Enemy Mine (1985) poster

Enemy Mine (1985)


USA. 1985.


Director – Wolfgang Petersen, Screenplay – Edward Khmara, Based on the Novel by Barry Longyear, Producer – Stephen Friedman, Photography – Tony Imi, Music – Maurice Jarre, Visual Effects – Industrial Light and Magic (Supervisors – Don Dow & Brian Johnson), Special Effects – Bob MacDonald, Makeup Effects – Chris Walas, Production Design – Rolf Zehetbauer. Production Company – Kings Road


Dennis Quaid (Davidge), Louis Gossett Jr (Jeriba Shigan), Bumper Robinson (Zimmias), Brion James (Stubbs)


During its expansion across and colonization of the galaxy, humanity has run into the Dracons, nicknamed the Dracs, an intelligent humanoid reptilian race, and a bitter war has ensued between the two over territorial rights to many planets. During a Drac attack on a space station, the fighter pilot Davidge pursues a Drac pilot down into the atmosphere of the inhospitable planet Fyrine IV where both crash. Davidge and the Drac pilot Jeriba Shigan survive the crash but realize they have to forget their differences in order to survive on the planet’s inhospitable surface.

This lavishly mounted adaptation of Barry Longyear’s Nebula and Hugo Award winning 1979 novella came despite a problem-ridden production history. It initially began shooting in Iceland under Richard Loncraine, director of works like the Peter Straub ghost story Full Circle/The Haunting of Julia (1977) and the Dennis Potter adaptation Brimstone and Treacle (1982). Loncraine was then fired and the production abandoned to only be taken up again about a year later with Wolfgang Petersen at the helm. Petersen at that point was just attaining international acclaim for two films made in his native West Germany – the WWII submarine drama Das Boot (1981) and the children’s fantasy The Neverending Story (1984). Petersen had the script rewritten and the sets rebuilt, shooting from scratch indoors in West Germany.

Seeing the final result, one wonders if the effort was worth it. Certainly, Enemy Mine was not the breakthrough science-fiction film that everybody hoped it would be and only did mediocre box-office business. The film is little more than a remake of John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968) set in space. Hell in the Pacific had Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as American and Japanese pilots stranded on an island in the Pacific during World War II. Despite its science-fiction settings, Enemy Mine cannot seem to imagine much beyond being a version of Hell in the Pacific with funny rubber masks.

Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr) and Davidge (Dennis Quaid) in Enemy Mine (1985)
(l to r) Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr) and Davidge (Dennis Quaid)

For all the original vision the film promised, it is banally unimaginative as science-fiction. The Drac is presented with the interesting ability to impregnate itself but for all that Wolfgang Petersen and screenwriter Edward Khmara could care about showing its different socio-behavioural background, it had might as well be a Japanese pilot. It seems sad when you buy up a story that won the science-fiction community’s two major award and then throw all the science-fiction out.

Edward Khmara also write the same year’s fine Mediaeveal romantic fantasy Ladyhawke (1985) but clearly lacks an adept hand at writing science-fiction. Stellar distances are treated as being as close as terrestrial islands. For all that the story creates a great war between mankind and Drac for habitable planets, Fyrine IV never seems any more uninhabitable than some of the more remote stretches of Earth like say Norway or Iceland. What are these two species looking for – planets where they are waited on by the natives as well?

What is worse about the film are some of its gaping credibility gaps. There is a scene where Dennis Quaid is shot and certified as dead by a research team but then some time later manages to come back to life only moments before being cremated. Then, following his first shave, haircut and clean set of clothes in several years, he still manages to be recognised by the man who shot him. Or the far-fetched ending that has the military suddenly decide to forget their tolerance of the slavers and traditional war with the Dracs and become the equivalent of the Cavalry riding in to save the day.

Human and alien enemies forced to cooperate for survival on a hostile planet - Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr) in Enemy Mine (1985)
(l to r) Human and alien enemies forced to cooperate for survival on a hostile planet – Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr)

Wolfgang Petersen never manipulates the film for any drama, save the climax and the embarrassingly mawkish pregnancy scenes. This is primarily because he shoots almost everything in wide-angle, determined not to miss the undeniably impressive sets. Without any closeups in a film, it is virtually impossible to maintain drama – seen on the video/tv screen everything seems to be happening at an impossibly murky distance. Dennis Quaid gives another of his wild guy cowboy performances, which only comes out as hammy in the surroundings.

Enemy Mine has never been sequelised or remade. Two interesting variants are the low-budget Enemy Mind (2010) and Hunter Prey (2010), which both borrow the basic idea for the story of two human enemies crashlanded on a planet.

Wolfgang Petersen went on to become a mainstream Hollywood director with the likes of In the Line of Fire (1993), Outbreak (1995), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), Troy (2004) and Poseidon (2006). Petersen also produced Bicentennial Man (1999) for Chris Columbus.

Trailer here

Actors: , , ,
Themes: , , , , ,