They Live (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
Directors - John Carpenter
Cast - Roddy Piper, Keith David
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 1
Distributor - Shout Factory
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (5/5)
I admit I got my hands on They Live prior to this years election (2012), but held off on watching what is one of my all-time favorite politically infused genre films, simply because I was fed up with politics at the moment. I have said in the past, and I continue to maintain that one of my favorite things about genre movies, and I mean any genre from sci-fi, horror, to Westerns, and beyond is there ability to mask social concerns of a given era in the guise of a story about cowboys, samurai, aliens, or zombies. These stories still manage to be political, and social, but still have intense entertainment value. You can dig around for the subtext if you choose, or you can shut it off, and watch a zombie get it's head blown off it's your choice, and for me it adds an extra layer of depth to a given film, and helps relate more to the era of the films creation.
Admittedly, most films like I said leave these in the background as subtext. They weave them in so effectively that the general audience member could ignore it. John Carpenter with They Live took a slightly modified approach to the political genre movie with his Sci-Fi actioner during the late Reagen-era. He took the subtext, and made it a sledgehammer to the face of the audience. It should be said you can still enjoy aliens getting their "real fuckin' ugly" faces blown off, but you won't get away without a lessen about the politics of greed in the "ME" decade.
The interesting thing about the politics in They Live, and I've noticed this upon multiple viewings over the years is actually how very well these themes actually hold up with time. There are certain genre films and TV shows that reflect local concerns that take on one exact moment, and you can certainly feel for that moment, but films like George Romero's Dawn of the Dead with it's take on consumerism, and John Carpenter's They Live seem to only get stronger by the year.
Now enough about the films politics, you would think I was talking about some early Sundance-bating indie flick the way I was going off. This film first and foremost is a kick ass piece of sci-fi action starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster! John Carpenter is known to many outsiders to genre fare for his horror films like Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, etc, but the man could direct an action film like no one's business and films as far reaching like Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from NY, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live prove this over and over again.
They Live fits the mold as a masterpiece 80's action film with a sci-fi theme. Roddy Piper plays Nada, an unemployed man who ends up in California from Denver, CO., and ends up working on a construction site with Frank (Keith David) who takes him to Justiceville a homeless encampment where the two stay. Almost immediately Nada begins to notice something odd with his new surroundings such as the hacked TV program being recited by a local preacher man, but everything changes once he discovers a pair of Sunglasses after Justiceville, and the house across the street is raided by a swat team.
Upon putting on these glasses he begins to see the world in a completely different way, magazines, billboards, money, each have hidden consumerist and life altering messages telling us how to live our lives. The most disconcerting thing of all is that some of the human looking forms wandering our streets are actually skull faced aliens. At this point Nada loses it, steals a shotgun, and goes on a rampage shooting up these aliens. This gets him into hot water with the actual police, and the aliens who know he is on to them. After a 10 minute brawl (that has to be seen to be believed) between himself and Frank he forces the glasses onto Frank, and the two begin to seek out the truth behind the alien conspiracy lying hidden beneath our society.
When I first saw They Live I was already a fan of Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China and felt that the Nada roll was initially written for Kurt Russell. I have heard over the years that my initial suspicions were correct. My first viewings were held back by that bias, but over the years, the powerful camaraderie between Keith David and Roddy Piper became too awesome to deny, and you sort of know that if Russell were in this film that 10 minute alleyway brawl would probably not be in this film as it is today.
The film as it stands is an absolute classic of both science fiction and action films, with 2 commanding lead performances (and let's be honest Meg Foster is pretty awesome in anything), and excellent direction from a top of his game John Carpenter. They Live is too much fun to pass up for newcomers, and is worth every rewatch it gets.
When Scream Factory announced They Live for Blu-ray I pretty much had a freak out. The DVD was suitable for it's time, but that time had long passed, and I had been clamoring for a Blu-ray of this classic since the format was announced. Scream Factory already has a stellar reputation out of the gate with the few releases I have reviewed thus far, and I knew this would be in excellent hands.
I was NOT WRONG!
Scream Factory presents They Live in a glorious 2:35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer that brings this Carpenter classic to brilliant high definition life. The detail in this transfer is nothing short of stunning, colors are fantastic, flesh tones are accurate, and there is a healthy level of film grain that permeates the transfer. That being said the transfer is not perfect. There are a few moments of edge enhancement, and light application of DNR that can be noticed in a few spots, but this does not detract too much from what is They Live at it's finest looking release ever.
Scream Factory presents They Live with a fairly powerful 5.1 English lossless audio track. Everything sounds quite good here, John Carpenter's soundtrack pounds from the speakers, dialogue comes through nice and clear, and the sound FX blast from the speakers. I did not detect any audio issues such as pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Scream Factory have put together a quite excellent package for their Blu-ray of They Live. This improves upon the DVD (which was bare bones) in every single way (seriously upgrade now!). The Blu kicks off with a commentary track featuring Roddy Piper and John Carpenter where they go into the background of the film. Their conversation is information, entertaining, and a lot of fun. This is followed by a 10 minute interview with Carpenter, and a 5 minute interview with Co-star Meg Foster. We then have an 11 minute interview with the films cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe, and 11 minute interview with Keith David. The films original Electronic Press Kit that runs 8 minutes, 2 minutes of never before seen footage which comprises fake TV clips shot for the film. We then get TV Spots, Trailers, and a Photo gallery rounding the set off.
They Live is one of the finest action sci-fi films of all-time. It is steeped in political symbolism, and has 2 great great lead performances from Roddy Piper and Keith David. This is Golden Era John Carpenter, and the man at the height of his abilities! The restoration from Scream Factory is the best the film has ever looked, and it is loaded up with extras! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!