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Many science fantasy films post- Star Wars seemed tame next to the thrills of Luke Skywalker and Company. Most outdid themselves trying to be even more disposable, as with the successful, video game-like The Last Starfighter. The handsome and thoughtful Enemy Mine begins with yet another I.L.M. space battle featuring noisy rocket ships that perform banked turns in the vacuum of space as if they were jet fighters. But the film soon develops into a well-intentioned interpersonal drama.
The highly sentimental story makes a standard plea toward
Enemy Mine sold itself as an action-packed clash in outer space, a marketing move that undermined its potential appeal. Audiences didn't feel cheated when Starman revealed itself as an intimate romance, but in Enemy Mine the kid appeal ramps down when it becomes clear that the blazing space battle action is finished after the first five minutes. What we get is a rather soft-peddled tale of alien fighters that turn out to have everything in common. They share food, danger and philosophies about living, and form a close bond. The political parallel is uncomfortable at best. Davidge initially behaves like a no-nothing Ugly American but blooms into maturity after an appreciation of Jerry's soulful culture and spiritual purity. Despite this theme of spiritual metamorphosis, Edward Khmara's script finishes up with a commercially 'safe' kick-ass action sequence. The audience can cheer as cardboard bad guys are shot, strangled, chopped up in machinery and boiled in molten metal. Any message of pacifist spirituality is forgotten. 1
This might have been an important assignment for actor Dennis Quaid, whose amiable good looks and personality hadn't yet put him over the top into front-rank stardom. Of '80s actors, only the equally talented Tom Berenger had more interesting parts in not-quite-winning movies, and also failed to become a major star. Buried under head-to-toe Chris Walas makeup, Louis Gossett Jr. interprets his Drac character very well. 'Jerry' is a fairly creative makeup effort. His beaked parrot (or octopus?) mouth almost seems like that of a non-human. I like the little round membranes on each side of his mouth, which look like the flat ear surfaces of a frog. Just the same, the character is still a very terrestrial creation, a man in a reptile suit.
Nobody is surprised that enemies Drac and Davidge become soul brothers, like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones. The show takes a curious turn when Jerry is revealed to be giving birth -- all Dracs reproduce without sexual union. Davidge adopts the little rubber baby, which soon grows to adolescent size. The plot complications that ensue are as predictable as a 1930s soap opera: the nasty space slavers seize little Zammis (Bumper Robinson) and Davidge defies his superiors to rescue him.
Enemy Mine comes from an original story by Barry Longyear but shapes up as a synthesis of John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific and Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Author Longyear was very critical of the movie adaptation, which appropriates far too much of the Haskin movie -- the mutual survival pact between the two heroes, and the evil miners and their alien captives. The lead bad-guy space pirate is played by Brion James, who had made a big impact as a runaway replicant in Blade Runner.
The colorful pre-CGI special visual effects are dominated by wide matte shots of desolate alien terrain. Some scenes were filmed in the Canary Islands, in the same volcanic locale used for Ray Harryhausen's One Million Years B.C.. The only indigenous life is a couple of rubbery alien creatures. The first resembles a giant sowbug inside a tortoise shell, and the second an Ant Lion with a dragon-like head that hides in a sand trap. The monsters and the use of landscape remind us of director Petersen's earlier fantasy The NeverEnding Story.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Enemy Mine really brings out the visual beauty of Wolfgang Petersen's movie. Most of the alien planet is represented by enormous interior sets, and the show is bathed in rich color. The pre-CGI effects are always attractive. Many wide shots that just didn't resolve on the old 2001 DVD, now reveal telling depth and detail. Adding immensely to the film's more mellow 'spiritual' sections is Maurice Jarre's music score, which can be audited alone on Twilight Time's Isolated Score Track. An original trailer is included as well.
Julie Kirgo's informative liner notes point up the film's production background. The 'troubled' film began with another director at the helm and was stopped after only a couple of weeks. When Wolfgang Petersen took over, giant new sets were constructed, new locations were scouted and Louis Gossett Jr.s elaborate makeup was completely reworked. According to Kirgo, the price tag on the resulting film was so steep that recouping the expense was almost impossible.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Enemy Mine Blu-ray rates:
1. This reminds me something that the politically committed cameraman Haskell Wexler once said about the way he chose film projects: he refused to take part in movies about 'peace and understanding' if the story solved its problem by having the hero pick up a gun.
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T'was Ever Thus.