Skip to main content

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine
(1985)

(SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

This is the first time I’ve seen Enemy Mine’s original 108-minute version, having previously been privy only to the 93-minute UK cut (I well recall it being made available on Fox’s “All Time Greats” sell-through video label, an opportunistic catch-all marketing ploy if ever there was one). The extra time certainly allows the picture to unfold more evenly upfront. Indeed, most noticeable in this form is how uncertain anything outside the primary Robinson Crusoe part of the picture is.

Davidge: Space is the new battleground, Earth a distant memory.

At the time, I think I assumed Dennis Quaid must have been as big a star as Tom Cruise, given the high-profile, high-budget movies he often appeared in (pretty much all of them, Jaws 3-D aside – also with Louis Gossett Jr –were superior to the average Cruise vehicle, and most of them were also financial failures). He was a reliably charismatic performer throughout the ’80s, forever holding out for that big, box-office-draw-making part that never came (as noted, Jaws 3-D was his best performer during the period, with Great Balls of Fire! the final capper on a quest for success that wasn’t to be).

Mostly, Quaid was playing into his wolfish charm, so he’s slightly undone by the straight hero part here; he can’t completely sell either Willis E Davidge as the gung-ho fighter pilot of the opening or the droll narrator who informs us how, come the end of the 21st century (events take place 2092-95), “the Nations of Earth were finally at peace, working together to explore and colonise the reaches of space”. Alas, another race, Dracs, were “claiming squatter rights”, but “they were not going to get it without a fight”. 

The finale, as Bilateral Terran Alliance pilot Davidge inspires a Drac slave revolt in order to reunite with young Drac ward Zammis (Bumper Robinson), is also on the clumsy side. The opposing-ethics element has largely played out naturalistically between marooned Davidge and Drac Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr). The introduction of thunderingly uncouth Scavengers, led by Stubbs (Brion James doing his leering loon act) is as one-note as these things come, and the racial-intolerance commentary moves from personal grievances and preconceptions into less textured delivery. Davidge’s narration informs us the Scavengers “raped whole planets for special ores” and hunted Dracs for slave labour, “so we tolerated them”. The BTA is essentially an empire – take your pick which – substitute, then, and the casting of black actors in the only speaking Drac roles (Gossett Jr, Robinson, Jim Mapp) becomes counterpointed in slightly embarrassing fashion by Davidge arriving as the white saviour figure.

It's been suggested the action climax, taking place as it does in a mine working, was at the behest of a studio needing the title to make overtly literal sense and… Yeah, that’s probably completely right. That’s exactly what would happen.

The Film Yearbook considered the best parts were those involving human and pup, but I’d contrastingly argue it’s Gossett Jr who almost singlehandedly makes the movie worth seeing, such that, once he exits with forty minutes left on the clock, Enemy Mine never quite recovers. This is surely one of the best prosthetic/alien performances ever, full of humour and personality and blessed with “alien” decisions on the actor’s part that only ever enhance character and verisimilitude. Some of Enemy Mine’s effects are cheesy (the space battles), but others remain absolutely superb, and Jerry’s appearance falls into the latter camp. Quaid can only assume the role of straight man in the face of Gossett Jr’s endearing quirkiness (he’d do this again in Innerspace, of course, but on that occasion, at least, he got to be much more Dennis Quaid, zero defects).

Even though the tropes here are on the unrefined side – alien Drac is possessed of spiritual serenity, while the out-of-touch human has lost all sense of religiosity, such that he doesn’t live universal values, even though he has heard them voiced before (“Of course, you have. Truth is truth”) – Gossett Jr’s efforts makes them seem almost fresh. Jerry is much more alive and complete than your average Star Trek alien, and the pidgin English (“You, ugly head!”), misunderstandings (“Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!” – Davidge has told him Mickey is their deity) and straight talk (“Shit” is his assessment of the shelter Davidge is building) are amusing rather than laboured.

Jerry: I am not women!

