Enemy Mine – Blu-ray review

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Enemy Mine Twilight Time Blu-rayEnemy Mine is a science fiction film from 1985, now released in a limited edition Blu-ray by Twilight Time. The film is based on, though greatly distorted from, the novella of the same name by Barry B. Longyear, originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1979 and which won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards. Longyear later considerably expanded the novella and wrote two sequels, The Tomorrow Testament (1983) and The Last Enemy (1997). The entire saga is collected in The Enemy Papers (1998). He was famously dissatisfied with the film.

Set at the end of the 21st century, Enemy Mine stars Dennis Quaid as human soldier Willis Davidge and Louis Gossett Jr. as Jeriba ‘Jerry’ Shigan, his drac equivalent. On opposing sides in a future war, the two end-up as survivors of a space battle, stranded on a stark, rather barren planet (but with a perfectly breathable atmosphere for both species). Davidge tracks Shigan by following the smoke from his burning spaceship. An attempt to kill the enemy space pilot – drac are humanoid reptilian in appearance – fails and gradually hatred turns to mutual understanding and friendship as the two work together to survive in a hostile environment.

This basic set-up follows the template set down by John Boorman’s early masterpiece, Hell in the Pacific, with Quaid in the Lee Marvin role and Gossett Jr. in the Toshirô Mifune part. However, what took the entire film in 1968 moves much more rapidly here, with the drac learning to speak English with remarkable rapidity, and the human picking up a little Drac on the way. (This is one of those films where the alien species appear to have only on race, one society and one language, which of course has the same name as the species. But then by 2092 perhaps we will all speak human and live on the planet Humano.) The two warriors bond while building a shelter and face dangers from a tentacle creature in a sand pit straight out of Return of the Jedi and meteor bombardments which explode like fireworks.

Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr in the lead roles in Enemy Mine
Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr in the lead roles in Enemy Mine

A conflict is foreshadowed early when Davidge thinks he hears a spaceship. Then an hour in, the film takes a surprising turn with one genuinely science fictional element, thereafter turning into a sort of space western, part The Searchers, rather more Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as Davidge goes on a rescue mission against renegade human scavengers who are brutally exploiting enslaved drac in a mine (the filmmakers’ blockheaded literalism reducing Longyear’s poetic-philosophical title to groan- inducing wordplay). There are elements here which echo other films from 1985; Eastwood’s Pale Rider, in which Clint’s preacher defends prospectors from a rapacious mining company, and Boorman’s The Emerald Forest, where an engineer turns against the dam he has designed to protect the villagers whose way of life it will destroy. These elements eventually struck a deeper seam of box-office gold with Avatar.

A more relaxed moment
A more relaxed moment

The performances are good. Gossett Jr. is especially excellent under a lot of latex. The production values are strong and the effects work par for the course for a big budget studio picture from the mid-1980’s. Soaring over budget, Enemy Mine eventually cost $40 million, but flopped so hard that despite the poster being displayed for months the film never played in my home town. Maurice Jarre’s score is a high point, a mixture of electronics and orchestral writing occasionally calling to mind his classic work on Lawrence of Arabia. If this were Star Trek Gossett Jr.’s role would be the token good Klingon. Eight years later Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski paid homage to the drac with another reptilian humanoid species which he called the drakh.

A rare moment of beauty
A rare moment of beauty

A lot of people hold Enemy Mine in high regard, even listing it as a modern classic. It’s nothing of the sort. It rather drags in the early stages, is too light-weight to be taken seriously, and ends up with typical 1980’s Indiana Jones style fisticuffs topped off by a feel-good sentimental coda. Though it is surprisingly more bloody than today’s anemic PG-13 releases it lacks the gritty veracity of director Wolfgang Petersen’s true military classic, the hybrid mini-series / feature film, Das Boot (The Boat). At best Enemy Mine is well-meaning but vacuous.

Human space hardware
Human space hardware

What makes Enemy Mine stand out for a big American film released at the height of the Cold War is its advocation to love one’s enemies. If the film had an epigram it would be Matthew 5:44. It’s certainly the polar opposite of the previous year’s Red Dawn (let alone this year’s Red Dawn). Davidge starts out as a gung-ho warrior. He has a standard imperialist sense of entitlement. Early on he describes the enemy as squatting on the planets they occupy, as if humanity is naturally entitled to those worlds, regardless that the other side got there first. Once he gets to know a drac in person everything begins to change. Even though, as a red-blooded Hollywood adventure picture the white American guy has to save the day.

Enemy Mine is presented on Blu-ray in the original 2.35-1 aspect ratio with an 4.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. It looks and sounds fabulous. There are optional English SDH subtitles. Extras are an isolated score track of Maurice Jarre’s impressive music, the original theatrical trailer and a well illustrated booklet with a typically insightful and informative essay by film expert Julie Kirgo.

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