Enemy Mine, from director Wolfgang Petersen and starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr., looks like a 50s era sci-fi film (particularly the model work and space suits) but it’s message of prejudice, hate, and race war, is as relevant today (and arguably more so) than it was when it was made.
Feeling like a slight spin on Robinson Crusoe on Mars, we join the characters in the 21st century, man has spread out into the universe, exploring and settling, and coming into conflict with an alien species, the Drac, who are doing the same thing.
And because we are who we are, war erupts, and the universe is aflame. Enter hot shot pilot (and most 50s-esque special effects in the film, which otherwise has solid practical effects and gorgeous matte paintings) Davidge (Quaid) who harbors an immense amount of anger and hate for the Drac, though we never know why, though the intimation is there that humanity, having been at war so long, simply hates the other, and have been indoctrinated against them.
When a drac attack wing strikes, Davidge and his fellow pilots are dispatched and in the battle that follows both Davidge and a Drac (Gossett Jr.) crash land on a remote planet.
Marooned and struggling to survive against the elements the pair need to put aside their hate if they are going to survive, and through their unified stuggle learn more about themselves and each other. The story moves along predictably, except for a fun little surprise halfway through the film relating to drac physiology. But it’s the actors and the performances they bring to their characters that help elevate this above the fare on which it seems to be wrapped in.
And then there’s the fantastic make-up work by Chris Walas that transforms Gossett Jr. into the Drac, and the nuances the actor brings to the character to make it truly alien.
Drenched with an eeries score by Maurice Jarre, I hadn’t seen this film since it was first released on VHS back in the 80s, and while I know I liked it, I hadn’t revisited it until now. And I have to say, I quite enjoyed it, the performances are great, the model work effects feel like a real throwback (which makes me think it was an intentional choice at the time) and there’s also an appearance by Brion James who was everywhere as a villain in the 80s, so guess what he plays in this one?
It’ a fun sci-fi adventure, has weathered the test of time very well, and its commentary on race and prejudice are still (way too) relevant today. And honestly, if you have any real doubt about checking it out, check out the rest of Petersen’s films, he’s got a solid track record, Das Boot, The Neverending Story, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire…
Quaid, Gosset Jr., and Petersen, a solid combination in a very enjoyable science fiction throwback with a powerful message.