Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Man, Wife, Film: THEY LIVE

It's been a while since we did one of these. The basic idea: the missus and I watch a movie together, then jot down our feelings about what we saw. I tend to be an obsessive pedant. She tends to be a very casual viewer. The results are nothing short of comedy gold, I tell ya.

This weekend we were babysitting our niece. Once she had officially made the trip to Slumber Land, I decided I'd polish off my Saturday night with an old favorite, John Carpenter's They Live.

Now, I'm not going to drool over Scream Factory again, but suffice to say they did another great job with this Collector's Edition Blu-Ray, which features a beautiful print of the movie and lots of really nice extras.

So, anyway, I'd popped the movie in and had wandered upstairs for a box of Boo Berry, and passed the wife was watching YouTube videos about the Tudors, or something along those lines. I asked her if she wanted to come watch Rowdy Roddy Piper kicking alien ass, and to my surprise, she talked herself into wandering down to my lair, where we watched the movie together.

These are the results.


I love John Carpenter. I think he is a filmmaker of the highest order, and I have always loved not only his visual aesthetic, but I also admire his One Man Band approach. He writes, he directs, he scores, he probably caters too. I like his cranky liberal worldview, and I like that he is paranoid and distrustful of authority. I love his movies, and I would happily, EAGERLY, pit his 1980's output against any other director of the period, bar none.

However, even with that great admiration of his catalog, I will be the first to admit that not all JC films are created equal, even during that golden period. You have the masterpieces (Halloween, The Thing), you have the near masterpieces (The Fog, Escape From New York,) and you have the flawed but fun (Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, Big Trouble in Little China ), which is where I'd place They Live.

They Live is the story of a drifter called Nada ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) who travels across a near future America looking for work. Instead, what he finds is a box of sunglasses that allow the wearer, via special lenses, to see through a nefarious scheme of mass hypnosis and see the world around him. What he finds is that the world has been placed under the control of ugly ass aliens who have staged a quiet coup, managing to infiltrate humans and keep them placated with subliminal messages of conformity and mediocrity. When he wears the glasses, he can see that billboards and magazines actually carry messages of "Stay Asleep", urging humans to be content with their mediocre existance, unable to muster the willpower to strike against the ruling class who are keeping them stifled.

Roddy (he's Roddy to me. I can't call him Nada) finds an ally in Keith David (in the Keith David role) and the two hook up with a resistance movement that seeks to destroy a transmission tower, which would allow people to see the aliens for what they are: bug-eyed, splotchy faced monsters gobbling up our riches.

They Live is an indictment of 1980's Republicans, Reaganomics and the "Trickle Down" theory. The metaphor is paper thin, but that's ok. This isn't meant to be a subtle, symbolic picture. It's an angry, "Republicans are purple monsters" type of movie that ends with the lead character literally flipping the bird. It is JC at his crankiest, and that is what makes it so endearing.

Technically speaking, They Live is a bit uneven, with some pacing issues. For instance, a seemingly endless fist fight between Piper and Keith David that ultimately amounts to very little is actually much longer than the climax of the movie itself. I have no doubt that JC enjoyed shooting the scene, every bit as much as the boys enjoyed choreographing it, but it definitely bogs the picture down in a way that it never fully recovers from.

Still, I like They Live a lot. It's a fun premise, created with a wink and an extended middle finger, and JC is clearly having a great time making the picture. Plot and pacing problems aside, it's still a very fun movie that holds up well (aside from the 1980's coiffures and men wearing mom jeans) and rightfully earns its place in the Carpenter Canon.

The Missus:

"My memory is very foggy!  I keep mixing it up with that Arnold movie where he is on Mars. (Editor's Note: We watched Total Recall and Running Man about three weeks ago)

I obviously thought the movie was decent enough to watch all the way through (which is rare when we are talking about 80's movies with wrestlers that you recommend).  Some design elements were fails (quiet street in one shot, super busy street in another) and many of the characters were not very bright (Holy shit it’s the cops!  Let’s leave the safety of this church and run into the street!)  I do like that the movie was so accurate in regard to how things are now and that it makes Republicans out to be aliens."


I think the most telling reaction was when the missus told me the next morning "I enjoyed watching that dumb movie with you last night." They Live is dumb, but it's dumb in a fun way. Now to talk her into Hell Comes to Frogtown...

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to tell you I thoroughly enjoyed this review to this great movie, your missuses comment capturing it all "I enjoyed watching that dumb movie with you last night". Additionally, found this blog while searching for the old bikini White Zombie shirt I used to have and loved that post you had about it. Cheers man, keep up the good posts.