Gosset Jr pays Jerry’s hermaphroditic essence with a degree of wisdom and knowing too (“I await a new life”). Obviously, he would now be the poster boy for the trans movement, and doubtless adorn a Calvin Klein ad (Calvin Klein is one big stupid dope!) But Davidge, raised in the materialist/humanist universe, rejects Jerry’s spiritual-biological insight (“You are alone. Within yourself, you are alone. That is why you humans have separated your sexes into two separate halves. For the joy of that brief union”). The movie clearly identified Davidge’s rejection as churlishness that another should see so clearly. Notably too, the difference Jerry identifies is portrayed as a positive, facilitating humanity’s individual spiritual journey. There’s no proto-transhumanist tack suggesting the non-sexualised Jerry is ultimately superior.

(At least, as far I could discern; I may be naïve, though, since many have called out Peterson’s The NeverEnding Story for delivering dark themes and undercurrents, and Cathy O’Brien cites it as a programming tool à la The Wizard of Oz. Whether the shoe simply fits or has been custom-made is a different matter, of course; as many will cite the film – and its source novel – as a profoundly positive and instructive piece of work. Jay Dyer points to Micheal Ende having attended a Waldorf School, with esoteric influences including Crowley, the Kabbala, Kierkegaard and Zen; Dyer evidently hasn’t read much Steiner if he believes he was preaching a globalist creed, though (whatever else Steiner may have been guilty of), irrespective of Ende’s takeaway from the upbringing. Dyer can provide cogent analysis, but he tends to be limited by his adherence to perceived Christian-pagan polarities, failing to recognise that Christian texts are as manipulated as any other. The gist of The NeverEnding Story would be the individual as self-actualising god, and trauma as gateway to this.)

It’s notable too that, in contrast to the traditional reptilian depiction – right down to the name Dracs; see Draconians or dragons – Jerry is both benign and spiritually advanced. Again, one might view this as a misdirection of essential cold-blooded, destructive, oppressive reptilian energy, seen as the oppressive coordinating element of global society (be it via Draco lurking beneath the Earth or Anunnaki hailing from beyond the ice wall, or whoever), particularly with the softening of aesthetics (there are no snouts on these reptiles; they are not Star Trek Arena’s Gorn). A few such were appearing at the time (also Grig in The Last Starfighter), more than balanced out by the likes of V’s far more representatively evil strain (but then, nice guy Robert Englund). Doctor Who had also historically made a thing of stressing the reptile could be both positive and negative, so reflecting humans (Silurians, Ice Warriors).

Peterson came on the production after initial director Richard Loncraine (The Missionary, Richard III, Wimbledon, Firewall) got the boot. He was in the midst of The NeverEnding Story (soon to be a substantial hit). As a consequence, his two leads were kept on the payroll, waiting for him to be freed up. Peterson had the alien prosthetics redesigned, switched locations (from Iceland to the Canary Islands) and built massive sets in Munich (I’m always a fan of studio planets, sod “realism”, and in this case they’re definitely one of the picture’s positives in terms of visuals).

Under Loncraine, the budget was $18m (with $9m spent on production before filming was stopped). Petersen would reshoot from the ground up, with a new budget of $24-25m. Some estimate Enemy Mine’s total at $48m including marketing (about $125m in today’s money). None of which seemed to have been spent on convincing false hair and beard for Quaid. It made $12m in the US, spending a solitary week in the Top Ten; a resounding turkey, it dashed Fox’s hopes of laying claim to THE big Christmas movie (which was Rocky IV; others included The Jewel of the Nile – at least Fox had that one was – Spies Like Us, Out of Africa and The Color Purple). It undoubtedly did well on rental market, but it would have to have done really well to make all that back.

As it turns out, then, Terry Gilliam was very wise to resist the studio’s wooing. Hot off Time Bandits (it wasn’t often he’d be “hot” subsequently), he held fast that he didn’t want to make it: “Somehow having turned down Enemy Mine to do Brazil elevated Brazil because for me to be asked to do Enemy Mine meant I’d been elevated to the top position, because this was going to be the biggest film that year. So all the stakes were being raised. It was like ‘top guy turns down film for other film? The other film must be really good’”. Consequently, he got his Brazil budget raised from $12m to $15m.

