They Live was John Carpenter’s follow up to Prince of Darkness and continued his nihilistic streak of polemics against the establishment, providing a darkly comic science fiction tale. This movie revealed that there is much more to Carpenter than just horror and is an underrated film loaded with social commentary from a great director at the top of his game.
The fine folks over at Shout! Factory have done a great job with this presentation, including a nice set of bonus features to please any Carpenter fan, so put on your sunglasses and see the film for what it really is.
John Nada (Roddy Piper) is a down on his luck everyman who comes to a new town in search of work. He finds a job working construction, a shantytown to live in along with others who have fallen on hard times, and “befriends” fellow construction worker Frank Armitage (Keith David). One day after work, Nada discovers a secret and a box of sunglasses in an empty church that leads him to the truth about just who, or what is really in control of the human race.
Mainly known as a wrestler at the time, Roddy Piper is an obvious analogue (even down to the hairstyle) for Kurt Russell, and the role feels as if it were made for Russell. However, Carpenter gets a decent performance out of Piper, and his classic one liner “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” is purely his creation. Keith David turns in a great performance as the reluctant sidekick to Piper in his mission to uncover the truth and Meg Foster gives another performance as only she can. Foster, an always capable actress blessed with the most incredible eyes to ever be filmed, is impossible to not like.
Kudos are in order for his presentation of They Live, as it is up to the challenges of any home theater setup. The sections in black and white where Roddy Piper’s character is “seeing” have a nice contrast to them. Likewise, the color segments have a great clarity and sharpness. After years of watching this film on other video formats and TV, I have to say I was shocked at how good the movie could look given the proper treatment. On the audio side of the coin, the dialogue is crystal clear and the score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth has a nice feel to it, never impeding on other elements of the soundtrack.
As for the bonus features, there is quite a bit to dig into. Kicking off with an audio commentary with John Carpenter and Roddy Piper, the two have a nice talk about making the film. As always, Carpenter is never one to hold back and speaks his mind. A series of four new interviews recorded for this disc are next. First up is Carpenter in a piece titled “Independent Thought”, where he discusses the origins of the project and its impact on his career. Meg Foster is next in a bit called “Woman of Mystery” where she talks briefly about the film and its relation to society at the time it was shot, and a little about her career. DP Gary Kibbe, stunt coordinator Jeff Imada, and co-composer are next in “Watch, Look, Listen” where the three men discuss their individual roles in creating the film. Lastly, Keith David gives a hilarious interview about this film and his role in The Thing.
If that isn’t enough, a vintage “making of” short piece gives a nice look at the behind-the-scenes process of making the film, followed by a series of deleted scenes. Interestingly, some of these appear to be recreations of the commercials that are in the film and you just have to see them for yourself. A trailer, a few TV spots and a stills gallery round out the extras.
John Carpenter has always been a director of great promise and skill and They Live is one of his most interesting efforts. The movie does what a great science fiction story should: it reflects the cold and often ugly truth of society back onto the human populace and dares us to look at what we have become. I would go so far as to say They Live is a science fiction film for those who aren’t necessarily fans of the genre, myself included, but would recommend this to sci-fi and horror fans alike.