The Film: 3.5/5
Sometime in the very distant future, humanity has abandoned Earth and taken to the stars in search of habitable worlds on which they can rebuild. The only problem is that the mighty intergalactic military forces of Earth have a lot of competition in the form of the mysterious Dracs, an alien race who are reptilian in appearance and intent on colonizing the prime real estate and leaving jack squat for us miserable homo sapiens. During a particularly intense battle, pilots from both the human and Drac races crash land on Fyrine IV, a planet crawling with only hostile lifeforms. The human is the cocky Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and the Drac is Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr.), whom Davidge affectionately nicknames “Jerry”. Once the rival space jockeys decide that trying to kill each other is pointless given the nature of their situation, their mutual animosity gives away to a bond that allows them to survive over the course of three long years. When Jerry reveals to Davidge that he can asexually reproduce and his human colleagues and vicious miners who use the Dracs for slave labor both make their presence known, matters get a little complicated.
Enemy Mine had a pretty interesting production history long before it even before the cameras. As documented in the collector’s booklet included with Eureka Entertainment’s new Region B Blu-ray release, the film started out as an acclaimed sci-fi novella of the same name written by Barry B. Longyear and first published in the September 1979 issue of Issac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Having found massive critical and commercial success in the genre with the Star Wars trilogy and Ridley Scott’s Alien, 20th Century Fox formed an alliance with Stephen J. Friedman’s production company Kings Road Entertainment to bring Longyear’s yarn of an unlikely friendship for the ages forming in the midst of interstellar warfare to the screen, with Edward Khmara (Ladyhawke) tapped for scripting duties.
Despite being one of the hottest projects in development at the studio, Enemy Mine was roundly rejected by some of the industry’s most gifted visionary filmmakers including Terry Gilliam and David Lynch (the latter also turned down the chance to make Return of the Jedi in favor of his troubled Dune adaptation). At long last, the directorial reigns were handed off to British film and television veteran Richard Loncraine (Richard III), who assembled the production team and cast Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. (who had previous co-starred in Jaws 3-D) in the crucial lead roles. Loncraine also decided to film the exterior scenes depicting life on a dangerous and unoccupied alien world off the south coast of Iceland, and for his troubles the director was rewarded with unstable weather conditions that lead to lengthy and expensive production delays. The footage Loncraine got in the can during those first few weeks of filming didn’t leave execs at Fox and Kings Road impressed, resulting in the decision to boot their chosen director from the helm, shut down production, and fire it up back up once new director Wolfgang Petersen was installed with a slightly larger budget (approximately $40 million with Loncraine’s footage – deemed unusable by the studio – and marketing costs included) and a greater amount of control over the project than Loncraine had at his disposal.
The end result is a fun but virtually forgettable motion picture that proves the “too many cooks” approach to studio filmmaking can suffocate any potential a project might have before it has the chance to fulfill the slightest ounce of it. Enemy Mine is a film that belongs to no specific vision, but rather to a group of avaricious yeomen desiring a product that could be easily marketed to the masses and reap sizable profits in ticket sales and ancillary markets. In the process of adapting the original Longyear story, Fox execs realized that there was no actual mine to be found despite the fact that the word “mine” was contained in the title. Khmara was forced to add one to his script but it was a plot point that came out of nowhere in the third act and added nothing to the narrative. It also resulted in a finale that tries to do too much at the same time while allowing for the characters and relationships that had been carefully constructed over the preceding ninety minutes to be rudely shoved to the sidelines in favor of pointless action scenes involving a sadistic bully of a villain (hammed to bug-eyed perfection by the late Brion James) to whom the audience was just introduced.
To have to sit back and watch with complete powerlessness as Enemy Mine succumbs to such frivolous imbecility is an experience akin to Alex having to watch with eyelids pried open as his beloved Ludvig Van is desecrated. Although you would have had to have never seen a movie before in your life in order to consider any part of Mine’s narrative original, it does manage to be far more thought-provoking than your average sci-fi B-flick. Since most of the story focuses on the growing emotional bond between enemies of two different races, the casting is the key element to making what works about Enemy Mine actually work.
