Mine enemy, my ally.
Enemy Mine is a slick sci-fi film that seems more like an extended television episode about two enemies learning to trust and care for one another. It was a big budget experiment that ended up being more of a hindrance to the studio than a help.
The trailer for this film makes me wonder if there’s any surprises left in the film. A human soldier in a future war is marooned on a planet with one of the alien enemies he fights. They hate each other but slowly seem to come to respect each other. One day the human soldier helps his enemy give birth to a young child which the human must raise on his own until the rescue ship comes. Great! No need to have to watch this film now, right?
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
In the late 21st Century Earth nations have learned to co-exist and create peace amongst themselves. They turned to the exploration and colonization of other worlds, which led them into a direct conflict with the Dracs, an alien species that resembled humanoid lizards. In one encounter, pilot Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) crash lands on the planet Fyrine IV after getting into a dogfight with a Drac fighter. Davidge is extremely xenophobic when it comes to the Dracs and risks his safety engaging in the pursuit (his co-pilot Joey ends up dying in the crash).
After burying his friend, Davidge sets out to explore the habitable planet and notices the smoke from the downed Drac fighter. His hate for this species is so great he heads off to kill his unseen enemy. Davidge discovers the Drac escape pod near a large lake where Jereeba Sheegan (Louis Gossett Jr) is bathing. Davidge attempts to kill the Drac but is instead captured. Their distrust of each other is quenched slightly during a meteorite storm as the two work together to head to higher ground.
Over time, Jereeba–whom Davidge calls “Jerry,” comes to trust the human as they both realize that they need to make an alliance to survive being stranded on the planet. Davidge realizes he doesn’t have to like the alien, but he at least needs someone to talk to. Jerry saves Davidge from a creature in a sand pit, while Davidge protects Jerry from another meteorite shower. They attempt to build a shelter together, and the Drac introduces his belief system, the Shismar, to the human.
Frustrated after years alone together, and having dreams of rescue ships, Davidge sets out to see if he can find help. He discovers a defunct mining operation, as well as skeletons of Drac’s. He realizes outlaw miners have used this planet before and may return. They also use Drac’s as slave labor. Returning to their shelter, now in a cave, Davidge decides not to tell Jerry of his find. Jerry reveals that he is pregnant (the Drac are a hermaphroditic species). The two discuss their lineage and Jerry makes Davidge promise to take his child before the Drac High Council so that it may join the society. Jerry then dies while giving birth to Zammis (Bumper Robinson).
Davidge is shaken by the responsibility of caring for a baby from a species that he has no knowledge about, but he does his best. The child grows quickly and “Uncle Will” teaches Zammis about things like football, but also how to be safe on the dangerous planet. Zammis explores the area one day and is captured by miners who have returned to the planet. Davidge attempts to rescue the boy, killing one miner, but he is shot by Stubbs (Brion James) and left for dead.
A BTA ship finds Davidge, who is not as dead as he appears. After being cleaned and healed by his alliance, Davidge steals a ship to return for Zammis. Sneaking into the mine he speaks to an elder Drac (Jim Mapp) and institutes an impromptu slave revolt while looking for Zammis. Davidge kills a number of miners before facing off against Stubbs, who is shot by the elder Drac. Zammis is found unharmed and he and the other Dracs are returned home by Davidge, where he recites the lineage of Zammis parent so that he may enter the Drac society.
“Earthman, your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!” – Jereeba
History in the Making
Enemy Mine was a conscious attempt by 20th Century Fox to create a big budget sci-fi story. Based on a 1980 novella by Barry B. Longyear, the film is less an adventurous tale like Star Wars or The Last Starfighter, and more a thoughtful sci-fi parable about xenophobia, brotherhood, and parenting. It ended up being a Christmas release in 1985, which began a slower period of sci-fi releases in motion pictures. It was the one brighter star between Back to the Future, the big hit of summer 1985 and Aliens, which would strike it big the following summer. The film also reunited Louis Gossett Jr and Dennis Quaid, who co-starred in the questionable sequel Jaws 3-D but had successful film careers of their own, with Gossett Jr appearing in The Deep and An Officer and a Gentleman, and Quaid making his own way in The Right Stuff and Dreamscape.
The film is also famous for losing its first director, Richard Loncraine. Well he wasn’t lost so much as fired. The studio was not happy with the footage he was turning in so they let him go, even after having spent close to half the budget, to be replaced by German director Wolfgang Petersen, who was just completing The Neverending Story. This replacement was the major factor to the almost tripling of the initial budget, which the film was never able to recover from financially. According to Box Office Mojo, the film only made $12 million worldwide against a reported $40-plus million budget, and as such is considered a flop. However, taking the film on its own merits, it still stands as a strong message-film about the rapport between beings from different cultures.
