They Live

90 / 100

Watchable Minutes : This Carpenter Classic is well worth watching for the entire 94 minute run time. 

Trailer Comparison : The trailer for They Live features a lot of action, explosions, and cheesey voice over work that is so 80s that I can’t help but feel nostalgic for at time that I never experienced. Don’t judge the movie by this trailer for sure because there’s more going on here than the trailer gives away. 

Movie or Film : They Live is a 94 minute movie that uses one of the most popular Canadian wrestlers of all time to explore the concepts of greed and capitalism through intense action. 

Info : 

  • Run time : 1 hr 34 minutes
  • Studio : Universal Pictures
  • Director : John Carpenter
  • Where to Watch : YouTube ($)

Summary : 

After arriving in a new city, a drifter by the name of John Nada searches for work to make a life for himself. After convincing a construction site foreman to give him a chance, Nada is invited to the local shantytown by Frank Armitage, another worker on the site. After exploring a church near the job site, Nada discovers a pair of glasses that eliminate the sheen of modern society and show him the truth that lurks beneath the surface.  

Review : 

They Live is a highly underrated cult classic movie about peering behind the curtain of reality. Originally made as a commentary on the social and economic policies of then-president Ronald Reagan, John Carpenter managed to create something that is just as relevant today in the 2020s as it was in the late 1980s. It is reasonable to believe that the unhinged capitalism of the 80s still exists today in a slightly different form, which is what keeps They Live relevant in the modern culture. While the message that Carpenter was trying to convey has been comically misconstrued over the years, it is relatively simple to understand what he clearly intended to share with the audience. The linear and easy-to-follow story is both interesting and oddly familiar, especially watching this movie nearly 35 years after its debut. The action is high and the themes are intelligent in this home run movie that is now a 100% must watch for fans of sci-fi.

Roddy Piper and Keith David headline this late 80s action sci-fi (documentary?) thriller from the masterful John Carpenter. Set in a modern (at the time) city that could really be anywhere in the United States, Roddy Pipper’s John Nada arrives in town as a drifter. There’s no backstory given and John Nada doesn’t need one. He’s just a guy down on his luck and in search of some work to pay for his next meal. While John Carpenter’s catalog heavily featured the talented Kurt Russell, Rowdy Roddy Piper fits the John Nada character in a way that Russell wouldn’t have been able to pull off. Nada is written to be a rough and callused individual that doesn’t have the polish or smooth-talking skills of somebody like Russell. Playing the supporting role of Frank Armitage is Keith David, who is a long-time favorite of mine since watching him in The Thing and more recently, The Nice Guys and the later seasons of Community. David is able to make a relatively flat character on paper come alive on the screen. And then there’s the tense and drawn-out fight scene between the two that just seems to go on forever. It’s so frustrating because the audience wants Armitage to just put on the stupid glasses but he staunchly refuses, just like how the audience would most likely react in his place. There’s plenty of fandom surrounding this movie and this fight scene so I won’t go into a ton of detail about it, but it’s worth watching the movie just for this scene alone.

Visually, They Live is very much a product of its time. The make up is cheap and matte paintings were used en masse to change backgrounds quickly and illustrate the power of the glasses. The action scenes and shoot outs are limited by their time and the word “shlocky” might come to mind, but don’t let the copious amounts of 80s cheese ruin it. The sound of They Live is subtle but eerie. Carpenter composed and produced much of the music for the movie and it works because he has such a visceral understanding of what he’s trying to share with the audience. The synth sounds and visuals go hand in hand to create an sense of unease while you watch the movie.

They Live is one of the few John Carpenter movies that I had not seen, partially because I never knew it was a Carpenter movie. Up until this point, I had seen the classics like Escape from New York and The Thing dozens of times. Oh, and a little thing called Halloween that you might have heard of. All of these movies had a big impact on my taste growing up and set the bar for my expectations of action, sci-fi, and horror movies alike. I am confident in saying that it’s because Carpenter knows how to create a compelling story while also backing it up with his own supporting work. The man can write, direct, and compose to such a level that there are few directors and artists around today that can match his level of talent and skill. They Live is no exception and further cements Carpenters place as one of my most respected and admired directors. Remember, they live while we sleep.

If you like this, check out : 

  • Escape from New York
  • The Thing (1982)
  • Halloween (1978)

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