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 race 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.
So, since the holidays are coming and the film was released in December '85, I thought this would be a good opportunity to revisit #EnemyMine and list three reasons why it deserves a bigger following.
1. The Effects
This is another one of those few films from the '80s where most of the effects still hold up. The planet is beautiful. It's so rich and detailed you can imagine being there like the Shire. With a combination of sets and matte paintings, the film depicts a volcanic world with forests of stone pillars inhabited by slug-like monsters.
One scene in particular that boasts the planet's richness is when Davidge (the human) tracks down the crashed Drac ship. As he follows the cloud of smoke we get 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.
2. The Characters
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 is an aggressive reptilian monster. As the film progresses they look past each other’s differences and eventually revealing that they are heartfelt people.
This is can be seen in a particular scene where the couple are working on a shelter. The pilots are arguing about their religions again when, in a sudden act of empathy, Jeriba apologizes for his comments. Reluctantly, Davidge also apologizes for his comments. Jerbia then 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.
3. 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, thematically, it’s not that far-fetched. The film should have a greater legacy for just 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 recently it got a Blu-ray release. Why not check it out this Christmas? It’s worth it for the reasons above — and more.
What other sci-fi movies from the '80s do you consider classics?