With this month’s Guilty Pleasures, you get two genres for the price of one. An SF version of John Boorman’s Hell In The Pacific, that then morphs into adventures in space babysitting. Human Davidge (Dennis Quaid), is left holding Drac erstwhile enemy “Jerry’s” (Louis Gossett Jnr) surprise offspring Zammis (Bumper Robinson). Throw in an appearance by “hey, it’s that guy” ’80′s go to baddie Brion James, and the stage is set for a spectacular, underrated adventure that espouses racial tolerance on a deadly alien world.
The film throws us into a Drac attack on a human space outpost. The reason for the conflict is never explained. During the dog fight, Davidge and enemy Jeriba Shigan crash on Fyrine IV, an inhospitable planet. From pointlessly continuing hostilities, they grudgingly have to team up to survive. As Jerry says, ”I need someone else to look at, even as ugly as you.”
Their time together spans years, avoiding hostile wildlife and dangerous meteor showers. Davidge even has to care for Jerry’s offspring, when it transpires the Drac are an asexual race that can conceive at any time. This idea could have been ridiculous, but the skill of the actors just about sells the idea. Jerry entrusts Davidge to raise the child Zammis in the ways of the Drac, entrusting him with a treasured tiny book of their teachings, the Talman, before Jerry dies. When Zammis is later abducted by human scavengers, led by Brion James (boo, hiss!) Davidge is himself rescued by the human military and vows to rescue the child. Davidge is now at war, not with the Dracons, who he has come to understand and respect, but his own blinkered past, his former prejudiced nature, explicit in the slavers. He needs to honour Jerry’s memory, and does so, by bringing Zamis to his homeworld and reciting the “Jeriba Line” – 170 generations of his ancestors, at the Holy Council on Draco, in the film’s beautiful closing shot. By doing so, he helps heal the divide between Human and Dracon. The Rising Sun over the watery vista further evokes the spirit of Hell in The pacific, and its theme of reconciliation between its Japanese and America characters.
Enemy Mine is a nice concept that, unusually for most sci-fi films of the early 1980′s, didn’t ape Star Wars. It has an intelligent, thoughtful story to tell, wrapped up in high adventure, with engaging performances from the two main leads, especially Lou Gossett Jnr. His syntax and odd sideways head movements suggest a reptilian other worldliness. The make-up for his alien character is superb, and stands up to a lot of scrutiny (and punishment!) throughout the film.
As usual with these things, production didn’t run smoothly. 20th Century Fox was going through changes at the top, and producers were unsatisified with the work of original director Richard Loncraine. Wolfgang Petersen was hired to replace him. He started afresh, moving the production to the Munich studios where he shot Das Boot. Gossett Jnr’s Drac makeup was redesigned too, another costly and time consuming process. The budget ballooned from $17 million to $40 million, including the cost of the wasted production time.
The time spent between the two antagonists / protagonists alone on Fyrine IV is the most rewarding and entertaining aspect of the film, as plenty of time is spent on their grudging journey to respect and friendship. The realisation of the alien world is superb, excellent matte work and special effects sell the environment. It does owe a nod to Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964) but it is by no means a slavish rip off. The film does what science fiction does best, reflects our own world back at us with a twist, allowing us to question our own beliefs or prejudices. Unfortunately, this strength is something the marketing failed to get across successfully.
At least the musical score by Maurice Jarre is a delight. Here he mixes his trademark synths with an orchestra, providing a creeping air of menace to the alien planet, and a suitably rousing heroic theme for the action finale. The electronic elements remind me a little of the eerie score to Apocalypse Now, another journey into the “Heart Of Darkness”.
Enemy Mine was never going to be a great success unfortunately, with a muddled path through it’s execution, and the usual mistake of a rushed, final act. It received mixed reviews on release, with the strongest (mediocre) praise coming from the L.A Times, that it is “surprisingly coherent, surprisingly enjoyable.” Watch for yourself, and you may be pleasantly surprised.