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John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) - Blu-ray Review

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Jahn Carpenter's They Live - Blu-ray Review

4 stars

The election’s over, friends.  It’s time to chew bubblegum and kick ass again!

Director John Carpenter had a nice run, didn’t he?  Between the late 1970’s and the early 1990’s, Carpenter was king of science fiction and horror.  Even if – as is the case with 1988’s They Live – his stories were recycled B-movie material from the paranoid 1950’s.  He was a master at the craft and the tiredness of the story never translated to the screen.  There was something about his minimalism that purified that science fiction scares with a chilling pinpoint accuracy.

Debuting on blu-ray is They Live, Carpenter’s cheeky but full-throttled condemnation of Reaganomics and the Republican Party of the 1980’s.  Starring wrestler-turned actor "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Keith David (The Thing), the movie actually works – especially in a modern day viewing – a lot better than it ever should have.  Sure, it’s a bit rough around the edges but, from the acting to the special effects, They Live is a full-throttled attack of right wing politics and America’s unending thirst for consumerism.

They Live is what happens when The Doobie Brothers actually do “take it to the streets” in the name of liberation.  Two tough guys of the homeless turned hero type discover – though a special pair of sunglasses that reveals the world for what it is – that America is being populated with aliens and the upper class, due to their money means, know of this.  They arm themselves – after hammering each other’s face for about fifteen minutes in a dingy alley – with bubblegum and automatic weapons.  They must bring the truth of the world to the masses by any means possible.

Written by Carpenter (writing as Frank Armitage), They Live keeps its politics front and center and never shies away from the subversive.  Even when Carpenter tosses B-movie references and campy special effects at the screen (note: I LOVE them), he maintains the energy needed to tackle the consumer and media attack.  While he was hammered at the time from critics who took his message as pedantic nonsense due to its quick pace and Carpenter’s genre trappings, the movie plays quite well in spite of its age and the politics behind it.  Why?  Because, sadly, not much has changed in this psycho-political world.

Piper is alarmingly a natural in front of the screen and his Nada character goes for broke as he fights against the elite conspiracy to remove the poor from America’s streets.  David, as the first and final person to know about the grotesque skull-like faces that hide behind human flesh, is perfectly suited for the brothers in arms fight the picture eventually becomes.  Co-starring Meg Foster (Masters of the Universe) as a Cable 54 assistant director who finally joins the crusade against cash and campaigns, They Live tackles the unseen world from every outlet possible.

Much like H.P. Lovecraft, They Live tackles the monsters that live with us, not the creatures that lurk in the unnatural forests of the world.  Carpenter loves this type of stuff which always opens him to easy criticism.  Sometimes what’s frightening the most is what there is an abundance of.  Carpenter’s genius is all but gone today (see my The Ward review) but we will always have the movies to provide the proof of his greatness.  While there are some missing titles that desperately need release on blu-ray, They Live is a nice addition to the Carpenter celebration.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Jahn Carpenter's They Live - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R.
Runtime:
93 mins.
Director
: John Carpenter
Writer
: John Carpenter
Cast:
Roddy Piper; Keith David; Meg Foster; Peter Jason; Sy Richardson
Genre
: Action | Horror |Sci-fi
Tagline:
You see them on the street. You watch them on TV. You might even vote for one this fall. You think they're people just like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Brother, life's a bitch... and she's back in heat."
Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Oficial Site:
Release Date:
November 4, 1988
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 6, 2012

Synopsis: Set in the future, a drifter discovers that alien beings are controlling the minds of the masses by use of subliminal messages urging apathy and obedience. OBEY

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Jahn Carpenter's They Live - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
4 stars
 
5 Stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 6, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: Locked to region A

Shout! Factory wins again!  They are quickly becoming what Anchor Bay used to be for Horrorhounds everywhere.  The included 2.35:1 AVC HD image certainly looks better than it ever did on DVD.  Colors are crisp and the film’s detail is loaded with meat AND gristle.  It’s amazing how sharper focus and a more detailed image can really bring an older movie to life.  This might not have been the biggest budgeted movie at the time but you wouldn’t be able to guess its limitations from the crispness of the transfer.  The soundtrack is presented in its natural stereo 2.0 mix and a new 5.1 mix that doesn’t quite add the stuff of new releases.  Dialogue is relatively clear and free of distortion.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Recorded by director John Carpenter and lead actor Roddy Piper, the commentary has a nice flow to it as two play off one another nicely.  Carpenter usually delivers and gives plenty of interesting details in this track.

Special Features:

Scream! Factory does not disappoint its fans with this release.  First up is a newer interview with Carpenter discussing the origin of the story.  Next is an interview with star Meg Foster about her character.  In “Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights & Sounds”, the fight sequences are detailed and some interviews with the crew, notably choreographer Gary Kibble are added.  Keith David in “Man vs. Aliens” discusses his role in the film and working with director John Carpenter.  There’s a vintage featurette, “The Making of They Live”, that provides plenty of behind the scenes footage.  Three minutes of never before seen footage and a gallery of stills rounds out the set.

  • Independent Thoughts: An Interview with Writer/Director John Carpenter (10 min)
  • Woman of Mystery: An Interview with Actress Meg Foster (5 min)
  • Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights and Sounds of They Live (12 min)
  • Man vs. Aliens: An Interview with Actor Keith David (11 min)
  • Original EPK: The Making of They Live (8 min)
  • Never-Before-Seen-Footage (3 min)
  • TV Spots (2 min)
  • Still Gallery (2 min)
  • Trailers (7 min)

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