They Live

Year 1988

Roddy Piper as  John Nada
Keith David as Frank
Meg Foster as Holly Thompson  
Peter Jason as Gilbert
Director - John Carpenter
Screenwriter - John Carpenter
Short Story Author   - Ray Nelson

This movie, They Live, falls somewhere between Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. It's not quite as absorbing as the former and it's not as much fun as the latter. It's still not a bad movie if you don't mind having to deal with an occassional lapse of focus and direction.

Before getting into the movie, the name of the short story that this movie is based upon is called, "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" and it's available on-line. (I found it on themunkyreport.) That's all I'll say about the short story.

The movie deals with a serious issue, that of the rich keeping down the poor. And it is a real issue. People in power or that have tremendous wealth do indeed have a different perspective on things, every day things, that the rest of world has to contend with. This movie puts forth the theory that this is intentional and there's a cabal of humans and aliens (as in outer space aliens) behind it all.

They Live almost has a cult following. There are a number of reasons for this. The film is written and directed by John Capenter. The film's subject matter appeals to those who look for conspiracies. The star is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. And there are a few priceless lines that have been quoted by everyone from Bruce Campbell (I think) to Duke Nukem (I'm sure).

Frank: I just want to walk on the white line.
Nada: White line's in the middle of the road. Worst place to drive.

Frank: Don't like nobody following me.
Nada: Don't like walkin' with somebody 'til I know where they're going.
Nada: I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum.

Nada: Brother, life's a bitch. She's back in heat.
Frank: Where did they come from?
Nada: Well they ain't from Cleveland.

The plot is straight from the 50s. The world has been infiltrated by aliens. They are keeping humans down through every means at their disposal including subliminal messages. Joe Everyman, a true patriot and believer in human spirit, stumbles across this secret and attempts to alert people to the danger.

The movie isn't very convincing, though. Oh, it depicts avarice adequately. But, it assumes that people care. Trouble is that Napoleon was correct when he said, "A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights," and all the aliens are doing is taking away people's rights. John Nada (Piper) wants to take away the aliens' interests, so they're hunting down Nada and pests like him.

Another thing that is unconvincing is the glasses. These glasses allow the wearer to see through the illusions of the aliens. The subliminal messages become overt and the true form of the aliens is no longer hidden once a person dons these specs. It works on televisions, too. Also, the wearer can hear alien-y things, too. The last time I had trouble hearing, I didn't see an opthamologist.

After a while, the glasses must've a chore to cart around on the set, so the lenses became contact lenses. Not soft contact lenses, but hard contact lenses. When Nada put his in, he didn't need instruction or wetting solution or time to adapt to these "one size fits all" gizmos. In real life, he would've missed his first couple of times trying to get the lenses in (your eyes really can't help but blink when there's a finger stabbing towards them) and when he finally succeeded, he would've been in debilitating pain for at least a few seconds.

Speaking of glass, plate glass windows in the movie are made of some substance that can't withstand someone falling against them.

There's a contrived fight scene between Nada and Frank that just goes on and on. Why? Well, Nada wants Frank to put on a pair of the glasses and Frank, just doesn't want to.

More? Well how about the healing powers of the people in the movie. Nada and Frank heal in about twelve hours after they've pounded on each other. Nada takes about the same amount of time to recover from going through one of those planes of glass and falling a good fifteen feet after that. Then there's the local leader of the revolution who gets a Rodney King beating and shows no scars or bruises just a few days later.

What's good about the movie? For the most part, the acting by the leads is good. Even Roddy Piper, in most scenes, is good enough to be effective. Meg Foster, with red hair to go with those glacier blue eyes, is not only nice to look at but is also a worthy actress conveying a combination of competence and vulnerability. Character actor Keith David does his bit well (ever since I enjoyed his character in the television show The Job, I've liked him). I already mentioned the good lines.

The best part of the movie is the mood. John Carptenter can do that. He can keep the mood of the most ludicrous hypothesis maintained for an entire movie. This isn't a scary movie, but it is creepy throughout.

It's fun and a throwback to those paranoid movies of the 50s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Invaders from Mars.

They Live may even be seen as some as a pithy metaphor for government control. I wouldn't say that it was pithy, but I would say that it's a good idea to be periodically reminded of what can happen to a society that becomes too complacent and reliant upon government for creature comforts. Human/alien nature takes advantage of the weak.

Some blasphemy and nudity at the end (although it's played for non-sexual effect). Very little chick flick potential.

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