Release Date: December 20th
Box Office: $12,303,411
This piece by Scott Jeffery was originally posted on his movie blog Film Dribble which is awesome and is one you should regularly read
Wolfgang Petersen is an old-school director. No fancy-pants auteurist bullshit for Wolfgang; dude just gets the job done. Hence his CV runs from submarine drama Das Boot(1981), fantasy in The NeverEnding Story (1984),thrillers like In the Line of Fire (1993) and the Hitchcockian Shattered (1991), action in Air Force One (1997), disaster-movies Outbreak(1995), The Perfect Storm (2000) and Poseidon (2006); and historical epic Troy (2004). Maybe boats and water count as a recurring auterist theme, but mostly Wolfgang just wants to entertain you and tell a story well.
1985’s Enemy Mine, his sole foray into science-fiction does just that. It’s not going to change the world or the course of cinematic history but Enemy Mine is a neat little sci-fi B-movie that you would have to be some kind of monster not to at least like. Saying that, it also feels like the kind of movie that someone, somewhere, maybe even a whole group, holds as their favourite ever movie. Enemy Mine is the Channing Tatum of sci-fi, totally charming and sadly underrated.
Here’s the gist: though humans have made peace with each other – enough so that they are exploring the cosmos – they are at war with a lizard-like alien race called the Drax. Pilot Willis E. Davis (Dennis Quaid) gets into a dogfight with a Drax ship and both are forced to crash-land on a hostile planet, Davis being the only survivor of his ship. Later he discovers the Drax pilot has also survived. Davis spies him doing some night-time skinny-dipping in a green lake, where his fish-like body seems to thrive. Now if that sounds like a weird little detail, it is, and that’s exactly what the film does so well. It’s jam-packed with odd little flourishes and strange conceits. Anyway, Davis and the Drax, named Jeriba Shiga and played by Louis Gossett Jr under some neat prosthetics, eventually realise they will need to work together if they are going to survive being stranded on this weird planet. Dealing with recurrent meteor showers, eating gross slimy space-cucumbers and giant turtle-slugs, and dodging a monstrous sand-pit creature whose elongated red tendril occasionally emerges from the ground seeking fresh meat, Davis and Shiga slowly become friends, learning each other’s language and mythologies (Shiga cites ancient Drax religious texts, Davis cites Mickey Mouse).
Enemy Mine is a sci-fi Odd Couple, or Lethal Weapon in space, sitting snugly alongside the mismatched buddy movies of the 1980s, especially Alien Nation (1988), which takes the same prejudiced human/misunderstood alien theme and inserts it into cop-thriller clothes. Enemy Mine and Alien Nation also both use their sci-fi trappings to tell race allegories, investigating questions of human/alien prejudice and the possibility of integration. The point is further reinforced in Enemy Mine by having a black actor play Shiga and the later revelation that humans are using the Drax as slave-labour. There is also a cool scene where Jeriba Shiga (who Davis comes to call ‘Jerry’) reads to Davis from his holy book, “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.” To which Davis replies,” I’ve heard all this before… in the human Taalmaan”. Without missing a beat Shiga tells Davis, “Of course you have. Truth is truth.” We are all the same people!
Now if that sounds a little too rich for your taste then think of it this way: it’s Turner and Hooch if Hooch was a humanoid lizard person instead of a dog! And like Turner and Hooch it ends up being unexpectedly moving. In a late twist it turns out that the Drax conceive children seemingly without the need for sexual intercourse, and Shiga is pregnant. If you ever wanted to see Lou Gossett Jr in a lizard mask holding up little home-made trousers with maternal pride (and who doesn’t?) then this is the movie for you. Anyway, Shiga dies giving birth and it is left to Davis to raise the child, named Zammis, on the alien planet alone. And it is ADORABLE. Seriously, I could watch Dennis Quaid mucking about with that little alien lizard kid all day. They’re the cutest thing.
I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say that shit goes down when humans finally intrude on Davis and Zammis’s world. Enemy Mine is worth your time. A solid genre piece with some cool practical effects, strong performances, a sense of humour and a lot of heart.