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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
For more about They Live and the They Live Blu-ray release, see They Live Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster (I), Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques, George 'Buck' Flower
» See full cast & crew
They Live Blu-ray Review
Wake up with this excellent film, see things as they really are with its Blu-ray release.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 2, 2012
They have taken the hearts and minds of our leaders. They have recruited the rich and the powerful. And they have blinded us to the truth.
They may live, but fear not! Roddy Piper and Keith David are here to chew bubble bum and kick alien tail in They Live, Director John Carpenter's brilliant Sci-Fi satire all about modern society's unwitting slavery under everything from consumerism to politics. It's perhaps the ultimate conspiracy theory movie (or real-life trickle-down economics Horror show, depending on whom one asks), a tale that depicts the dangers of an unaware populace's figurative sleep, or more specifically, the populace's literal blindness of and naiveté concerning what's really happening all around, about who or what truly controls the world, about the open enslavement of man by those who would do harm below the shiny surface and beyond the false sphere of safety and security. Of course the movie is fundamentally a work of fiction (at least, one can hope it's fiction; there appears to be no aliens masquerading as people running around) but it rings its truths below the surface -- it blares its truths, really -- as a warning sign to all who blindly follow the lead, who keep their eyes closed, ears shut, and mouths sealed to the world they see unfolding around them, perhaps inwardly decrying decline but doing nothing about it for fear of retribution or ridicule or, perhaps, sheer uncertainty of where to begin. It's rather simplistically displayed and resolved in the film, nothing a few tough hombres and a handful of guns cannot make right, but the social commentary runs much deeper and it's Carpenter's core story, not the superficial action, that makes They Live a rousing success of thought-provoking cinema.
Nada (Roddy Piper) is a drifter. He's finding his prospects scarce and employment even more so. It's not for lack of effort, though; he's a good man who wants to carry his own burden. He's strong, honest, and has a good head on his shoulders. He believes in the ideals of hard work and the impotence of self-sufficiency. He lands a job on a construction site and makes friends with fellow worker Frank (Keith David) who shows Nada the ropes and invites him to stay at a tent city for the under-privileged and poor. When a television signal is interrupted and the new broadcast speaks of vast conspiracy theories, Nada suspects it's originating from a nearby church. An investigation reveals canned choir singing and mysterious activity. Soon thereafter, police raid the church and destroy the camp. Nada searches through the church's remains and discovers cheap sunglasses with a powerful ability: they reveal hidden agendas, subliminal messages, and aliens masquerading as human beings. He sees commands such as "obey" on billboards, magazines, and even printed on money. He learns that the aliens have infiltrated the worlds of business, politics, law enforcement, and high society. As he rushes to unravel the truth behind this silent invasion, he finds himself a target and on the run with only a handful of people he can trust in his mission to reveal to the world what man's existence has truly become.
Underneath its machismo surface, They Live hits many of those same points that drive social and political discourses today, both overtly in the open and clandestinely behind the scenes. Narratives such as the lull of consumerism, rich versus poor, the decline of personal liberty, limited opportunities, the destruction of the middle class, and power grabbing by the already powerful elites all shape the film's narrative, taken to extremes in the picture for fictional purposes and dramatic effect but fundamentally the same and with countless parallels that those a bit more awake to the way the system operates will recognize on-the-spot, even without the benefit of those stylish Hoffman lenses. The film contrasts three groups: the elite, the sleeping "sheeple," and the resistance fighters who aim to destroy those who would further blind and indoctrinate the populace for their own gain. It's easy to see influences that would go on to shape movies such as The Matrix, but Carpenter's film proves more accessible and relatable in its depiction of subliminal messaging, the flock mentality, false beliefs in a corrupt system, and above all, blindness to the truth thanks largely to controlling elites literally urging the flock to "stay asleep" and "not question authority" because, of course, a weary, unaware, zombie-like populace happily obeying the commands of the few is much more easily controlled. That is, unless, a musclebound wrestler with heroically feathered blonde hair works up the courage to wake the people up with a few well-placed gunshots, one extra-long fist fight, and a handful of witty remarks.
