Judge Steve Power blames his commercial failure on poor marketing.
Our review of Enemy Mine, published March 23rd, 2001, is also available.
Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.
Davidge: "If one receives evil from another, let one not do evil in
return. Rather, let him extend love to the enemy, that love might unite
them. I've heard all this before…in the human Taalmaan."
Facts of the Case
Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid, Dragonheart) is a maverick starfighter pilot caught up in an interstellar war with an alien race called "The Dracs." When a heated dogfight sees Davidge marooned on an alien world with Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gosset Jr, Iron Eagle), a pilot from the opposing side, he must band together with his nemesis in order to survive. In the process, Davidge will learn much about war, morality, and the face of his enemies.
There was never a more blessed time for science fiction fans than the 1980s; the post Star Wars boom saw studios attempting to cash in on the craze by tossing any tale with space ships and laser blasters into the multiplex. Few ever managed even a minute fraction of the success of Luke Skywalker and company, in fact many wound up playing in empty theaters, languishing, unloved. Many of these box-office duds would go on to discover cult followings on cable TV or VHS, while others would disappear entirely, remembered lovingly by the handful of people who managed to catch them on the first go around. Enemy Mine definitely leans more towards the latter than the former, but here it's a fate that may not be quite justified.
The plot is an old one, most notably borrowed from the WWII drama Hell in the Pacific, where two opposing sides rally together in the face of certain death, but it's told here in rather effective fashion. What's most impressive is how Enemy Mine settles into its groove early on, only to pull the rug from under the viewer once or twice, changing things up just as the proceedings seem all too familiar. One might be expecting a heavy-handed morality play, but the survival tale weaves in and out of the script with deft precision, and turns never feel forced or trite. There's also just enough humor, some of it going a little more into absurdity territory than other bits of it, to keep everything from getting too dark and brooding.
A solid script is helped by strong characters as well; Davidge, as played effectively by Quaid, switches things up rather well, and just when you think you've got his whole arc figured out, he throws a curve or two your way and keeps things interesting. Gossett Jr. gives an incredibly brave performance, Jeriba is really about as alien as it gets, bizarre vocal inflections and mime-like movements. He does a great job, especially given the fact that he's buried under prosthetics.
Wolfgang Peterson, hot off of Das Boot and The Neverending Story (another '80s fave), does a fine job with the direction once everything goes planet side. Enemy Mine looks great from a design standpoint, with some wonderful sets, costumes, and creatures and suitably solid action. As a director, Peterson shows an understanding of effects work that few others of the era could master in this sort of a film. It says enough for the effort that very little in this one comes off as laughable or amateurish, two qualities that are pretty regularly associated with the genre as a whole before the advent of CG.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray transfer is a good one, with a strong 1080p image that's clear and colorful with some solid fine detail and just the right amount of grain. The audio is more front-loaded then I would have liked, but it's clear and concise.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Enemy Mine isn't all good; the dogfight that opens the film looks pretty laughable, even by mid-'80s standards, and while the practical effects work generally shines, any time things venture into "special" territory, well, lets just say this isn't Star Wars and leave it at that. There are also some pacing issues that make the first half of the film languish a little, and while the plot turns never feel forced or heavy handed, there's a certain hokey vibe to the dialogue that goes hand in hand with the genre and the era, though considerably less than many of its peers. Twilight Time has done a great job from an audio/video standpoint, but the disc is devoid of any extras save for the trailer.
Despite some rough edges, Enemy Mine does an able job of differentiating itself from the sci-fi "also-rans" of the 1980s. Dennis Quaid and Lewis Gossett Jr. turn in some strong performances, and Wolfgang Peterson's able direction is served well by some great design work. No, it isn't some lost classic or overlooked masterpiece, and it certainly doesn't compare to Hell in the Pacific, but it's a sight better than it's small "fueled by nostalgia" cult status would have you believe. Twilight Time's limited 3,000 Blu-ray run is an excellent effort that's worth tracking down for fans of the genre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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