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They Live. Where to begin? Yes, it is goofy. Yes the production value is
very low. Yes the action is standard. The guns never empty. The fights are
poorly choreographed at times. But that, my friends, is not the
This film was an attack on the Regan era. An attack on the rampant consumerism of the 80's. But open your mind. Saying that it's just an attack on the 80's is merely shutting your eyes. Telling yourself that things have gotten better. Sorry to disapoint you, but they haven't.
Rowdy Roddy Piper puts on some sunglasses. The world changes. Billboards now say Obey or Sleep. Or Marry and Reproduce. Magazines no longer have articles or advertisements. They are blank white pages with said phrases upon them. Money now are white pieces of paper that say This is Your God. Boy oh boy are they right.
So watch They Live. Grab some beer and score some corn. Enjoy the cheese. Enjoy the great one-liners. But also pay attention to the lines that sum up the truth. Remember the point of the film. Then go outside. Re-enter the corporate world outside your door.
You won't need special glasses to see the truth.
I have to say something here. This movie is actually very good. It was
a mixture of sci-fi and political and sociological imagery. I thought
the fact that the turncoat working with the aliens that were
brainwashing the public was employed in the media was a brilliant way
of showing how the media moguls consider us to be sheeple and use their
power to persuade any way they see fit. This movie was actually quite
well down, considering it did not have a blockbuster budget.
I would rather watch this than waste my time on the Matrix, which I think is a complete waste of time. The main plot of the movie was Nada discovering a worldwide conspiracy that used subliminal messages to "herd the sheep". Is this not a metaphor of what we see ever day? The media, commercials, billboards, etc, use subliminal messaging to encourage the actions of the public at large.
John Carpenter did a wonderful job. Roddy Piper's acting abilities were definitely above average, which is a lot more that I will ever to be able to say about anything Keanu Reeves has ever done. As usual, Keith David turned in a great performance. The reason this a cult classic is because it is a very good movie that requires the watcher to think.
WARNING: The author of this review loves challenging films.
They Live is based on a pulp sci-fi story about aliens who live among us and manipulate us through subliminal advertising, other mind control techniques, and sometimes, guns and bulldozers. Like most Carpenter films, its artistic, fun, intelligent and does not take itself too seriously.
As usual, Carpenter's casting is brilliant. Roddy Piper plays the good-hearted but not very bright construction worker who is both the hero and protagonist of the film. Keith David, whose character is just a little bit brighter, is his unwilling sidekick. Piper's character sees some strange goings-on in a local church, hears some weird paranoid ramblings from a street preacher, and becomes especially curious when the church is raided by 30-40 police officers and the vagrant camp where he lives is bulldozed one night. Soon after, he finds a pair of sunglasses in the now abandoned church, that literally changes his view of the world around him. The fight scene between David and Piper, while straight out of TV wrestling, is one of the most jarring and bizarre scenes in the movie - it goes on for a very long time - which nicely and subtly points out its significance in moving the plot forward. When Piper finally gets the sunglasses on David's face, he is vindicated and the last shred of doubt about his sanity disappears. From that point forward, they are both committed to saving the world from the alien menace. Further description of the plot would approach a spoiler so I won't go any further.
Both of the main characters succeed in dominating the screen, to the point that it is hard to even notice the contributions of the rest of the cast. Both actors are surprisingly good, though understandably typecast (these are, after all, two very big guys) but - who the hell is Keith David? look him up here on IMDb.com and I'm sure you'll be as surprised at I was. He's quite an accomplished character actor.
Raymond St Jacques, for all of his five or so minutes of screen time, makes a lasting impression, and Meg Foster is perfect for her ambiguity. Overall, the character development in this film is quite excellent despite the difficulty of pulling it off in a decidedly B sci-fi genre.
From an artistic and technical point of view, the film must be judged against Carpenter's other works. Carpenter has practically created his own film genre, and each of his films bears his mark very clearly. Carpenter's camera work is remarkable for its unremarkableness. He chooses not to use gimmicks and allows his cameras to tell the story without embellishing it. Like his version of The Thing, this technique fits very well in this film, as it helps the viewer suspend disbelief in what would otherwise seem as ludicrous as an episode of the X-Files.
Carpenter often makes his own soundtracks. Of these, the soundtrack for this film is very good, but terribly repetitive and, after a while, a bit grating. Nevertheless, its goofy redundancy helps to lend a comic edge to the film.