One of the downfalls of Enemy Mine is its marketing. The trailer for the film gave away 75% of all the beats of the film, from the crash on the planet, to the conflict between the main characters, to Jerry giving birth, and ships coming to rescue Davidge. It doesn’t give away the details, but if the audience is supposed to be concerned if the characters are going to survive or be surprised that Jerry gives birth, there’s not much mystery left. Additionally the posters seemed to give even more away. The taglines on the poster were “Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.” It kind of says it all right there.
In fact, Enemy Mine seems more like an episode of Star Trek than something worthy of a theatrical release. The sets are minimal, with the majority of the action taking place on a soundstage designed to look like an alien planet (with the occasional wide shot of footage shot in the Canary Islands to convey the desolate nature of the landscape). There are really only three main characters in Willis, Jerry, and Zammis–but quite a few more background type extras. And the story is more introspective with the characters of Davidge and Jereeba talking for the majority of the film. The special effects and creature design (of the Drac species) was probably the most non-TV aspect of the film, as the larger budget allowed for greater details and quality in both these departments.
Of course the biggest draw of the film is its discussion of xenophobia and hate. The character of Davidge hates the Dracs with a white-hot passion, even though he’s never seen or met one. It’s a hatred that was ingrained in him for many years, presumably in order to gather warriors for the BTA. Interestingly enough, the opening narration talks of how the Earth was able to work together (finally) to explore the galaxy. But what is the first thing humans do after learning to create peace on Earth? Of course it’s to start a galactic war with another species. The hatred and divisiveness that Davidge feels is also a metaphor for racism between the pale skinned human and the darker skin, lizard-like Drac. There’s not much explored about the hate. It’s a superficial premise to start the film. As soon as Davidge encounters the Drac he only half-heartedly tries to kill him, before being captured and forced to spend time with him. It’s the course of this time, and the frustration of communication and survival that helps bond the two characters together. Jerry never seems to have that same hate for the human. His aggressions are only to protect himself from this crazy man that’s trying to kill him.
Eventually the two characters bond after several years marooned on the planet (a graphic later shows it was three years). Davidge comes to understand the difference in the Drac culture from his own, and respects Jerry for his strong bond of family. As they discuss their lineage, Jerry can recite long passages of his blood line while Davidge mentions his parents and his Grandfather, who he “thinks was a farmer.” He’s not quite sure. As Jerry says, it’s thin. When Jerry dies and entrusts his offspring to Davidge, the human now sees something greater than himself that he must live up to. It’s his chance to make a difference in someone’s life and he becomes an Uncle to the young Drac. He also no longer sees Jerry as an alien, but as a friend. It’s an overt aspect to the film, but also an important idea that the filmmakers didn’t want to disguise.
The Science in The Fiction
Even as the Earth learned to work together to allow themselves to travel the galaxy, they continued the colonial mistakes of their forefathers as they reached out to the stars. Besides the war started with the Drac over mineral rich star systems, humans also propagated outlaw miners into the void. Presumably the miners shown in the film are the exception and not the rule, but as with 16th Century European shipping companies, these miners instituted slaves culled from the cultures they were conquering. Obviously humans had learned enough to create the technology for space stations, spaceships, off world mining, and advanced medical procedures (as seen with the life-saving techniques used on Davidge), but were unable to discover ways to work mines other than using slave labor.
It would seem that a suitably advanced species that is able to reach out from their planet would have the ability to create robotic miners or some other tool that would allow them to mine the necessary minerals without resorting to the subjugation of another species. Of course, there may still be a few bad apples in any bunch. Enemy Mine shows that Davidge and the miners are the two most aggressive types of people toward the Dracs. Other pilots and BTA members that are seen briefly don’t seem to exhibit the same fervor towards the aliens, especially when the BTA crew follow Davidge to the mine on the rescue mission. Other than these examples, not much is seen of any other technology since the characters are marooned on the planet and must make due with the resources at hand.
The Final Frontier
Enemy Mine is an adequate film that has its heart in the right place, even if it’s bleeding. It does seem reminiscent of many other sci-fi tales told over the years. Besides the aspects of Star Trek that are evident in the themes and setting of the film, there’s also nods to the 1964 film Robinson Crusoe on Mars which has a similar premise of a man stranded on an alien planet, complete with wide shots of the character roaming vast desolate spaces (it too used real Earth environments to sell a desolate planet). The makeup for Jerry is also slightly reminiscent of Dan O’Herlihy’s look as Grig in The Last Starfighter. The textured scales and coloration are where the similarity ends however.
The film is a good example of studios trying new things within the realm of science-fiction stories. Along with films like Explorers and Brazil, 1985 was an experimental year for sci-fi cinema which ended the initial rush of excitement to capitalize on the success of the Star Wars franchise. A brief cooling off period would ensue as filmmakers regrouped and came up with new and bigger dreams for sci-fi films, sometimes returning to the roots of the genre to reinvigorate older ideas. Please continue to join Sci-Fi Saturdays as it enters into 1986 and beyond!
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.