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Monday, March 22, 2010

They Live Review

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They Live was one of the lesser seen John Carpenter films, but has gained a cult following with genre fans. He directed the movie and also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym "Frank Armitage." The movie is based on Ray Nelson's 1963 short story "Eight O’Clock in the Morning."

The story revolves around a nameless man referred to as "Nada" (Roddy Piper), a quiet drifter who finds work on a Los Angeles construction site. One of the workers, Frank Armitage (Keith David), takes him to a local shantytown. After eating at the soup kitchen and spending the night, he notices odd behavior at the small church across the street. Investigating, he discovers that the church's soup kitchen is a front: inside, the loud "choir practice" is a recording, scientific apparatus fills a back room, and cardboard boxes are stacked everywhere, including some in a secret compartment that he stumbles across. That night, the police surround the church, forcing the inhabitants to flee. The police then turn on the shantytown, destroying it with bulldozers and beating the blind minister of the church to death. Nada returns to the site the next day and investigates the church again, which has been emptied. He takes one of the boxes from the secret compartment and opens it in an alleyway, finding it full of sunglasses. He keeps one pair and leaves the rest in a garbage can. When Nada later dons the glasses for the first time, the world appears in shades of grey, with significant differences. He notices that a billboard now simply displays the word "Obey"; without them it advertises that Control Data Corporation is "creating a transparent computing environment." Another billboard (normally displaying "Come to the Caribbean" written above a lovely woman lying on a beach) now displays the text "Marry and Reproduce." He also sees that paper money bears the words "This is your God." All printed matter around him contains subliminal advertising. Additionally, he soon discovers that many people are actually aliens, who are human-looking except for skull-like faces. When the aliens realize he can see them for what they truly are, the police suddenly arrive. Nada escapes and steals a police shotgun; while evading the police, he accidentally stumbles into a local bank filled with aliens. Realizing that the jig is up, he proclaims, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum." A shooting spree ensues and after killing many of them, one of the aliens sees him and disappears after twisting a dial on his wristwatch. Fleeing the bank, he forces a woman (Meg Foster) at gunpoint to take him to her house in the Hollywood Hills. Taking off the glasses to rest, he remarks "wearin' these glasses makes you high, but, oh, you come down hard." Holly (the woman) tricks Nada and pushes him through her window, nearly killing him. He leaves behind his pair of sunglasses, however. After recovering, Nada returns to the construction site to talk over with Frank what he discovered. Seeing Nada as a wanted man for the shooting spree, Frank is initially uninterested in his story. The two engage in a long fight as Nada attempts to convince and then force Frank to put on the sunglasses. When Frank finally puts on the glasses, he sees the aliens around him as well. Frank joins Nada as they get in contact with the group from the church. They learn that a meeting is being held at a local community center later that evening. The community group listens to a seminar in the background introducing radical ideas. For example, the aliens are blamed for carbon dioxide and methane emissions – "They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere" – and quickly using up the planet's resources. Holly returns, claiming to now believe Nada, and delivers some information to the rebels. At the meeting, they learn that the aliens' primary method of control is a signal being sent out on television, which is why the general public cannot see the aliens for what they are. An unknown but brilliant inventor has created a lens called the Hofmann lens. The lens shows the world as it really is. The sunglasses, which are also available as contact lenses, interfere with the aliens' hypnotic signal. The meeting is raided by the police, who shoot to kill. Nada and Frank escape with the help of one of the wrist devices. They find themselves in a network of underground passages that link hidden parts of the alien society including a port for space travel. Through the passages they find the aliens are throwing a party for their human collaborators. Further passages lead to the basement of a local TV station, Cable 54, and the source of the aliens' signal. Holly, who works at the station, is found by Frank and Nada and they take her with them to the roof. Nada runs up to the roof expecting that Holly and Frank are behind him. Holly pulls out a gun, presses it against Frank's temple, and kills Frank. Through the special lenses Nada notices the broadcasting antenna. Holly gets to the roof, then takes aim at Nada. Nada uses a hidden sleeve pistol and kills Holly. Nada then turns his attention back to the broadcasting antenna. Nada is shot and fatally wounded by the aliens, but manages to destroy the broadcasting antenna in the process. As a last dying act, Nada gives the aliens the finger. With the signal now destroyed, people around L.A. are surprised to discover aliens in their midst – seeing them on TV, chatting with them at the bar, meeting with them at the office, and even having sex with them.

The film opened on November, 6th 1988 and grossed $4,827,000. It had a total domestic gross of $13,008,928 on an estimated $3-4 million budget. Carpenter is on record as attributing the film's initial commercial failure to result from an audience "those who go to the movies in vast numbers these days don't want to be enlightened". Since that is what the entire film was about, I could see how he might reach that conclusion. I just don't think a lot of people really got the jist of it through watching the trailer and, therefore, didn't go see it. Honestly, it was one of my favorite Carpenter films. Being a huge wrestling fan, the fact that Rowdy Roddy Piper starred is what got me wanting to see it. I was surprised just how good it was though. The acting was great and Piper was given some funny one liners, especially the bubble gum line. Even with the story being political in nature and containing a lot of euphemisms about the government, the working of aliens into the plot was both brilliant and entertaining. I liked the fact that to see "the truth", you had to wear a special pair of sun glasses. The scary part is that one could comapre the film to the way our country and many others is heading now. Economic decline and government takeovers are on the rise with no end in sight, big brother owns our health care now. Anyway, this movie really deserves a chance and if you haven't seen it in a while, rewatch it and you may see They Live in a new light.

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