Judge Patrick Naugle is giving you a choice: Read this review or start eatin' that trash can.
Our review of John Carpenter: Master Of Fear Collection, published September 18th, 2009, is also available.
You see them on the street.
John Carpenter was king of the 1980s. Churning out hit after (cult) hit, the prolific writer/director gave film fans some of their favorite characters, including horror slasher Michael Meyers, anti-hero Snake Plisskin, and the endearing outer space hero Starman. Carpenter's final film of the '80s brought together blood, wrestling, aliens, and bubblegum, all rolled into one big cult classic—They Live, now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory.
Facts of the Case
Nada (Roddy Piper, Hell Comes to Frogtown) is an honest and hard working drifter who picks up work at a construction site in an underprivileged part of town. There he meets Frank (Keith David, Pitch Black), a fellow co-worker, and together they wander into a camp filled with the poor and downtrodden, struggling to make ends meet. In an empty church, Nada discovers a pair of mysterious sunglasses that not only protect your eyes from UV rays but also reveal certain humans to be freakish extra terrestrials! It seems these stealthy aliens have assimilated into our society and are sending secret messages through billboards and radio waves into our brains. This won't do for Nada, who quickly picks up a gun and goes to work exposing one of history's greatest threats to humanity!
My love for They Live runs as deep as the ocean and as wide as the Milky Way. I realize I'm being overly dramatic, but I truly adore John Carpenter's masterpiece of B-cinema. Here is a movie that features so many elements of fun and goofiness that it has become one of my go-to pictures when I'm feeling down and out. There are few things in this world that plaster a smile on my face as fast as seeing "Rowdy" Roddy Piper gunning down aliens and tussling with Keith David in what seems like an hour-long back alley wrestling match. They Live is cocaine in celluloid form—once you see it, all you want is more, more, more!
John Carpenter is often pegged as a horror director, and for good reason—the guy has made some of the best scary movies of the past thirty years. Halloween and The Thing are both certified classics in the genre. Even some of Carpenter's misfires—In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness, and Ghosts of Mars—contain great moments and are always easy to sit through. But Carpenter didn't just toil in gore and grizzle; the director also churned out some highly entertaining action films, including Escape from New York and its fun sequel Escape from L.A.. He's even dabbled in drama (Starman) and comedy (Big Trouble in Little China), always mixing in a varitey of genre elements. With They Live (often considered one of the director's last great films), Carpenter fused classic sci-fi with hardcore action and a sprinkle of comedy to create a film that is truly a hoot and a half.
Former WWF superstar turned actor Roddy Piper will never be confused with Robert DeNiro, but his minimal acting skills are put to perfect use as Nada, the drifter who stumbles upon earth's alien menace. Piper has a grand sense of humor and offers up a lot of great dialogue that is often quoted by fans ("I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all outta bubblegum"). I'm sure Carpenter could have found a better thespian for his film's lead, but it's hard to imagine one that would have been more fun. The supporting cast is game for whatever Carpenter throws at them; Keith David makes a good adversary/partner for Nada, while Meg Foster and her spooky blue eyes give the movie an added level of otherworldliness. Cult favorite George "Buck" Flower (Back to the Future) even gets a nice role as poverty stricken citizen who's given a taste of the good life…at a very high cost. The acting isn't Oscar worthy, but who cares? Everyone gets the job done and are memorable in their roles, even if Piper has trouble showing more than two emotions (confusion and anger).
John Carpenter—who also wrote the screenplay—directs every element with a sure hand, always utilizing the widescreen format to great effect. The film feels like it's set in some alternate universe where America has been divided into the haves and have-nots. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Carpenter was predicting the future! One of the more satisfying aspects about They Live is its subversive streak running deep beneath this silly veneer (as all really great science fiction does). Underneath all the alien make up and Roddy Piper quips is a cautionary tale about how society can be lulled into complacency, as we end up slaves to our government, big business, and their whims. The film can certainly be seen as a reflection of what's going on now in America, which makes it more relevant than ever.
Intellectual aspects aside, this is a gun blasting, blood spattering good time. There are some movies that go great with beer and spicy buffalo wings; this is that kind of flick. If I ever own a man cave some day, you can bet your bottom dollar that one of the framed movie posters I'll have hanging near my home theater system will be They Live. Now, "OBEY" and see it ASAP!
Presented in 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen this is a movie I had been looking forward to on Blu-ray for a long time. Shout! Factory doesn't disappoint. The transfer for They Live looks better than ever, with eye popping colors and dark black levels. Although the image isn't perfect (a slight amount of edge enhancement is present and there's a bit more film grain than anticipated), this is the best They Live has ever looked. The soundtrack is presented in a very nice DTS-HD 5.1 Surround mix in English. They Live was a somewhat low budget affair, so this audio mix isn't as robust as other action flick tracks. There are some nice directional effects to be found here, and the film score by Alan Howarth and John Carpenter comes in loud and clear. Also included is a DTS-HD 2.0 mix in English, as well as English subtitles.
This "Collector's Edition" (finally!) of They Live will most certainly please hardcore fans. Includes on this disc is an audio commentary by writer/director John Carpenter and actor Roddy Piper, an interview with Carpenter ("Independent Thought: An Interview with John Carpenter"), an interview with actress Meg Foster ("Woman of Mystery"), a short featurette on the style and stunts of the film ("Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights and Sounds of They Live"), an interview with actor Keith David ("Man vs. Aliens"), an original EPK featurette ("The Making of They Live"), some never before seen fake TV clips made of for the film, a few TV spots, and theatrical trailers for the films They Live, Halloween II, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Obviously, my unabashed love for They Live shines about as bright as the sun. This movie comes highly recommend to anyone who enjoys have a great time at the movies. It's silly, violent, bizarre, but also hugely entertaining and worth two hours of your time. Shout Factory's work on this disc is top notch and the supplements are exactly what fans have been waiting for.
Keep a close eye on the guy next to you. Better yet, invest in a pair of sunglasses.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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