Dennis Quaid plays Willis Davidge, a fighter pilot who fights hostile aliens in outer space. He crashes on an alien planet, together with the alien that he was chasing through space. Together, they are forced to rely on each other to survive the planet. The film is overly sentimental and stale.
Enemy Mine is also wonderfully 80s, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Dennis Quaid in his heyday, and scored by the old-school composer Maurice Jarre. I was told that it is a real science fiction classic, so have to have seen it, of course.
(You can skip this paragraph. I type here that I am just wondering whether this movie will be more awesome than the classic episode ‘Darmok’ from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In case you are not familiar with it, it is one of the most loved episodes of the show, in which Picard gets stranded on a planet with an alien who speaks only in metaphors. He says things like “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” to express his feelings, but since we don’t know the cultural references, we have no clue. He basically speaks in memes. You can still buy t-shirts of this stuff. Just google those lines. Anyway, this TNG episode is the golden standard for these kind of stories, and Enemy Mine has something to live up to.)
It all looks terribly unrealistic from the start. We see a space panorama, richly decorated with planets and nebulae strewn all around. And then, oh no, Dennis Quaid is giving us a narration about the future. It’s so incredibly campy. The special effects in space look horrible, even for the time, because Star Wars was already 8 years old by the time this came out and Enemy Mine looks much worse. The landscapes on the alien planet also look like something from the original Star Trek from the 60s. The film is dated horribly, and probably looked cheap when it came out.
This must be on purpose. I am staring in shock at the screen now. It is so over the top with its pulpy space opera ideas; imagine a volcanic planet with rubber aliens that eat each other, and there are big ringed planets in the sky everywhere. What is this, Flash Gordon (1980)? Barbarella (1968)? This is so-bad-that-it’s-good territory.
I’m beginning to suspect that this is indeed a comedy. The close-ups of the alien making RRRRR sounds are hilarious. The movie forgoes any sense of realism and goes purely for entertainment and adventure. There is of course the predictable moral of two adversaries who discover that the enemy is much like themselves. Overall, it is very sentimental and silly, but I like the simplicity of the story too. It is mostly Dennis Quaid and the alien bickering and having adventures, just the two of them.
The movie doesn’t try very hard in making the alien, Drac, truly alien. Sure, he looks like a reptile, but once he learns English, he’s almost human. While the story is a bit stale, the movie stubbornly keeps trying with the scenery and after a while it becomes worthy of appreciation. The volcanoes, the props, the caves, it all looks scenic and involving. And while the start of the story was really bad, and the middle part boring because of the tired, sentimental plot, there is a good heart to the film.
I was very disappointed when the alien reptile was giving birth, that he didn’t lay an egg. I stopped caring long before the end, I am happy to leave this film resting in the annals of Hollywood. Watch Darmok instead. This is one case where a remake might add something snappy.