Enemy Mine (1985) is one of those great, lost treasures of sci-fi from the mid 1980s. The film stars Dennis Quaid as a fighter jock who becomes marooned on a distant planet with an alien being known as a Drac, a humanoid, reptilian creature who perceive humans as a threat since humans have begun colonizing the far reaches of space.
Quaid’s narration opens up the film and explains that by the late twenty first century, humans put aside their differences and worked together to begin colonizing outer space in search of worlds and resources. The Drac race had colonized the universe a thousand years prior to man’s arrival and went to war to preserve their claim in the galaxy. During a surprise attack launched by the Dracs, pilot Will Davidge (Quaid) and his shipmate crash-land on the planet Fyrine IV, a hunk of rock in outer space that has a breathable atmosphere.
Davidge’s partner Joey (Lance Kerwin) dies due to internal injuries and Davidge is left all alone. After Davidge buries his friend, he looks off into the distance and sees smoke from the crashed Drac ship that was responsible for him being marooned. Davidge sets off to find the ship and to kill its pilot if it isn’t already dead.
Davidge discovers the crash site and that the ship’s pilot is very much alive and in a similar predicament as Davidge. Davidge plans to kill the Drac but he is quickly discovered and taken prisoner. Davidge and the Drac are unable to successfully communicate with one another but soon discover that the planet’s hostile meteor showers and its inhabitants must force them to unite in order to survive the fury of Fyrine IV.
The two form an uneasy alliance at first and work together to create a shelter. The Drac (Louis Gossett Jr.) is known as Jeriba, but Davidge nicknames him “Jerry”. Jerry begins to learn English and the two are able to communicate more effectively over time.
Things take a turn for the better after Jerry saves Davidge from one of the planet’s creatures that tried to have Davidge for a snack. The two begin to learn one another’s cultures and a friendship emerges.
Davidge sets off in search of help when it becomes apparent that he has heard the sound of a ship that has periodically visited the planet. Davidge discovers that the planet has in fact been visited by a group of humans known as Scavengers, outlaw miners who rape planets for precious ores and minerals. Davidge’s military hierarchy tolerates the Scavengers because of their use of Dracs as slave labor. Davidge keeps his discovery a secret in fear of Jerry being discovered.
The film follows a typical formula in which the hero/main character changes his outlook and embraces their enemy and their friendship is what can change the outcome of the war between the two races. Davidge relies on Jerry for survival and companionship while trying to endure the hostile surroundings that they are apart of.
Wolfgang Petersen’s direction is solid and his ability to get such performances from his actors is a testament to his three decades of filmmaking. I have always enjoyed the film and it has been a cult classic among my closest friends and I.
My favorite part of the film is the beginning when Davidge and Jerry meet for the first time. It’s often comedic and serious at the same time. The two know nothing of one another, let alone there is a significant language barrier. In one scene Davidge is tied up and watches as Jerry consumes food that was stowed away on his downed space ship. Davidge tells him that he is hungry by smacking his lips together. Jerry does the same and belches. Not understanding his words but understanding the tone in Davidge’s voice, Jerry spears what looks like a pickle covered in mucus and feeds it to Davidge who almost throws up the nauseating looking mess.
The showdown at the end of the film between Davidge and the Scavengers is also done very well in the film. The late great character actor Brion James plays the lead Scavenger (Stubbs) and adds to James’ collection of impressive villains before his untimely death in 1999.
When Enemy Mine debuted in theaters on December 20, 1985 it met with very little fan base and the critics were relentless in their critique of the film. The film cost over twenty-nine million dollars and only grossed twelve and a half million in the U.S. alone. Executives at Twentieth Century Fox were outraged that the film met such little praise from the public.
Today nearly thirty years later, critics have revisited the film and have given it the praise it deserves. The Los Angles Times said that the film was “surprisingly coherent, and surprisingly enjoyable after so many years.”
Enemy Mine is available on DVD through Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and can be rented thru Netflix or streamed thru Vudu.