Reviewed April 8th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger
There are several John Carpenter movies that hold a special place in my heart. He directed some of the best sci-fi/horror films of the 1980s, including The Thing, Escape From New York, and Big Trouble in Little China. They Live (1988) is another classic from this era.
Roddy Piper (of wrestling fame) stars as Nada, homeless, jobless, and in search for work. Finding a spot on a construction crew, he meets Frank (Keith David), another worker hit on hard times. Staying at a shanty community, Nada sees strange happenings at the church next door. After the church and shanty-town are busted in a huge raid, Nada discovers a box filled with strange sunglasses. The sunglasses reveal a conspiracy of global proportions. After recruiting Frank to the cause, Nada sets out to bring the conspiracy down while the fate of the earth hangs in the balance.
I don't mind saying, this is one of my favorite Carpenter movies. The special effects are not high budget but they are effective at what they're meant to do, particularly the transitions between the “sunglass sight” and normal sight. Piper and David are a terrific duo. They display great chemistry and their fight sequence is one of my all-time favorite knock-down drag-out brawls.
They Live holds up well over time. I was always hold my breath with films like this because, generally, they are not stored in the best conditions. I was pleasantly surprised by the video transfer (2.35:1 anamorphic). The image is nice and clear. The most dated aspect is Piper's hair. There is some grain involved but nothing that I would consider distracting. Overall, the print is very watchable.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix also surprised me with the amount of movement across the sound stage. Action spots are quite lively. Dialog and music came across clear, without any hints of muddiness. Another nice job.
If there's one disappointment with this disc, it is the lack of any extras. The Thing features a great commentary with Carpenter and Kurt Russell and I would have loved to see a similar set-up with Carpenter and Piper and/or David. There's not even the ever-present trailers and talent files to fall back on. Considering the quality of the film itself, it's a bit of a disappointment not to find a single supplement.
They Live knows what kind of film it is and doesn't try to be more than that. It doesn't make you think too hard but nor does it suck away at your IQ. Carpenter knows his trade and, when he doesn't try to do much, is one of the best at delivering. He gets a good performance from Piper and David always delivers. They Live won't ever make the AFI's top 100 list but, for a couple of hours, it delivers a damn good time.
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