In the distant future, the population of Earth is at war with the reptilian Draconians.
Two pilots, one from each side, crash-land on a desolate planet (seemingly constructed of left-over sets from Dune) after a battle in space. To ensure their survival, they have to overcome the hostility they feel towards each other.
Earthman Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) and lizard-like alien Jeriba Shigan (Louis Gossett Jr, virtually unrecognisable under very impressive scaly makeup) learn that cooperation equals survival in this sci-fi fantasy.
Like kids from different ethnic backgrounds at summer camp, they fight at first but then discover their similarities and become pals.
Together they fend off the planet’s monsters – which look like vacuum cleaner hoses with teeth – and after they build an impromptu shelter and take up light housekeeping, the film turns into a domestic sitcom with Davidge cast as the bumbling husband and “Jerry” as the smug, all-knowing wife.
Jerry eventually becomes pregnant (no it wasn’t Davidge – the Draconians are hermaphrodites who can reproduce with no outside help!) and needs help with the birth, which Davidge provides by ripping open the lizard’s scaly belly and pulling out what looks like a Betsy-Wetsy doll that has been boiled in oil.
Jerry does not survive the unconventional delivery (no surprise there) so Davidge is left to raise the little Drac, named Zammis, on his own.
The noisy climax, which plays like something out of Flash Gordon, comes when Zammis’ adopted dad must rescue him from a mine where he has been enslaved with other Dracs by some Earthling bad guys.
Director Wolfgang Petersen makes this racial tolerance plea in outer space disguise a satisfying blend of action spills and emotional thrills. It touches both the brain and heart, remaining true to its pulp science-fiction roots while never being anything less than engrossing entertainment.
The movie did not enjoy auspicious beginnings. After Terry Gilliam turned it down, it went into production at 20th Century Fox with Richard Loncraine at the helm, was shut down a week into shooting because of creative differences, and then relaunched from scratch with Wolfgang Petersen directing.
It ran massively over-budget, received lukewarm reviews and died at the US box office.
Louis Gossett Jr