BR: Enemy Mine (1985)

December 10, 2012 | By

Return to: Home Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews / E


Film: Weak/ BR Transfer: Good/ BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time/ Region: All / Released: October 9, 2012

Genre: Science-Fiction

Synopsis: Rival fighter pilots stranded on a rocky planet must cooperate to survive the elements and the arrival of an unexpected gift.

Special Features:  Stereo Isolated Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Enemy Mine has evolved into a cinematic curio which either maintains a strong pull on viewers charmed by its humanistic story of two rival cultures forced to cooperate and comingle to survive on a desolate planet, or is still assessed by unmoved critics as a $40 million dud whose messy production woes began when original director Richard Loncraine (Brimstone and Treacle, Wimbledon) was fired by studio Fox.

Replacement director Wolfgang Petersen had just completed the kid-friendly fable The Neverending Story (1984), and his decision to scrap all of the existing footage (shot in Iceland and Hungary), original makeup design and sets and start from scratch further delayed the production’s completion. Fox’s predicament, however, was simple: stars Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. had classic pay-or-play deals, so the gamble to restart production seemed worthwhile, given the existing talent pool couldn’t possibly deliver a clunky, discontinuous mess.

Whereas Loncraine’s approach was reportedly rather grim, Petersen chose to treat the story as a classic sci-fi pulp tale, not unlike Byron Haskin’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), using saturated colours and obvious indoor sets that, deliberately or not, evoke the tongue-in-cheek qualities of vintage sci-fi.

Based on a story by Barry Longyear, the screenplay by Edward Khmara (Ladyhawke, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) is a bit of a hybrid, using the basic hook of rival soldiers trapped on an island from John Boorman’s WWII drama Hell in the Pacific (1968), and extending the stay of revised characters Davidge (Quaid) and alien Drac Jeriba (Gossett) so the filmmakers could explore the emerging brotherly relationship in a riff on Daniel DaFoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Instead of a nihilistic finale, Khmara offers hope through the birth of an alien child which is cared for and later rescued by Quaid’s character from evil human miners.

Dennis Quaid’s animated  performance style sort of works with Khmara’s sometimes jokey dialogue, but Gossett still looks like an actor trapped under a layer of scaly latex. Gossett can only emote using his voice, his eyes, and his mouth, and while Chris Walas’ costume isn’t restrictive, it still lends a cartoon quality to the character, especially when Gossett’s asexual creature becomes glowingly pregnant, and gives birth.

Audience members open to the film’s plot twist welcomed the emerging themes of responsibility and cultural exchange, but it gets a bit precious, and the Drac’s biology is kind of fuzzy in construction: the alien reproductive cycle is kept vague – there’s neither an explanation of the species’ evolution nor elaboration of how Drac fighter pilots cope with career and the mortal experience of childbirth – as is their actual lifespan, since the captured aliens in the rogue mining operation vary from adults to seniors.

Although capable of building ships to sustain their stewardship of space, the concept of preserving a Drac family lineage comes not through printed text or digital storage but song – which gets a bit squirmy when Gossett and later Quaid indulge in some alien vocalizing.

The Fox-preferred child-rescue ending feels tacked on and choppy, and Davidge’s itinerant narration is suddenly replaced by another voice in the final sequence where the human returns the alien offspring to his biological birthplace – a finale that was also (reportedly) longer and more detailed in the Loncraine version.

There’s also a sense Petersen was struggling to find a balance between a comic book screenplay aspiring to argue mature themes; PG-rated creature designs reminiscent of Neverending Story; and his own emerging flaws as a director: a knack for fast-moving adult action and graphic screen violence, but a lack of recognizing maudlin drama and bathos – two key elements which make Poseidon (2006) his worst film to date.

Enemy Mine is also unbalanced in the way trimmed-down gore (arrow through the neck, severed ear, industrial equipment trauma) is integrated with the juvenile puppetry (cutesy, multi-eyed invertebrates devoured by a subterranean predator not dissimilar in style and behaviour to a Muppet).

It could be argued the simplified conflicts and the fuzzily explained creature biology helped make the relationship between human and alien more pronounced, but Enemy Mine remains a deeply flawed work. Its cult status has steeped over the years, but it’s hardly the much-maligned masterpiece argued by its most ardent supporters.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is sourced from a really nice HD master, and although the print does have some visible dirt in the opening reel, the colours and details are strong. The sound design in both 2.0 and 5.1 is quite broad, and Maurice Jarre’s score manages to convey a kind of epic scope hinted within the script and the handful of beautiful rocky locations Petersen used for wide shots.

Extras include a theatrical trailer emphasizing the film’s themes of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘responsibility’ (the only things the marketing department found exploitable), and reverent liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Maurice Jarre’s score is isolated in stereo, and his switch between full orchestra, synths, and a mélange of the two instrumental elements mostly works, but his synth action cues are still a terrible racket of drunken keyboard knuckle-pounding.

Within his feature film career Petersen has managed to tackle a wide variety of iconic genres, including fantasy (The Neverending Story), pulp sci-fi (Enemy Mine), film noir (Shattered), virus thriller (Outbreak), political thriller (In the Line of Fire), jingoistic action thriller (Air Force One), melodrama (The Perfect Storm), sword & sandal epic (Troy), and disaster film (Poseidon), but he’s never managed to recapture the power and genuine dramatic gravitas of what remains his masterwork – the epic 1981 German mini-series, Das Boot.



© 2012 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDBSoundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography


Return to: Home / Blu-ray, DVD, Film ReviewsE

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.