AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 20TH JUNE, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the late 21st century, an interstellar war between humans and asexual humanoids called Dracs is being fought. No human spacecraft pilot hates the Dracs more than Willis E. Davidge. When Davidge engages in a dogfight with Drac pilot Jeriba Shigan, they both crash-land on Fyrine IV, an alien world uninhabited by intelligent life, with two moons, a breathable atmosphere, water, native fauna, and a hostile environment. After initial hostilities, the two begin to learn to cooperate to survive….
While it seems to be generally considered as a science fiction variant on Hell In The Pacific, which had an American and a Japanese soldier stranded on an island during World War 2, I’ve always thought – though I’d only seen the film once before viewing Eureka’s Blu-ray release – Enemy Mine to be a composite of Hell In The Pacific and Robinson Crusoe On Mars, which Eureka released on Blu-ray not that long ago. Watching the 1962 science fiction pic actually made me want to see Enemy Mine again. Seeing the movie now, it’s a slightly odd picture, a parable of racial equality alternating surprisingly spiritual content with more commercial concerns, and it almost seems to become a whole different movie just over half way through, while there’s also a slight feeling of santisation about the whole enterprise, as if a much tougher, deeper film has had some elements taken out of it. It’s still, though, a thoroughly enjoyable picture with some impressive technical aspects to it, moments which are truly touching, and enough humour to provide some levity without ruining the overall message.
The film begun life as a short story by Barry Longyear, which was turned into a screenplay by Edward Khmara, who created much of the Drac language by writing Russian backwards. Terry Gilliam turned down the offer of directing the film before Richard Loncraine came on board, but after several weeks of shooting in Iceland and Budapest, 2oth Century Fox became concerned about a mixture of budget overruns, creative differences and supposedly poor quality dailies, so filming was stopped, only to be started back up a few months later with Wolfgang Petersen as director. Petersen moved the production from Budapest to Munich and reshot all of Loncraine’s footage, while Fox insisted on adding a subplot involving a mine, thinking the audience would not realize that the “Mine” in the title was a possessive [as in “My Enemy”] rather than an object. Outdoor scenes were shot in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, where One Million Years B.C. was also filmed. The film ended up wildly over budget and went on to become a significant flop at the box office. In the UK, the original 108 min version was cut down to 93 min when first released theatrically, and then further cut by 27 seconds to get a ‘PG’ rating. The UK video restored the censorship cuts but the full American cut of the movie wasn’t released until 2002. I’m pretty sure though that the full version aired on TV some time before, as I think it was the cut I first watched.
The opening is rather effective as, under weird electronic sounds, the camera pans across space and a dead body and bits of a spacecraft come into view from the bottom of the screen. Dennis Quaid’s narration appropriately sets the scene, though slightly annoyingly returns a few times later, sometimes when the story is jumping forward, but sometimes when it’s just not necessary. We are then hurled straight into a Star Wars-style dogfight with spacecraft, and I guess that many younger people who have grown up with computer generated effects may find some of the visuals in this film a little cheesy, but to folk like me who grew up before they started doing virtually everything with CGI, they look just fine. Yes, the matting is sometimes obvious but then so is, in my opinon, a lot of CGI, and I’d often rather be looking at things that have actually been built then things that have been created on a computer anyway. Davidge crashes on an alien planet which may as well have been called Mars, and after a rather odd but in my experience quite realistic death scene where Davidge’s co-pilot says some strange stuff before dying, he thinks he’s alone…until he spies a crashed Drac ship in the distance.
From here on, much of Enemy Mine really is very good indeed – in fact it’s often excellent – in the way it depicts the changing relationship of the human and the Drac, enemies [though Davidge is more the aggressor than ‘Jerry’; he tries to blow Jerry up while Jerry just ties him up and keeps him captive] at first but eventually forming a bond as they try to survive on this dangerous planet where deadly meteor showers fall every now and again and any pit may contain a tentacled beastie. There’s a nice mixture of character development and a sense of a growing friendship, with just enough bursts of action to keep the kids happy [there are a few brief brutal moments but not as much as some modern 12-rated films]. One of several really heartwarming moments has both Davidge and Jerry know the same saying: “If you don’t at first succeed…”, though the not-that-well-educated Davidge thinks that the saying originated with Mickey Mouse, while you then actually see Quaid try to stifle laughter as he walks away, which I’m not sure was intended to be seen. Another good moment has Davidge and Jerry talk about how the war started. The Dracs are squatters and the humans actual invaders, but Jerry doesn’t see anything wrong with the human point of view. it seems a bit too easy though that Dracs seem to be more noble than humans. The film would have had more power if the Dracs were flawed too. Still, there are times here where it really seems to be moving onto another plateau and become really rather thought provoking, and you can’t fault it for not having its heart in the right place.
Unfortunately the second half of the story, while initially surprising in the way it takes things into a different direction, feels rather rushed – it really needed to become Enemy Mine 2 to work – and finishes with lots of shooting and fighting which is fun and quite well staged but seems at odds with the tone and the pacifist messaging of the first half. And, though we get a rather half-heartedly done closing scene of an optimistic nature, there’s not much of a sense of conclusion to the whole affair. Still, Tony Imi’s camerawork and some great matte paintings combine to give us a few memorable shots scattered throughout the film, like when the two are sitting overlooking a cliff while the sun is setting and illuminating everything, and even some Planet Of The Vampires-type images of rocks bathed in different colours. The locations are superbly used throughout. An even bigger highlight is the suit that Louis Gossett Jr. wears. Yes, it’s yet another humanoid alien, but rather convincing especially facially, where Gossett’s features and personality really come through. The actor recalled that he had talked while gargling saliva as a kid messing around, and decided to add it to his character, performing the odd vocalisations all by himself. It’s a really strong performance. Quaid is very much Quaid as he tended to be back then in his roles; a bit brash and dumb. Considering his character is initially the opposite of Gossett’s, this is perfectly okay in this movie.
Petersen paces things well; Enemy Mine is not really a fast movie but it’s never allowed to drag, while Maurice Jarre provides a typically unusual score, with grand orchestral music alternating with synthesiser passages, and certain sections having music which seems a little incongruous, but his approach certainly suits this particular movie and it’s a soundtrack I now intend to add to my collection [yep, I’m a film score nerd as much as a film nerd]. Enemy Mine carries with it a sense of holding back, a sense of a truly excellent and even brave picture simplified and diluted, possibly by the studio. I’d love to see Loncraine’s cut for the portions of the film he shot. Maybe the material exists in a warehouse or garage somewhere. For now though, Enemy Mine in its current form will certainly do. Its soul, charm and entertainment value means that I may return to it more than a lot of better movies.
Eureka Entertainment bring Enemy Mine to Blu-ray in a typically impressive transfer, a bit of research indicating that it may be the same one Twilight Time used for their Region ‘A’ release. The image is clear and deep without losing that 80’s look, though of course a few of the effects shots would have probably looked better without such a sharp picture. There isn’t much in the way of special features, not even the isolated score which was on the Twilight Time disc, but there is a deleted scene, which is really an extended scene [and in Russian!] and the trailer.
*Gorgeous 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
*Optional English subtitles