A not widely remembered sci-fi movie of the 1980s from eclectic German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen Enemy Mine comes to Blu-Ray from Eureka Entertainment in its full length version. The film was an expensive flop when it came out in 1985, partly because its not an easy movie to both categorise and therefore market. It’s a big budget sci-fi movie mostly about two stranded enemies becoming friends.
Peterson took over production of the film when $9 million had already been spent and scrapped everything that had already been shot by previous director Richard Longcraine. Critical reaction to the film on release was mixed, and mostly connected to its troubled shoot.
It’s the future and the human race are at war with a race of reptilians called the Dracs, waging space battles and blowing stuff up in the usual fashion. In the midst of one of the battles a gung-ho pilot Will Davidge (Dennis Quaid) loses control of his spaceship and crashes on a mysterious planet below. At the same time so does an enemy Drac solider called Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gosset Jr.). What happens next is a battle for survival on an inhospitable world as well as a desperate desire to communicate between two characters who don’t speak each other’s language.
It’s an oft told story, enemies becoming friends on the battlefield. Even enemy aliens. Any one who has seen the Star Trek: Next Generation episode Darmok (which came later and was presumably influenced by this film) where Captain Picard struggles to understand what is being said to him by an alien he has been stranded with will see similarities. Enemy Mine is entertainingly told – those early scenes where Jeriba (or Jerry as Davidge calls him) come to an understanding and start teaching each other the rudiments of their language are great. Even if Jeriba does learn English unfeasibly quickly, these scenes are at the core of the film.
What’s interesting about the film is that for all of it’s budget it’s mostly a stage play about a human and an alien getting on, stranded on a planet like a space Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday (but without the racist overtones). Indeed the entire alien vista is beautifully created but is very clearly an impressive studio set. A willing suspension of disbelief is a handy thing for a sci-fi audience in more ways than one. Willing to believe the extraordinary story is one thing, but also being willing to see beyond the limitations in the way it’s presented is a key factor. In many ways the sharp HD picture of the Blu-Ray highlights the limitations of the set, the forced perspective and giant coloured cyclorama in the background being even more apparent.
The two central performances are good but unfortunately when the film moves away from the pair struggling to survive, it loses its focus and power. More often than not it strays into sci-fi cliche. But it has a surprisingly warm heart, and is on occasion both touching and moving. It even has some fun moments of comic relief. But as a film about war and friendship across the barricades it works.
What’s not surprising is the fact it was a flop. When people see space ships and and aliens on a poster they don’t tend to expect an intimate character drama. It has to be said not a lot happens for much of the film, and there’s a lot of talking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not the usual blockbuster material. There are moments which have the potential to be hugely exciting which don’t really go anywhere. There are some unusual directorial choices too including a weird off-screen narrator. Petersen’s direction is not at all flabby though – the editing and pace along with the performances of the script keep interest. It’s just not the huge blockbuster that 20th Century Fox needed it to be.
Leaving thoughts of that behind and watching it in isolation we see a film which is a solid piece of lower rank character based sci-fi film-making. It’s entertaining, just not particularly special enough to merit classic status.
Enemy Mine is out on Blu-Ray now.