What an odd movie. The concept of Enemy Mine doesn’t seem new, but maybe that’s because I’ve been watching so much Star Trek for the past two and a half years. If Enemy Mine came first, then it certainly inspired a number of Star Trek episodes (along with episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, and the like.)
Roger Ebert told the Chicago Sun Times in 1985 that Enemy Mine “made no compromises in its art direction, its special effects and its performances – and then compromised everything else in sight.” That holds up as an accurate description of the movie. Set design, acting, sound — all these are incredible. The Drac language sounds totally foreign, seems to take into account the physiology of its speakers, and is all-around believable as an alien language. The Drac themselves are still bipedal and humanoid but the asexual reproductive systems and lack of binary gender are brave in a time of green-skinned alien babes.
That said, the writing often feels very lazy. Zero — absolutely zero — thought is given to how human culture will have changed in this future. Look at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That show is ridiculous (ridiculously awesome), but at least it recognized that baseball is probably going to be a relic of the past in a couple centuries.
Enemy Mine, on the other hand, proudly and obliviously features a scene of Dennis Quaid (as Willis E. Davidge) teaching his alien child how to play touch football — it’s a part of human culture!
I have to give Quaid credit for really selling the idea that he loved that slime baby like his own first born child. The costuming and makeup in this movie is amazing, and the baby is no exception, but it was also a bit difficult to not laugh derisively at this scene. (Sorry.)
My personal annoyance with this movie is that it really seems to wind up for a big strike at the political implications of a human and a Drac — two species at war with each other — being forced to survive together, and coming to understand their similarities. It’s peace on a microcosmic scale, but still — the fact that Davidge and Shigan become friends, I feel, should have had some impact on someone, somewhere. Maybe a group of humans would have heard about it and lost their taste for the war, or for Drac slavery. Maybe eventually enough people on both sides would have heard the story, forcing negotiations to take a more peaceful turn.
But instead, Enemy Mine keeps its scope exceedingly narrow — something I normally like in movies, but something that seems like a terrible waste here. After Davidge is rescued, the second half of the story revolves around his efforts to rescue his adopted son — and all the other characters seem to just completely ignore the implications of the fact that this guy is trying to rescue a Drac like the kid’s his very own.
In the end, I found Enemy Mine frustrating. It had a simple, but potentially powerful story concept, and a production team that was obviously dedicated to realizing the world in which that story takes place. I don’t know if I should blame the writers or the director for its fiery trainwreck of a denouement, but it really left me wishing I could blame someone.