Enemy Mine

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1985
Director: 
Wolfgang Peterson
Starring: 
Dennis Quaid, Lou Gossett, Jr.
The Setup: 
Alien and human learn to overcome their differences when stranded on planet.
Discussion: 

I had seen this movie when it came out [I was 13], and thought it was totally awesome and extremely thought-provoking. And I love cheesy sci-fi of all varieties, so I thought I’d revisit it. And how I suffered as a result.

Now we all know that people are the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in everyone. And as we learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together ali-hi-hive. Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony side by side on my piano keyboard. Oh Lord, why can’t we?

These are the questions I was forced to ask myself as I watched Enemy Mine. In the movie there’s the humans and the Dracs, and they’re at war because the Dracs have asserted “squatters rights” to parts of the universe they have taken over. Uh, squatters rights? Is this the way to start a racially-sensitive drama? Why not say that they’re tooling around the universe in galactic Cadillacs at the human’s expense?

Regardless, we start off with a tepid space battle in which Drac ships seem to be just passing through [they all just fly straight, barely acknowledging the enemy], and no one shoots without immediately hitting its target. Anyway, through Dennis’ psychotic obsession with killing the Drac that killed his friend, he crashes on a rocky planet, along with a Drac ship. Dennis soon enough finds the ship, is captured by the Drac [Lou Gossett, Jr. in lizard makeup], and they are forced to coexist. Soon enough they’re learning each other’s language and hunting together and shootin’ the shit around the campfire.

Around this time I was thunderstruck by a sudden thought: “Wait a minute!” I said, “Could this entire thing be seen as a metaphor for racial relations right here on Earth? A metaphor seemingly conceived of by a sensitive sixth-grader?” Imagine my shock and awe to discover that INDEED it is.

Some may be moved by this. I found it unendurably tedious. The whole thing is handled at such a middle school “racism is wrong” level that it just made me want to puke. It would be one thing if the script could come up with something decent for these people to say or a situation that we haven’t seen 300 times before, but that is not to be. You can write the script yourself just from what I’ve told you so far, and it would go: Scenes of them fighting, scene in which one saves the other’s life, the first word of common language, blabbing by the fire, a fight [based on their love for each other!], etc. It was all so banal I was really clawing my eyeballs out, and I started writing a review of another film while watching because I could not justify wasting my time watching this piss.

Halfway through there’s a turn in the storyline, welcome but equally cloying, leading to an annoying resolution in which a giant step for intergalactic racial relations is made. It’s so beautiful.

Dennis Quaid is terrible, but he has the most painfully phony dialogue to work with. Lou Gossett actually manages to bring some dignity to his role. The score [by Maurice Jarre] is about fifteen miles over the top with its old-time adventure themes and wholesome family drama motifs. And then you think—this was directed by Wolfgang Peterson! The guy who rocked us with Das Boot, and still somehow retains some cachet, has been turning out “premium” garbage like this ever since, hasn’t he? Troy? The Perfect Storm? And I just saw a preview for his remake of The Poseidon Adventure. How is it he is somehow lumped with Ridley Scott as a director who delivers interesting films?

Anyway, I hated every minute of it. I guess it is to be applauded by essentially setting an intimate drama in a sci-fi setting, but… so what? You’re gonna have to write it at above an sixth-grade level for it to work. A lot of people on the IMDb love it and find it very touching. I have some not-flattering impressions of those people, but I will refrain from making them here.

Should you watch it: 

I would avoid it like toxic nerve gas.