Monday, August 12, 2013

3 Short Paragraphs: Enemy Mine

d. Wolfgang Petersen, 1985 -- netflix


I had, for some time, considered Wolfgang Petersen to be an arty film director, one of those European types who could come onto a big American production and class up the place.  I remember when he was in discussion for a Batman/Superman movie earlier in this millennium, and I thought "Oh, he might be a decent choice."  But looking back on his IMDB profile, he's totally a Ridley Scott, he's an above average, populist movie maker.  He's not an auteur like an Aronofski or Anderson (Paul Thomas or Wes) with a distinctive, trustworthy voice.  He's just a guy who makes mid-to-high budgeted films with big name actors.  Looking at his work from the past while, Poseidon, Troy, The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, Outbreak and going back to the early 1980's not one of these films could be considered anything truly artistic.  I guess just having an exotic name and Das Boot under his belt (a notorious television mini-series set on a submarine which I remember fondly as "the non-English show with the dicks" [full frontal male nudity that is] that my dad watched and had recorded to videocassette when I was a kid.  I never watched it, because the tone of the piece unsettled me).

When I popped in Enemy Mine, and the opening title cards announced Petersen as director, I was hopeful that this would be more than a largely forgotten 80's sci-fi story.  None of my geek friends throughout the years have ever spoken fondly of this film, and really, outside of long-time curiosity, I've had nothing pushing me towards seeing it.  I have a soft spot for pre-CGI sci-fi, and was doubly hopeful for a unique 80's-style sci-fi experience... but the opening space dogfight sequence was absolutely dire.  Not only does it look worse than Star Wars -- which, really, very few films ever lived up to the craftsmanship of that series -- it looked worse than most sci-fi TV shows that preceded it.  How does a major motion picture in 1985 look worse than Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers from five years earlier?  The models looked like models, the starfield they were operating in front were terrible, the costumes (and performances) of the actors were not even laughably bad.  It's ridiculous how terrible it looked and there's no excuse for it in a post-Star Wars era.

The crux of the film finds an solitary Earthman and an enemy alien pilot both trapped on a desolate planet with environmental and native animal hazards.  They soon realize that they need to put their hatred towards one another aside and cooperate for protection.  An unlikely but undeniably strong domestic partnership forms.  The Dracs are hermaphrodites and the alien gives birth to a baby Drac but dies shortly thereafter leaving the human to raise the child on his own, taking his tolerance for Dracs to the next level of parental love, and protecting the child from the threat of slave mining.  Despite the terrible special effects, the clunkiness of the execution, and the always predictable nature of the story, there's a heart to the film which makes it watchable, but it never comes off as anything more than, say, an extra-length Outer Limits episode.  Both Louis Gossett Jr. and Denis Quaid commit to what their doing, and it saves the otherwise terrible production from being a direct-to-video, mostly unwatchable product.  I think if you make this with a bit more of a love story between the human and the masculine hermaphroditic Drac, it would be a far more interesting picture.