Roddy Piper's performance isn't of the caliber celebrated on Oscar night, but he carries out his assigned duties quite well, playing a down-on-his-luck everyman thrust, or, by some degree, of his own choosing, into an unbelievable situation that calls for more brawn than brains, a whole lot of courage, and quite a bit of luck. The performance lacks nuance because the scripted character lacks nuance. That's fine, because Carpenter's film is one of two worlds -- the message and the action -- and ultimately the merging of both by the final act. Carpenter fleshes out the story to great satisfaction but delivers only a core hero, which is all the movie really needs. Piper looks good and seems to enjoy the gunplay, the machismo, and the rough-and-tumble nature of the part. He plays the part well in the more dramatically inclined moments as well, effectively conveying the shock, raw emotion, the fear, the stammering, the uncertainty, and even the mental fatigue and physical strain of the initial discovery. He shares a fine screen presence and chemistry with fellow big man Keith David, who as always is on top of his game and brings a real levelheadedness and integrity to his part. This is certainly one of Carpenter's best films; the brilliant juxtaposition of quiet subliminal messaging and hidden realities with oftentimes overt social commentary and big action makes for a fascinating film, and who can't like a movie that features aliens, teleportation, big guns, cool shades, a wrestler, and a fistfight that seems to fill up the entire second act?
They Live Blu-ray, Video Quality
They Live's Blu-ray presentation has it moments that will leave viewers wondering just what sort of transfer they're getting, but generally the image holds up quite well. To be sure, there are some scattered problem spots. There are a handful of soft shot and a couple of downright smudgy spots throughout. Quite a few scenes take on a rather pasty, processed, noise-reduced, unnaturally digital sort of look. Edge enhancement creeps in a few times as well, surrounding various objects with an unnecessary and unnatural glow. On the other hand, the image is quite stable and very crisp. Grain does remain over the image, solidifying some fabulous detailing that reveals complex facial lines, fine textures on Nada's hiking gear, wear and tear on dirty and worn garments, stucco around the church, and brick and concrete in alleyways. Colors are wonderful, yielding superb balance, natural brilliance, and a pleasant appearance, from faded denim to creepy alien facial hues seen in color rather than the film's noted black-and-white, sunglasses-filtered shots. Skin tones are accurate and blacks don't dive too far towards crushing levels. Certainly, the image could stand some refinement and minor polish; it's not perfect, but this is easily the best They Live has ever looked for home viewing. Fans should be very pleased with the results.
They Live Blu-ray, Audio Quality
They Live features a quality DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The film isn't big budget and it's not brand new, and the track doesn't hide those qualities. It's robust and fun but not so precise as to blur the line between media and real life. The film opens with some ridiculously heavy and somewhat unkempt bass; it sounds more like a car parading down the street with a dozen subwoofers pounding away from the trunk more than a tight movie soundtrack element, but things clean up nicely from there. Music enjoys fine front-end spacing and very good clarity. Atmospherics will impress, whether the din of the construction site, general city ambience, or more aggressive elements like police sirens and hovering helicopters that all naturally fill the stage. Gunfire tears through the stage and plays with that over-pumped 1980s feel about it, but the effect is genuine and works well in context. Dialogue is accurate and remains grounded in the center channel. All told, this is a very strong audio presentation from Scream Factory.
They Live Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
They Live contains a very healthy and wholly filling array of extra content, notably a fine audio commentary track and several new retrospective interviews with cast and crew.
They Live Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
They Live is a legitimate classic of the somewhat unheralded variety, a movie with minimal outward ambitions but plenty of commentary that's both buried under the surface and weaved right on top of the action. It's a thought-provoking and intelligent picture wrapped up in the guise of a dumb 80s action film, and the combination works beautifully. John Carpenter's direction is outdone only by his writing, and the lead performances are superb within the context of what the film requires of them. This is a strong picture that holds up well and remains one of the more intelligent of the 1980s crop of Science Fiction and muscular Action pictures. Scream Factory's Blu-ray release of The Live features good video, fine audio, and a nice collection of extras. Highly recommended.
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They Live Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: November 6-13 - November 4, 2012
This week begins with Blu-rays from cult horror favorite John Carpenter: 1974's Dark Star, and 1988's They Live. Viewed together, the two pictures depict the progression of the genre auteur's movie-making gifts; Dark Star is an expansion of Carpenter's USC student ...
• John Carpenter's They Live Heading to Blu-ray (Updated) - September 7, 2012
Independent distributors Shout Factory have officially announced that they will release on Blu-ray director John Carpenter's cult film They Live (1988), starring Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. The release will be part of the new Scream Factory series ...
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