John Carpenter has an interesting track record of films. Many are considered cult classics like “Halloween,” “The Thing,” and “Escape from New York.” Others are held in high esteem by some and shunned by others. I’m referring to “The Fog,” “Prince of Darkness,” and “Vampires.” A select few are seen as outright disasters. One prime example everyone would agree on would be “Ghosts of Mars.” A film that seems to fall just a little shy of being considered a shining example of his work is “They Live.”
Two drifters try to make ends meet while working construction and living in a shanty town. One of the men, Nada (Roddy Piper), begins to notice suspicious activities occurring in the church across the street. He investigates and finds a small group of people who discovered aliens have taken over the world and dominate us subliminally through hidden messages delivered via television, billboards, newspapers, and magazines. The only way someone can see who is or isn’t an alien is by putting on sunglasses that act as x-rays and expose the otherworldly intruders. Nada must find a way to convince his friends and fight back against the evil beings.
It’s obvious that writer Frank Armitage is using aliens as a representation of corporations, the government, and the controlling upper class in “They Live.” He clearly has issues with anyone trying to oppress the “little” guy or the less fortunate. His story works beautifully as a sort of parable exposing this idea.
Where the movie breaks down is in its pacing. The set-up, beginning, and end of the film move along quite nicely. Things start to drag a bit in some middle spots, but it doesn’t completely ruin the viewing experience. It redeems itself every time the sunglasses are put on and we get a glimpse “behind the curtain.”
The age of “They Live” is clearly seen in its visual effects. The alien faces look like rubber masks but still look good for a low-budget sci-fi / horror film in 1988. This doesn’t make it unwatchable. If anything, it adds a feeling of nostalgia and appreciation for this genre masterwork.
The high-definition transfer gives viewers a chance to see the movie in a way it’s never been watched before. You get a clean picture which still holds on to its authentic film glory. The audio presentation is 2.0, which will disappoint many fans who would like to utilize all the speakers in their home theater with a 5.1 surround sound mix.
John Carpenter enthusiasts will be happy to see the director has provided a new interview for the Blu-ray release of “They Live.” Audio commentary by director Carpenter and actor Roddy Piper will have fans salivating over the special features as well. There’s also a “Making of ‘They Live'” featurette, theatrical trailer, TV spot, and more.
Although I wouldn’t put “They Live” on the same level as “The Fog” or “Halloween,” it still deserves a mid-range spot in John Carpenter’s repertoire. This will surely be a welcome addition to any Carpenter fan’s home entertainment library. Its elegant video transfer and disappointing yet acceptable 2.0 audio combined with some great bonus material makes this new “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray a worthy purchase for any sci-fi or horror aficionado.
For more articles by Eric Shirey, check out:
John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi Thriller ‘The Thing’ Still Holds Up 29 Years Later
Comic Books Based on ‘The Thing’
‘The Ward’ is Not John Carpenter’s Comeback Film