Perhaps more timely now than upon its initial theatrical release, John Carpenter’s socio-economic satire masquerading as an alien-invasion thriller, They Live, arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory, loaded with bonus features in addition to an impressive audio and video presentation.
Studio: Shout! Factory (licensed through Universal Pictures)
US BD Release Date: November 6, 2012
Original Release Year: 1988
Running Time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Movie: 3.5 out of 5
I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum! - John Nada
John Nada (Roddy Piper) is a homeless drifter, travelling from town to town looking for work, and arriving in an economically-depressed Los Angeles as the film opens. After being told there are no jobs available at the unemployment office, Nada manages to find some day-labor work at a construction site and befriends another drifter from Detroit, Frank (Keith David). Frank introduces Nada to the homeless camp across the street from a church where he can find food and shelter. But something is not quite right about the church, with people and boxes coming and going at all hours. In addition, someone is continually breaking into the TV transmissions, claiming that not everything is at it seems. After the police raid and eventually bulldoze the shelter and bomb the church, Nada returns to investigate the abandoned church, and finds a box full of dark sunglasses. However, while wearing the sunglasses, Nada discovers that the world around him is full of subliminal messages that the glasses are able to reveal. Billboards secretly proclaim Obey, Submit, Consume, and Marry and Reproduce, dollar bills are encoded with This Is Your God, magazine covers tout Do Not Question Authority, and political leaders and wealthy elite are actually freakishly-ugly aliens. After a street fight that goes on for far too long, Nada enlists Frank to join the resistance and take out the broadcast beacon, revealing the alien’s true identities.
They Live was part of a slate of low-budget horror films made by John Carpenter and Wes Craven for Alive Films, as part of a joint distribution deal between Universal Pictures and Carolco, in the mid to late 1980s. Inspired by the short story Eight O’Clock In The Morning by Ray Nelson, Carpenter (under the pen name Frank Armitage) injects just enough dark humor to keep the movie from becoming bogged down in his political and economic attacks on what was then known as Reaganomics. Professional Wrestler Roddy Piper shows he has screen presence and acting abilities in his portrayal of everyman John Nada, and Keith David (in his second film for Carpenter after The Thing) is perfectly cast as Nada’s sidekick. Meg Foster is very good in the type of role she would eventually be typecast in, as the possible double agent for both the resistance and the aliens. Gary B. Kibbe’s cinematography not only has beautifully composed shots of the Los Angeles skyline, but also expertly captures Meg Foster’s mesmerizing blue eyes. Carpenter’s vision of a society utterly destroyed by consumerism and “trickle-down” economics may have seemed far-fetched upon it’s initial theatrical release in 1988, but many viewers watching the film today may see it as a more cautionary tale of where our nation could be headed.
Video: 4 out of 5
Shout! Factory brings They Live to Blu-ray in an exceptional 1080p transfer that retains the film’s intended aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using the AVC codec with an average bitrate of around 32 Mbps, maxing out at 46 Mbps. Colors are accurate and consistent, blacks are nice and deep without losing any detail. Film grain is very evident (likely from being shot almost entirely on location and on a very low budget), but is never intrusive or distracting. Detail is also very good, especially evident in the many scars on Roddy Piper’s face.
Audio: 4 out of 5
Although not listed on the disc’s packaging, They Live includes a defaulted DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (with an average bitrate of around 2.4 Mbps) that is a major improvement over the film’s theatrical 2.0 stereo track (also included, encoded as DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0). The major difference is a wider front soundstage, providing better stereo separation, and deeper bass from the LFE channel, giving John Carpenter’s blues-inspired score a much needed kick. Surrounds are used very sparingly, though, mostly for the film score and ambient effects.
Special Features: 4 out of 5
Shout! Factory’s bonus materials put Universal’s 2003 bare-bones DVD release to shame.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Star Roddy Piper: Carpenter and Piper discuss quite candidly about making the film, shooting on-location in downtown Los Angeles, employing the homeless as extras, and public reaction to the film. This is a must-listen commentary for any fan of the film or John Carpenter.
Independent Thoughts With John Carpenter (1080p, 10:07): Carpenter discusses what influenced his screenplay, a brief history of his relationship with Alive Films, casting Roddy Piper, and working with Meg Foster.
Woman of Mystery with Meg Foster (1080p, 5:20): The actress discusses her thoughts on the film, working with Carpenter, and her hesitation with breakaway bottles.
Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights and Sounds of “They Live” (1080p, 11:14): Director of Photography Gary B. Kibbe, Stunt Coordinator Jeff Imada, and Co-composer Alan Howarth discuss working on the film and their unique contributions.
Man vs. Aliens with Keith David (1080p, 11:12): The actor discusses working with John Carpenter first on The Thing and again with They Live.
The Making of “They Live” (1080i, 8:02): The original EPK documentary short from 1988, upconverted from a standard definition videotape.
Never-Before-Seen Footage (1080i, 2:34): A quick musical montage of clips from the fake commercials created especially for They Live, obviously upconverted from a standard definition video source.
TV Spots (1080i, 1:55): A collection of four television spots for the film, obviously upconverted from a standard definition video source.
Still Gallery (1080p, 2:17): A slideshow of 27 production stills.
Trailers (1080p): Included are the theatrical trailer for They Live, the red-band trailer for Halloween II, and teaser and theatrical trailers for Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Considering the previous DVD release from Universal was a bare-bones edition, fans of They Live and John Carpenter will be quite pleased to upgrade to this new Blu-ray knowing they are login nothing and gaining everything. But isn’t that how consumerism works?