Enemy Mine may have seemed like a good deal on paper, but one has to ask: what was the success ratio for space-opera that was neither Star Wars nor Star Trek at that point? The biggest genre movies of the year were decidedly more grounded (Back to the Future, Cocoon, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), and you have to go back to Alien for something with the kind of box-office success a film on Enemy Mine’s budget needed. Which was much more definably contingent on the appeal of horror movies, blending then resurgent genres (SF and slasher). You might argue something like Cocoon also had limited precedent, but it was very much treading in the proven, feel-good, relatable Amblin tradition.

Besides which, Enemy Mine is definitely a mixed bag. Maurice Jarre’s score doesn’t really do the trick, while the ultimate sign off adds an epic signature the movie never remotely earns (Davidge on the Drac home world reciting the Shigan – Jerry’s family line – and Zammis calling his child Willis Davidge). Nevertheless, it deserved a better reception, and Gossett Jr, dare I say it, deserved another Oscar nod.


Popular posts from this blog

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 1 (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) (SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD , not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“ You brought me nothing but pain ” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, do

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Witness (1985) (SPOILERS) Witness saw the advent of a relatively brief period – just over half a decade –during which Harrison Ford was willing to use his star power in an attempt to branch out. The results were mixed, and abruptly concluded when his typically too late to go where Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro had gone before (with at bare minimum Oscar-nominated results) – but not “ full retard ” – ended in derision with Regarding Henry . He retreated to the world of Tom Clancy, and it’s the point where his cachet began to crumble. There had always been a stolid quality beneath even his more colourful characters, but now it came to the fore. You can see something of that as John Book in Witness – despite his sole Oscar nom, it might be one of Ford’s least interesting performances of the 80s – but it scarcely matters, or that the screenplay (which won) is by turns nostalgic, reactionary, wistful and formulaic, as director Peter Weir, in his Hollywood debu

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

If that small woman is small enough, she could fit behind a small tree.

Stranger Things Season 4: Volume 2 (SPOILERS) I can’t quite find it within myself to perform the rapturous somersaults that seem to be the prevailing response to this fourth run of the show. I’ve outlined some of my thematic issues in the Volume 1 review, largely borne out here, but the greater concern is one I’ve held since Season Two began – and this is the best run since Season One, at least as far my failing memory can account for – and that’s the purpose-built formula dictated by the Duffer Brothers. It’s there in each new Big Bad, obviously, even to the extent that this is the Big-Bad-who-binds-them-all (except the Upside Down was always there, right?) And it’s there with the resurgent emotional beats, partings, reunions and plaintively stirring music cues. I have to be really on board with a movie or show to embrace such flagrantly shameless manipulation, season after season, and I find myself increasingly immune.

Get away from my burro!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) (SPOILERS) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is beloved by so many of the cinematic firmament’s luminaries – Stanley Kubrick, Sam Raimi, , Paul Thomas Anderson and who knows maybe also WS, Vince Gilligan, Spike Lee, Daniel Day Lewis; Oliver Stone was going to remake it – not to mention those anteriorly influential Stone Roses, that it seems foolhardy to suggest it isn’t quite all that. There’s no faulting the performances – a career best Humphrey Bogart, with director John Huston’s dad Walter stealing the movie from under him – but the greed-is-bad theme is laid on a little thick, just in case you were a bit too dim to get it yourself the first time, and Huston’s direction may be right there were it counts for the dramatics, but it’s a little too relaxed when it comes to showing the seams between Mexican location and studio.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… dyin’ time’s here!

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Time was kind to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome . As in, it was such a long time since I’d seen the “final chapter” of the trilogy, it had dwindled in my memory to the status of an “alright but not great” sequel. I’d half-expected to have positive things to say along the lines of it being misunderstood, or being able to see what it was trying for but perhaps failing to quite achieve. Instead, I re-discovered a massive turkey that is really a Mad Max movie in name only (appropriately, since Max was an afterthought). This is the kind of picture fans of beloved series tend to loathe; when a favourite character returns but without the qualities or tone that made them adored in the first place (see Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull , or John McClane in the last two Die Hard s). Thunderdome stinks even more than the methane fuelling Bartertown. I hadn’t been aware of the origins of Thunderdome until recently, mainly because I was