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20th Century Fox, 1985
Rated: PG in North America, 15 in the U.K.
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Producer: Stephen J. Friedman
Amazon.com: NTSC DVD, NTSC VHS
Amazon.ca: NTSC DVD
Amazon.co.uk: PAL VHS
Recommended by: Greg Slade
In one sense, this is a formulaic "buddy picture": take two guys who have nothing in common, and can't stand each other, put them in a situation where they need each other to survive, and eventually, they learn, not just to get along, but become best of friends. In this case, throw in a few space ships and ray guns, and you've transplanted the "buddy picture" into the world of space opera.
And yet, and yet, and yet, this film manages to rise above the formula. For one thing, Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett turn in excellent performances. (Gossett is especially impressive: he manages to take what must have been pounds of makeup and animate it all remarkably convincingly.) For another thing, the original story is by Barry B. Longyear, whose "Circus World" books I adore. The effects and production values are also well above the run-of-the-mill formula space opera, too. (Oddly enough, the props which looked most hokey were the aforementioned spaceships and ray guns.)
One sequence stands out particularly in my mind: in one scene, Davidge, the human, is learning Drac, and reads a passage from the Drac teacher Shis-Maaa which sounds suspiciously like the Sermon on the Mount. He looks up and says, "I think I've heard this somewhere before. "Jerry", the Drac, says, "Of course. Truth is truth." (In my mind, I heard echoes of Augustine's assertion that, "All truth is God's truth.") The point is not belaboured, but the context seems to imply that Shish-Maaa is the Drac incarnation of Christ. Pretty touching, and, I think, a good discussion starter. The thoroughly nasty fight which follows not five minutes later reminds me of the way the disciples got into a fight almost as soon as they came down off the Mount of Transfiguration, or Elijah running from Jezebel after the power encounter on Mount Carmel, or even the Israelites building an idol right after the Exodus. We don't seem to have a very long attention span...
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