Dennis Quaid was a smart, yet predictable choice for the role of Davidge because he could nail the part of a cocksure all-American pilot in his sleep (he had plenty of practice playing astronaut Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff), but he makes the most of a character arc almost brought to its knees by weird narrative shifts and logical gaps that could swallow a major city. Despite having to play his role while buried beneath the magnificent makeup effects created by Oscar winner Chris Walas (Gremlins, The Fly), Louis Gossett Jr. is terrific as Davidge’s extraterrestrial adversary and later friend Jeriba and he invests the character with a warmth and nobility that clashes beautifully with his human counterpart’s bigoted arrogance. The interplay between the two actors is pure gold and provides the film with humor and heart when the plot starts to exhibit signs of strain. Bumper Robinson, currently an in-demand voice actor for video games and animated series, does an admirable job of convincingly bringing out the childlike qualities in Jeriba’s mature son during the third act.
Petersen’s direction is energetic and confident and doesn’t allow for the pacing to slow up much even during the dramatic scenes. Thanks to Rolf Zehetbauer, his production designer on Das Boot and The Neverending Story (as well as Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg, and Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming), Petersen and his actors have some impressive sets (built on soundstages in Germany) created with attention to the smallest detail in mind on which to play. The cinematography by Tony Imi (Aimee & Jaguar) is bright and with the assistance of some amazing matte paintings really make the practical sets and Icelandic locations convince as a desolate alien planet, and the music score composed by the late, great Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King) is suitably epic and only dates itself through the use of synthesizers. Jarre’s orchestral contributions to Enemy Mine sound very similar to the work he did on Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, another highly hyped 1985 sci-fi adventure released by a major studio.
Technically speaking, the weakest aspect of Enemy Mine is Industrial Light & Magic’s visual effects creations, primarily the opening space combat that suffers from some wonky compositing that can’t help but show its poorly-concealed seams on this Blu-ray. Those moments don’t last long and thankfully Petersen’s film finds itself once Davidge’s ship crashes and he tracks down the creature that will soon become his greatest friend in the galaxy. That’s when Mine begins to wear its heart proudly on its sleeve and I was able to see why it has endured as a cult film over the decades even though it bombed at the box office and its own studio wrote it off as a crushing disappointment almost immediately after it opened, in spite of the fact that they did everything in their power to ensure that it was unable to forge a connection with mass audiences.
Filmed in Super 35mm, Enemy Mine is presented by Eureka in a crisp and lively MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1080p high-definition transfer framed in the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio that appears identical to the one on Twilight Time’s 2012 Region A Blu-ray. Colors are bright and teeming with strength and presence while the black levels preserve the film’s evocative use of shadow during the most dramatic scenes. There is little difference in the sharpness of both the close-ups and distant shots. Grain is kept to a low and consistent amount throughout the film except in some of the haphazardly composited visual effects shots. Complementing the improved picture are a pair of 24-bit English audio tracks, the best of which is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 option that offers a hearty and fresh replication of the original Dolby sound mix with a rich arrangement of the dialogue, music score, and active sound design free of distortion and overlap. Volume levels on every area of the mix are balanced to ensure nothing gets drowned out even when the action heats up. There is also an isolated music and effects track presented in 24-bit PCM 2.0 audio and English subtitles have been provided.
The only extra features on this Blu-ray are the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes), scored to music composed by Philip Glass for Paul Schrader’s film Mishima, and a full-frame extended scene (3 minutes) that wasn’t included on prior U.S. DVD and Blu-ray releases and is presented in German with optional English subtitles. I have no idea why the scene features German dubbing unless it was included in a German television cut or VHS release of the film. Seeing as how most of the principal players involved with the making of Enemy Mine are still alive and kicking, some new retrospective documentaries, interviews, or at the very least an audio commentary would have been greatly welcome.
As previously mentioned, this disc also comes with a collector’s booklet containing an exhaustive essay about the film’s long journey from page to screen with stacks of critical and cultural insight written by film scholar and writer Craig Ian Mann. We should all feel fortunate that Eureka chose to provide this Blu-ray with reversible cover art. You’ll likely turn the sleeve inside out for the original poster art once you behold the utterly horrendous new cover image that makes Enemy Mine look like some cheapjack Asylum knockoff.
In spite of its origins as a fascinating work of speculative science fiction literature forced to run the gauntlet of mainstream Hollywood event filmmaking by committee and barely wheezing its way to the finish line, Enemy Mine remains a solidly enjoyable fusion of two-character drama and derivative space opera with enough ideas regarding interspecies friendships of its own to overcome some odd shifts in tone and make it seem somewhat different from the majority of big-budget rocketship adventures. It’s unfortunate that Eureka, given the chance to top previous home video releases of the film in terms of supplemental content, chose to skimp on the extras, but at least they can still offer Region B consumers the same upgraded picture and sound quality we Americans have been enjoying for years.