They Live UHD Steelbook Review

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They Live Review

Perhaps timelier now than upon its initial theatrical release, John Carpenter’s socio-economic satire masquerading as an alien-invasion thriller, They Live, arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory in a collectible steelbook.

They Live (1988)
Released: 04 Nov 1988
Rated: R
Runtime: 94 min
Director: John Carpenter
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
Writer(s): Ray Nelson, John Carpenter
Plot: They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. They live.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: 55

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Shout! Factory
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: 2-disc Steelbook
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 01/17/2023
MSRP: $34.98

The Production: 3.5/5

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 its initial theatrical release in 1988, but many viewers watching the film today may see it as a more cautionary tale today.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

This is apparently the same disc from the standard 4K release from Shout Factory exactly two years ago. Director of Photography Gary B. Kibbe supervised the 4K transfer, scanned from the original camera negative, as well as the HDR grading (available here in both Dolby Vision and HDR10). This is a much more film-like presentation than what appeared on the 2012 Shout Factory Blu-ray release, yet with much finer film grain (likely due to the new scan of the camera negative). Detail is excellent, from the pock marks on Piper’s face to dirt and grime at the homeless camp, although some optical shots do appear a bit soft (particularly the opening credits). Colors are naturally vivid where intended, highlighting the lush greenery of Los Angeles, yet also subdued in the grey skylines of downtown. Contrast is improved, with deeper blacks in the nighttime and black and white sequences. HDR is handled tastefully, bringing out subtle highlights but not really altering the originally intended theatrical presentation. The included Blu-ray disc has been sourced from this new scan, as well.

Audio: 4/5

In addition to the 4K upgrade, the audio has been upgraded with a new Dolby Atmos mix that, unfortunately, I had mixed feelings about. The track does offer more precisely placed sound cues that travel more seamlessly within the viewing environment, yet when it comes to punchy LFE, the included DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix wins hands down. The 5.1 mix also feels wider and louder while the Atmos feels much narrower and somewhat softer. Unfortunately, the included Blu-ray disc only includes the new Atmos mix and the original 2.0 stereo theatrical mix in DTS-HD MA.

Special Features: 4.5/5

The only item that appears “new” in the 4K release is the film’s teaser trailer.

UHD Disc
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. Accessible from the Audio sub-menu.

Theatrical Trailer (2160p SDR; 1:59): Presented in 1.78:1.

Teaser Trailer (2160p SDR; 0:54): Presented in 1.78:1.

Blu-ray Disc
The menu on the Blu-ray has some fun with each sub-menu, superimposing subliminal commands such as STAY ASLEEP when selecting them.

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. Accessible from the Audio sub-menu.

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 (1:57), the red-band trailer for Halloween II (2:18), and teaser and theatrical trailers for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (2:44).

Overall: 4.5/5

Shout Factory has re-issued their 4K disc of John Carpenter’s They Live in steelbox packaging with no other changes from the previous standard 4K release from two years ago. If you are a fan of the film, either release is highly recommended.

Todd Erwin has been a reviewer at Home Theater Forum since 2008. His love of movies began as a young child, first showing Super 8 movies in his backyard during the summer to friends and neighbors at age 10. He also received his first movie camera that year, a hand-crank Wollensak 8mm with three fixed lenses. In 1980, he graduated to "talkies" with his award-winning short The Ape-Man, followed by the cult favorite The Adventures of Terrific Man two years later. Other films include Myth or Fact: The Talbert Terror and Warren's Revenge (which is currently being restored). In addition to movie reviews, Todd has written many articles for Home Theater Forum centering mostly on streaming as well as an occasional hardware review, is the host of his own video podcast Streaming News & Views on YouTube and is a frequent guest on the Home Theater United podcast.

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