Enemy Mine
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Edward Khmara; story by Barry Longyear
Starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.
108 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1985.


Lo and behold — before there was Avatar, there was Enemy Mine! Another sci-fi movie with stupidly up-front PC messages about the holiness and wisdom of the simple life, the dumb prejudices of ethnocentrism, the malleability of belief given an individual’s social context, the horrible guilt of (predominantly white) colonialism, the importance of friendship in times of hardship, and so it goes. A worthy spectacle, but perhaps no modern treat for the masses — it doesn’t make them feel like precious little cyber-gemstones. It isn’t a lazy popcorn fest, but a substantial “B-movie”, with some ironic but endearing qualities.

Is the irony present here intentional? Probably not. It’s a distinctly mid-80s film, with references to classic sci-fi (gauche painting backgrounds and foam meteorite landscapes) and floats an over-the-top PC social message, not-so-subtly hidden, a few years before it was edgy and hip to do so. The Dracs are a stand-in for the various peoples European colonialists have exploited over the years.

The Dracs are a more interesting group than the blue freaks of Avatar. And unlike the obsessive idealized moral purity of Avatar‘s blue losers vs. the one-sided affair of black-hearted capitalism and machines (why does Cameron claim to side with the blue people if he’s very obviously an ambassador of the technology lovers?), the Dracs and the humans in Enemy Mine are subject to the typical territorial/resource squabble of all warring peoples and ethnic groups, with their shared wrongs and misperceived intentions.

The problem with Avatar‘s creatures is that they were too obvious and the played-out fantasy of the turncoat-white-guy shagging foreign babes was far too gag-inducing. I mean, if the dude couldn’t fuck the blue girl, was he still going to convert? That’s the most important question that the movie failed to address properly — except when the toy villain military honcho (pretty realistic despite fakeness) said Jake Sully converted because he got a piece of tail. Avatar replaced the visual sexual love interest with one engaged by our intentionally gradual acclimation to the blue raspberry people (we don’t know anything about the backgrounds of the people in the contracting companies, military, etc.), the sexual ties of which we still were supposed to identify with, and thus love the blue people for. It’s the crowd-shaker, the cheap-shot at the heart of the masses.

But fuck that! Enemy Mine is about a more vivid, real kind of love, absent of any blatant sexual love interest, presented more clumsily (thus more realistically), and hence talks about more profound stuff. Cultures are exchanged; world-views are seen to be inconsequential. It’s a desert-island tale that deals with universal issues  — from a cosmic perspective. And it actually has some unnecessary gory action scenes, giving it several extra points. The funny thing is that, also qualitatively similarly to Avatar, Enemy Mine has a really boring shitty script — laughably terrible. But it’s as if the script is hiding and conveying the ethos of the tale, whereas in Avatar the script is not hiding anything, it’s just a default — like hypertext mark-up. Both scripts are somewhat lazy stand-ins for the interactions on-screen, but one movie has no interactions to actually transmit, rendering the dialog to be pure podium puke, much as what you’d find miserably attempts to pass for dialog in Ayn Rand novels.

But even if it’s unintentionally badly written, Enemy Mine has homage and nostalgia going for it — as well as some outstanding alien costume design (the centerpiece of the film, really). Classic sci-fi films, B-movies of the mid-20th century were poorly written, acted and presented, and then vividly otherized alien species — the inverse of the zombie commentaries of Romero. Later Star Trek toyed with these ideas, and attempted to inculcate the audience into empathy for disgusting foreign species or beings, and then it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 which reinvigorated and enshrined in our hearts the crappy films of the of ’50s (Gen X’ers breakin’ on baby-boomers). Enemy Mine pre-dates MST3K‘s attitude slightly, and actually fits into its two interactive camps: light-heartedly admiring, acknowledging and then mocking crappy sci-fi (and outdated, oblivious Americana) and yet also maintaining a tradition of unintentional irony.

One more thing: like Avatar, Enemy Mine goes on for too long and also ends in a stupid fight sequence that is unrealistic and probably unintentionally symbolic rather than tangibly violent.  Some things in the movie are poorly thought out and some of the human characters are one-dimensional later in the tale (and the white humans seem to have a lot of guilt here too). But who cares? The movie got soul. Avatar, on the other hand, was incredibly limited in subtlety and vision despite its size, the cost and amount of 3-D visual technology on display — all as if to announce that our imaginations are exponentially for sale and that film as a medium is about to sleep with the fishes.

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