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Enemy Mine should be praised for its focus on character, especially considering it was made in a post-Star Wars world where everyone was cranking out sci-fi spectacles.
For those who don’t know the film, it takes place in the distant future where humanity is at war with an alien species known as the "Dracs." During a vicious battle a human pilot (Dennis Quaid) and a Drac pilot (Louis Gossett Jr.) crash land on a planet. As they learn to survive together, they form a great relationship that they struggle to maintain as outside forces intervene.
This has been one of my favorite films for many years now and since this is technically my first article here on Vocal, I thought I'd write about something I'm honestly passionate about.
This is another one of those few films from the '80s where most of the special effects still hold up.
The planet is beautiful. With a combination of sets and matte paintings, the film depicts a volcanic world with forests of stone pillars, crawling with slug-like monsters.
One scene in particular really boasts the planet's beauty. It's the one where Davidge (the human) tracks down the crashed Drac ship. As he follows the cloud of smoke, we see a montage showing the pilot wandering through volcanic mountains and rocky hills, all while beneath a deep red sky. The world feels real and that can't be said for a lot of fantasy films.
Unlike most sci-fi films at the time (and even today arguably), Enemy Mine has a restricted setting and focuses almost entirely on two characters. Our protagonists are quite hard to like at first.
Davidge comes across as a bloodthirsty bigot, while Jeriba appears to be nothing but an aggressive reptilian monster. As the film progresses they look past each other’s differences and eventually are revealed to be heartfelt people.
A good example of their relationship's development is in the scene where the couple build on a shelter.
The couple are arguing about their religions and cultures, throwing vicious insults at each other when, in a sudden act of empathy, Jeriba apologizes for his comments. Reluctantly, Davidge also apologizes for his comments. This is a big plot point in the film as in the scenes that follow, Jerbia begins to teach Davidge his language and faith. This is a genuinely touching scene that should give the film a broader appeal beyond cult sci-fi fandom.
The Twists and Turns
I think survival stories are pretty difficult to write, considering the limited setting. Keeping the plot both compelling and believable would be hard, hence most survival stories are known for having weak third acts. Many have criticized Enemy Mine for having a similarly poor climax.
Without getting into spoilers, I think Enemy Mine’s third act is actually very creative. It introduces a powerful antagonist that poses a great threat to the characters we’ve grown to love. Additionally, it maintains the film’s theme of conquering xenophobia through understanding, so it’s not that far-fetched in a thematic sense. The film should have a greater legacy for avoiding the trap most survival films fall into.
Overall, Enemy Mine is a great, emotionally engaging sci-fi drama that deserves a bigger audience. It didn’t do well at the box office when it came out, hence its obscurity, but it recently got a Blu-ray release so why not check it out? It’s worth it for the reasons above — and more.