Is there a point?
I would argue that there is. Carpenter is always more interested in fun than poignancy, but he doesn't shy away from recognizing the value of the material he brings to the screen. Of all of his films, They Live is one of the most overtly political - as it carries some very clever messages about capitalism, conformity, poverty and the horror that everyday life can be for some people. This is all done, however, with a good sense of humor and an almost teenage sense of rebelliousness, all very typically Carpenter.
A great film for B-movie fans, intelligent sci-fi fans and those who enjoy film as an art form.
This movie is not so much about aliens who are hiding among us, but
instead it taps into the deeply submerged suspicion held by most of us
that we are being manipulated and taken advantage of by the elite of
American society, by our leaders, by the rich, etc. Also, we sometimes
feel that we are manipulated and programmed (in a subtle way) to
respect hierarchical authority ( e.g., the "OBEY" subliminal command
from the movie).
Some leftist thinkers might say that human societies are in a way being parasitized by the elite of their societies, and that the elite operate as a parasitic sub-society, living off of the lower classes. America might be said to be operated more in such a fashion (i.e., parasitized by the elite) than are the countries of western Europe. Obvious examples of this parasitic behavior are the "golden handshakes" and backscratching exchanged between corporate CEO's and the Boards of Directors of their companies. But it is far more pervasive than just that.
_They_Live_ uses the invisible alien elite as a proxy for our suspicions about how we are all being exploited by the elite of our real-life society, and how these elite are subtly programming us to accept this exploitation.
So, the major theme of the movie is not, as another poster correctly pointed out, about being manipulated to be good little consumers in a crassly commercial world. No, it is far more profound than that. Instead, it is more about how the working class Americans in _They Live_ are being exploited by the elite upper crust, who, in the movie, happen to be aliens, but who, in the real world, are a subsociety that use their collective power to exploit the rest of us.
Unfortunately, this movie sometimes has an unintentionally comic air to it. Still, the exploration of that theme is so rare in pop culture, and that theme is so profound, and reaches so far into what American society is, was, and is becoming, that this movie is a Must-See for anyone with an interest in politics and sociology.
An unemployed man in the 80s (of the WWF variety, complete with Mel-mullet) shows up in the big city looking for work, American Dream intact. He finds a "Hooverville"-like (perhaps Reaganville!) community that takes him in and finds work in construction. He notices that several of the providers are ostensibly up to no good and hold meetings at the local church. He stumbles upon a secret door and finds a stash of...80s sunglasses! After the community is destroyed by the police, our baffled working-class hero pops on a pair of the glasses, which allows him see the world as it really is, and wake up out of his sleeeepy false consciousness! Was Carpenter reading up on his Marx? Maybe! Either way, this sci-fi/action flick is fantastic, cheesy, and clever. "They Live" was obviously influenced by the excess of the 80s, but doesn't come across as dated and actually seems very relevant to the current cultural climate in the US. There are various flaws (namely, the creepy-in-a-bad-way Meg Foster and her character), but overall this is an excellent, amusing, and entertaining film. My Rating: 9.5/10
John Nada (Roddy Piper) comes to L.A. to search for a Job. On the same
working place, when he finds a job. John meets Frank (Keith David),
Frank asks John to come along. Where Frank stays with poor people and a
place to rest. Once he gets there, John watches television and sees
some subliminal reporting by a scientist. The scientist is trying to
get an important message on television by using frequency. John knows,
there is something unusual going on at a house nearby. After a small
band of cops are beating these poor people trying to find, where does
that frequency is coming from. The next day, John goes to the house
nearby and he finds one thing an open box. That box was hidden in the
wall and when John open that box. He finds nothing but sunglasses. When
he takes one of them, John sees a whole different world. A Bizarre look
of L.A. in black & white with images full of subliminal advertising
messages are visible though special glasses. Then he notice the only
purpose of these glasses are the civilians are mixed with aliens
population amongst them!
Directed by John Carpenter (Assault on Precient 13, Ghosts of Mars, The Thing-1982) made a extremely well made film mixed with action/sci-fi elements and a refreshing scene of humor. Piper is good here, he has some memorable scenes with some funny dialogue. The film's best line from Piper is "I come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass but i'm all out of bubble gum". There is also an unforgettable scene with Piper and David, when Piper asks David to put the glasses on. When David refuses to put them on. Piper and David get into a very funny fistfight scene that turned into a classic scene. The film might have a few flaws, only depending a matter of personal taste. The Alien Make-Up effects are extremely awful but intentionally funny. The film ends with a great pay-off. The film is hilarious at times and always fun to watch. Since this film like most Carpenter's works become a Cult Classic.
