mine becomes a sensitive story with the male Drac giving birth to a son that Davidge more or less adopts.  If the movie didn't make much of a ripple with the public, it had to be that it was too familiar in genre terms, and too obvious in its message of racial tolerance.  Enemy Mine comes from an original story but shapes up as a double remake of Robinson Crusoe on Mars and Hell in the Pacific.  The fight for survival on a hostile planet is well done but betrays a been-there-done-that feeling.  After three minutes we know that enemies Drac and Davidge are going to become soul brothers, and the genuine emotions and good direction only go partway toward freshening the situation.  It's not the fault of Enemy Mine that 1985 audiences were looking for empty sensation instead of incisive drama, but the movie still ends up with the slightly forced feeling of a civics lesson.  And that's a shame.


But there are plenty of fans of this superior sci-fi drama, and they'll be pleased by Fox Home Entertainment's DVD.  The 16:9 enhanced Panavision image looks better by far than the letterboxed cable version of the movie, and the audio has a richness that brings out the eerie atmosphere of the dusty, stormy desert planet.  Maurice Jarre's unusual score also shines with this audio treatment.  Fox delivers an array of high quality tracks: English 4.0 Surround, English Dolby Digital Surround, and French Stereo.  The feature is accompanied by a trailer and a still selection.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Enemy Mine rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer, still selection
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: March 29, 2001


Footnote:

1. The early-to-middle '80s were the years when Effects-laureates like Dennis Muren were stating that special visual effects had finally run up against a technical brick wall.  There were limits to what could be done with optical printers and motion control cameras; effects were becoming a matter of adjusting to the individual batches of raw stock produced by Eastman Kodak.  As early as 1982 effects wiz types like Scott Squires (then of Dream Quest) were going back to school to learn computer programming.  And we all know the direction that turned out to be ...
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