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Enemy Mine (1985)
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
review by James Starkey
Wolfgang Petersen's emotive sci-fi movie Enemy Mine is a relative jack-in-the-box of surprises. Given the quality of many other efforts from this period, I was expecting a dull and routine demonstration in B-movie production. Fortunately, I was shaken from my cynical malaise by a truly enjoyable yarn - executed with precision.
Dennis Quaid is cast as the courageous but misguided Willis E. Davidge. Set some 100 years into the future, humans are fighting a bloody war against a race of aliens known as the 'draks'. The conflict is for control of some of space's most richly endowed planetary systems. Davidge is sent out with his friend Joey to repel a drak offensive. During the battle, he gets entangled in a dogfight with a lone enemy ship. The battle is so fierce that it forces both ships to crash land on a desolate planet. Worse still for Davidge, Joey does not survive the crash leaving him all alone - or is he?
Rather predictably, it is soon revealed that the rogue drak pilot has also survived the treacherous descent to the planet's surface. Davidge makes a beeline for the creature in order to avenge the death of his fallen comrade. However, soon he finds himself the prisoner of the alien who anticipates his arrival.
Initially, the thing that really surprised me about Enemy Mine was the quality of scenic backgrounds incorporated into the film. Petersen convinces the viewer that Quaid and his alien enemy really are on some desolate planet with seemingly no visible means of escape. Sky textures appear both dull and bright at the same time. Surrounding mountains seem identical in shape and size but all have a unique characterisation of their own. Detail incorporated into the surrounding set is also quite magnificent. Shots of distant planets in the sky at night were truly beautiful, as were the effects of the meteor showers that would regularly pound the planet. One such shower would force Davidge and the alien drak into a cave shelter. It soon becomes clear that despite the barrier of language and fear about each other's motives, the two were going to have to work together in order to survive this situation. Both begin to warm to each other as they hunt for food and shelter in the desolate wasteland.
Here, the script was surprisingly flexible. It was also durable in the sense that with many other directors this part of the movie would simply have broken down. Petersen succeeds in presenting the two enemies as completely different - but by the same token exactly the same. They are similar in the sense that they both wish to survive, and it is this that drives them. The new unity between the two is confirmed when the drak (now dubbed 'Jerry' by Davidge), saves his fellow survivor from the clutches of a hungry sand creature. Both comrades thus attempt to learn the language of the other in order to aid their friendship. Davidge soon tires of staying put in the one place however and makes a vain attempt to discover more life on the planet. He is convinced that he can hear the sounds of spaceships at night. However, the sound is from the craft of scavengers who enslave the drak people and are using them to mine the planet. Disheartened by his discovery, Davidge returns to the shelter and Jerry.
It is at this point that the film is at it's most vulnerable. Jerry (although being male) is revealed to be pregnant. This is why he would not go with Davidge on his expedition to find survivors. It seems from this point on that Jerry realises he is to die as soon as he has given birth. Petersen incorporates this revelation into the movie fairly. However, there is something wholly false and tired about this twist in the plot - so much so that it will probably turn many viewers off.
Jerry requests of Davidge that he looks after his baby and that present him to the holy council of the drak people when the war is over, and Willis reluctantly agrees - but how is he to care for a child in such a grim and inhospitable land?
Quaid demonstrates why he made it in movies with an assured and timely performance. His character is a little on the annoying side but becomes more tolerable as the movie wears on. Louis Gossett Jr is most certainly the star of the piece. As the character of Jerry he emanates both threat and poise in equal measure. Throughout the first half of the movie, the audience is never sure whether he is going to kill Davidge or sling an arm around his shoulders in a show of friendship. Gossett's presentation of the alien is wholly believable and adds enumerable strength to the storyline. This presentation is further enhanced by some good quality alien make-up. The draks could almost be real.
Of all the surprises offered up by Enemy Mine, the most pleasing was the fact that the movie never descends into a firefight between the two opposing creatures. It would have been easy for the film to revert to a pyrotechnic display of guns and bombs. This however, is simply not the message the movie is attempting to convey. The survivors do not use violence to resolve their differences. Instead, their experiences on the planet soon demonstrate that each of them is essential to the other's survival. This makes for a wholly more interesting movie.
If there were to be criticism then it would be of the movie's conclusion. There is not enough emphasis given to the outcome of the war. Furthermore, the conflict takes a back seat to the emotional rollercoaster that Enemy Mine subjects us to. Many of those watching would not care for such particulars but it would have been nice to have this element of the movie more thoroughly covered - especially as it was such a significant part of the film's introduction.
Print quality on the Region 2 DVD used for this review was fair. Long-distance shots seemed clearer but there was some grain on the close-up footage. Sound was both clear and pristine, as was the transfer to digital. The movie's sumptuous colours have not suffered in the slightest from this - something that can occur during the transfer process. DVD extras are fairly light on the ground with a special extended sequence from the movie, trailer and two stills galleries.
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