Review of Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine came out at an unfortunate time. After the success of Star Wars, sci-fi films became a dime a dozen almost over night. Some of them have managed to stand out as the years have gone by (Dune comes to mind) but most of them tend to fall through the cracks and disappear into obscurity. For that reason, when I first stumbled across Enemy Mine at my local University Library I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Sci Fi movies from the 80s are usually entertaining at least, so I checked it out expecting some corny adventure with old school effects and sounds. As would be expected I ended up enjoying the movie immensely, but not necessarily for the reasons I was anticipating.

What is Enemy Mine?

Enemy Mine is the live action adaptation of Barry B. Longyear’s short story of the same name directed by Wolfgang Peterson. When the movie first went into production it was actually being directed by Richard Loncraine. However, after several weeks of shooting the producers became concerned with the quality of his dailies as well as the costs he was generating (the film had already spent $9 million of the planned $17 million) and he was eventually removed Enemy Mine’s production completely.

Wolfgang Peterson had just wrapped up his adaptation of The Never Ending Story when he was attached to replace Loncraine and finish the film. After looking through Enemy Mine’s already filmed footage, he decided it was unacceptable and started from scratch on sets in Munich. As a result of this Enemy Mines budget rose to $29 million with an additional $11 million being put to marketing. Filming was finished only 7 months after Peterson was attached to the project.

What is Enemy Mine About?

Enemy Mine is about an interplanetary conflict in the far future. Humankind has advanced technologically to the point of becoming an interplanetary federation. As they expanded, however, the found that another race, known as the Drac, already occupied many of the prime locations in the galaxy and a war between the two races quickly broke out over territory.

Enemy Mine’s main protagonist, Willis E. Davidge (played by Dennis Quaid), is a fighter pilot defending a military base in the outer reaches of humanity’s domain. When a Drac fleet attacks the base he and several other pilots move into combat. There are casualties on both sides, but when one of Davidge’s friends is killed by a Drac fighter Davidge goes into hot pursuit. He manages to damage the ship severely, but before he can fire the killing shot the Drac pilot jettisons out leaving Davidge to crash into the now empty fighter.

Miraculously, Davidge survives the crash but finds that he has landed on an unexplored and uninhabited world. He discovers that the Drac pilot has managed to survive as well and begins seeking to hunt him down. However, as they will soon discover, they might just need each other in order to survive on this hostile world.

What Happens in Enemy Mine?

One of the interesting things about Enemy Mine is that, apart from the beginning and the end, nothing much really happens. Most of the movie’s run time is spent watching Quaid’s character and the Drac pilot (who Davidge calls Jerry) interact and attempt to survive on the savage world. And, to be honest, that’s kind of its strongest appeal. There are so many sci fi movies from this era that focus on effects and action sequences that just having something that tries something a little different is refreshing.

Even more refreshing is the fact that Enemy Mine’s “building of a relationship” story is done so well. Both of the characters feel real and you can understand where both of them are coming from and why they begin with such hostile distrust toward each other. At the same time, the circumstances that they find themselves in and the ways that they learn to deal with them never come across as forced and manage to feel very natural and believable. A lot of this has to do with the acting (which is done very well on the part of both leads) and Enemy Mine’s above average script.

How are the Effects in Enemy Mine?

The effects are where Enemy Mine begins to falter a bit. Special effects can really make or break a sci fi movie. Because of their more scientific nature, as well as all of the other sci fi films out there, it really needs to look good to stand out from the crowd. While the effects in Enemy Mine are far from poor, they do fall into the trap of just being “good enough”. The illusions are done sufficiently well so as not to be distracting, but none of the imagery really feels all that memorable when compared with other sci fi films from the era.

Again, Enemy Mine’s effects and art design are not bad (far from it) and they do their job in conveying just how harsh and horrible this planet is. There’s just not that much about them that really makes you go WOW like in Star Wars or Dune. However, the movie does manage to get away with it somewhat because of its strong characters and story which it does really well at selling as the main focus early on.

There is one big exception in Enemy Mine’s effects department. The makeup on the Drac character Jerry is remarkable. It somehow manages to come across as revolting and frightening at the beginning, but relatable and sympathetic later on, even though it technically looks exactly the same.  Part of that can be attributed to the superb performance by Louis Gossett Jr. but the visuals just complete the package in that regard.

The only real “weak” effects I can think of in Enemy Mine come from the alien species living on the planet. There are only two that we ever see and their appearances on film are brief and infrequent (and are generally shot well) but neither come across as terribly convincing. The little trilobite like creatures fare the worst of the two coming across as being a little too stiff. The sand monster (as I liked to call him back in the day) fares a little better when all you see is his long tendril like tongue, but when you can see more of him he just comes across as a little too “puppetish”. Neither of these effects are bad per se (and again, they are generally shot well which makes their flaws much less noticeable) but it is worth mentioning.

How are the Soundtrack and Sound in Enemy Mine?

Music is often crucial in setting the mood and tone for a film and having a great soundtrack can often be enough to elevate a movie’s standing in my eyes. Enemy mine’s soundtrack certainly manages to do the former but isn’t terribly memorable or pleasant to listen to on its own. For the most part it fits the images on screen pretty well and manages to enhance the necessary emotions that the audience should be feeling from scene to scene but it doesn’t really do much more than that. Don’t get me wrong, Enemy Mine’s soundtrack has some pleasant themes here and there but, much like the effects, it’s more often than not merely “good enough” and never manages to break into the realm of being anything more than that.

How is the Acting in Enemy Mine?

As previously stated, the acting of Enemy Mine’s two leads is phenomenal and really manage to carry the story along on its own. This is important because, apart from their scenes together, there isn’t really much else going on for about an hour of screen time. Aside from them, Enemy Mine’s actors range from passable (like the other human pilots on the base) to a little annoying but still likable (the child Drac).

Sadly are only two exceptions. During Enemy Mine’s third act, a group of human pirates arrive on the planet using Drac slave labor to harvest valuable materials from the planet surface. The two leaders of the pirates are not just bellow average, they are AWFUL. I don’t know if it was the writing or the directing or what, but almost every line these two utter is just painful. It’s probably exacerbated by the phenomenal acting of our two leads, but in a film where the characters really need to carry the story it’s just mind boggling that these guys would end up being portrayed like this.

My only guess would have to be Enemy Mine’s troubled production. As a matter of fact, the pirates did not appear at all in Longyear’s original story and were only added in late in production because producers feared that a lack of an actual “mine” would make the title confusing (the mine in Enemy Mine is meant to be possessive as in “my enemy”). This likely caused them to grab whoever they could at the last minute to fill these roles and also accounts for the lesser polish on the film’s third act. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it does hurt the film’s climax which is a real shame.

Is Enemy Mine a Good Movie?

In spite of its flaws, yes Enemy Mine is a good movie. Again, the segments of our two main characters on their own surviving this harsh alien world are what really help this film stand out and are executed phenomenally well. I can see why the film was not a box office success back in 1985 (the film’s advertising was horrific) but I can also see how it has developed a cult following over the years (which I am proud to say I’m a part of).

Without a doubt, Enemy Mine’s somewhat clumsy third act holds it back from being a truly great film. However, if you go into it with the right expectations and foreknowledge as to what kind of movie it is, I think that most viewers will enjoy it. Again, it’s not perfect but the good still manages to outweigh the bad and I think that anyone interested in sci fi from this era owes it to themselves to check Enemy Mine out at least once.