Release: 29th October 2018
A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
It is little wonder that They Live has become a bible of sorts for flat earthers and new world order conspiracy theorists. It is hard to know what came first; the dark eyed humanoid alien life form or the egg, but They Live is without a doubt as apt today as it was in the Reagan / Thatcher years. Now, all you pirate radio using, 9/11 denying vloggers can enjoy John Carpenters’ 3rd or maybe 4th greatest (obvs preceded by Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China) film in 4K.
The most striking moments of Carpenter’s film, aside from the alleyway brawl, has always been the ‘glasses’ scenes, and these black and white moments look stunning in this restored version. Blacks are deep and whites nice and creamy. As a result, these scenes feel more threatening, as Roddy Piper’s Nada traverses a nightmarish landscape not that far removed from a great episode of The Twilight Zone. Where the rubbery jawed lifeforms once seemed a bit hokey, this added picture clarity suddenly gives them a more malevolent presence.
What of the film’s themes? Imagine a world of divides, where a select few try to distract the masses with fake news, cartoon politics and capitalist escapism and yep, you have 2018. The irony now though, is that They Live fits as a warning for liberal haters AND militant conservatives. Rody Piper shooting up a bank with visions of exploding extra-terrestrials feels like it could fit in with the twisted politics of either extreme of the political agenda these days. Which, when you think about it, in a world where someone opening fire in a public place is far from fantasy; who’d be the villain if the film were made today?
Of course, Carpenter whole heartedly made They Live with Reagan politics in mind, and the bumble gum / kicking ass moment is a clear indicator that capitalism, in terms of its power to subvert the status quo, needs destroying if we are to build a better future. They Live is, in short, a parable about the dangers of ideologies when they monopolise independent thought and stem progress.
As a film, They Live is classic Carpenter. It is that sweet spot in his career when he was coming off a run of experiments ranging from horror to sci-fi to farce. They Live is a measure of everything from The Fog onwards. It has that pulsing 80’s carbon dating that includes his self-produced soundtrack, mullety hair and big, bold characters. Time has not been kind to its modest budget though, with scenes such as the warehouse raid looking more than a tad lame. Also, some odd editing choices still to this day make certain moments in the film a little confusing and / or dull. But it is a fun film that deserves its cult status. Whether you think that Reptilians run the world, or find it hard to believe when some of our world leaders can barely tie their shoelaces it is doubtful they are figureheads of things like the Bilderberg group, there is something for everyone to enjoy with this pulpy sci-fi rumpus…or is that, soon to be historical account? Who knows, just Obey and go check this re-release out.
To learn more about the cinematic re-release of Carpenter’s 4K restorations. See https://www.johncarpenter4k.co.uk/
Film Grade: B+
Some neat Interviews and a lovely Retrospective. Then some other odds and sods. The Commentary is easily a stand out, with Rody Piper (RIP) sounding like he’d had the most cigarettes of any human in history by the time of recording.
Special Features Grade: B-
They Live! should hold a special place in the heart of any Carpenter fan, with this being a dream presentation.