DVD has an sharp anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) transfer and an good-Dolby Surround 2.0 Sound. Too Bad, Universal didn't release a Special Edition of this landmark independent film. The DVD from Europe, Carpenter and Piper recorded an running commentary track for this film in a two disc special edition. When in the U.S. get out Special Edition ? DVD doesn't have no features. This is a amusing satiric sci-fi adventure. Underrated to be sure, the film ages well despite awful alien make-up. Based on a Short Story by Ray Faraday Nelson titled "Three O'Clock in the Morning". Screenwriter "Frank Armitage" is actually director Carpenter. Panavision. (****/*****).
"They Live" is one of the most original and underrated sci-fi action
movies i've ever seen. Eventhough the acting isn't spectacular, and by the
end turns into a down right urban action movie, "They Live" is one of the
most entertaining ever.
The plot is quite simple, Nada(Roddy Piper) a homeless drifter stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses through which you can see the world for what it really is, a communist type environment controlled by aliens, and then joins up with his buddy Frank(Keith David) to stop them. In the middle of all this there a lot of great one liners, a lot of harebrained action and one of the longest, and best, fist fights ever filmed.
The way John Carpenter directs really makes the film work. Everything seems downbeat and realistic. The acting of ex-pro wrestler Roddy Piper is better than expected but not too spectacular and Keith David isn't at all convincing. But none of that matters, the real reason to see this movie is just to be entertained and on that level is suceeds. My Rating is 8/10
This film has a commentary as relevant today as in the 80s. Upper class
people are actually aliens corrupting America. And the only way to see
them is to wear special sunglasses that our hero, Nada, stumbles upon.
This film has some cool ideas: the way all magazines and signs have
subliminal messages, the paranoia, and the
B-movie-on-purpose-so-it-feels-like-a-B-movie feel. It also has some
really great cheesy one liners which I don't wish to spoil. Let it be
known though, by the end of the movie you might just see a little of
Ash from Evil Dead in Nada. The film also has a fight scene around the
middle that is particularly funny to watch because it keeps going
Definitely a fun flick to watch if you are light hearted and can enjoy the B-movie vibe it gives off.
... And of course very well made, because it's from Carpenter from his good ole days (actually I haven't seen his recent films, from the nineties or so, so I cannot say how good his "days" are now; They might be good also). The plot is bravely "stupid" (if you look the surface), but also "secretly" intelligent and deep, just the same thing as in very many scifi, horror, and even action movies: You have to look at them with open eyes to get the messages. I think this movie is much more interesting, and much more realistic and intellectual, than let's say some french art movie (Farthenheit 951 or something). This is real art. It's from this world, not from some artificial art movie marshmallow fantasy-world. Of course it's very funny film also. You may see the main actor (he's some pro-wrestler?) as some kind of a walking joke. But actually he is perfect for this role. He is like some mythological hero, just like Schwarzenegger or so. He is a symbol. The movie is filled with really good jokes and one-liners that you'll never forget. For example, when the main character comes to a bank, in his intent to kill some "aliens", he shouts: "I'm here to chew bubblegum and kick ass! And I'm all outta bubblegum..." And another comment from him, after he has had a ten-minute long fight with somebody: "Ain't love great!" This is a great cult movie. I'm sure there are many people who watch this regularly, with or without friends, and remember all (at least the good) lines. Perfect entertainment. Recommended.
I remember first seeing They Live when I was 10 and I totally fell in love with this film. How could a ten year old not? There's wrestlers, aliens and a plot to take over the world. My friends and I quoted this film for weeks on end with the Bubble gum and kicking @$$ line being a favourite among all. The only real complaint that I have about the film is that the aliens when finally revealed are far too human. They basically look like a skeleton with bug eyes. Not a whole lot of energy seemed to go into their design. While They Live will never be remembered as a film that redefined the way films were made, it still to this day holds a place in my heart as one of the films that just defines your youth. It is fun, action packed and has just enough cool storyline to keep you interested from start to finish.
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