Monday, October 21, 2013
Based on the short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson, They Live is the story about a nameless drifter who discovers through sunglasses that aliens are roaming around Earth controlling the social aspects of humanity as he and a friend tries to stop them. Written for the screen and directed by John Carpenter, the film is an exploration into a world where aliens had unknowingly taken over as they use subliminal messages and such to control humanity. Starring Roddy Piper, Keith David, and Meg Foster. They Live is a captivating yet witty film from John Carpenter.
Society has run rampant as the wealthy become richer while the poor become poorer as there’s no more middle ground. A nameless drifter known as Nada (Roddy Piper) arrives in Los Angeles looking for work where he notices something is going wrong as he comes across some strange sunglasses where he sees people with deformed faces and subliminal messages all over buildings and such. Realizing that these aliens have discovered their secret, Nada tries to hide as he convinces a man named Frank (Keith David) that something is going forcing the two to stop and kill these aliens before they wipe out humanity. It’s a premise that is pretty simple as John Carpenter creates a story that plays into a world where humanity is unaware that they’re being controlled. Especially as the poor either has to live on the fringes of the world or eventually conform to these expectations.
Under the Frank Armitage pseudonym as the screenwriter, Carpenter creates a story where this drifter tries to deal with these strange things he’s seeing through these sunglasses. Even as he notices early on about some strange things happening at a church across the street from where he, Frank, and other poor people were living. Nada is a just a man trying to find work and make a honest wage but he couldn’t ignore all of these strange events happening where he realizes how much of a threat he is to these aliens. Much of the first half has little dialogue as it’s all about Nada just trying to comprehend what he’s seeing as the second half has him meeting a TV programmer named Holly (Meg Foster) as he tries to convince her that something is not right.
Carpenter’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the world he’s presenting where many of the scenes shot in color that is set in Los Angeles seems like a world where nothing is happening. Once Nada wears the sunglasses, the direction is far more mystical where it’s all presented in black-and-white where deformed faces are being shown as well as these big subliminal messages like “obey”, “marriage and reproduce”, and other things are shown in big letters. There’s even a flying saucer roaming around the city of Los Angeles to play up that element of sci-fi and suspense as Nada tries to hide from cops and other alien forces as he just kills them.
The direction also has Carpenter using some humor to comment on the situations where Nada always has something funny to say. Even as he kills the aliens with guns and whatever he can find realizing that they die like the humans. There’s also some very intense scenes that occur such as the famous fight scene between Nada and Frank where Nada tries to convince Frank to wear the sunglasses. Carpenter just lets the camera gaze and make the fighting feel as real as it could with very little cuts. It’s all about two men just getting it on and then realize that they’re the ones that will have to stop the aliens as it’s third act has Carpenter blending sci-fi, horror, and suspense into this chilling climax about what these aliens want to do. Overall, Carpenter creates a very exciting and smart film about conformity and social schism in the form of a sci-fi film with aliens.
Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the colorful look of the scenes set in Los Angeles in day and night as well as the black-and-white photography for the scenes of the characters seeing the aliens. Editors Gib Jaffe and Frank E. Jimenez do fantastic work with the editing to play into the film‘s suspense and action as well as using straight yet methodical cuts for the film‘s fight scene. Art directors William J. Durrell Jr. and Daniel A. Lomino, with set decorator Marvin March, do superb work with the set pieces from the home of Holly to the look of the posters and props appear in the locations.
The makeup work of Francisco X. Perez is amazing for the look of the aliens where they‘re seen for what they really are. Sound editor Jeffrey L. Sandler does terrific work with the sound from the use of sound effects as well as the atmosphere in the locations. The film’s music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth is wonderful for its low-key yet brooding score with its mix of electronic music and blues to play into the element of mystery that occurs in the film.
The film’s cast is remarkable as it features some notable small roles from Sy Richardson as a revolutionary, Norman Alden as a construction foreman, Peter Jason as an underground organizer named Gilbert, and George “Buck” Foster as a drifter Nada meets at the shantytown who often complains about the TV being hacked. Meg Foster is terrific as a TV programmer named Holly that Nada meets as she is baffled by Nada’s appearances until she learns about the truth. Keith David is brilliant as Frank as a man just trying to mind his own business and work so he can get money for his family as he later deals with the aliens. Finally, there’s Roddy Piper in a marvelous performance as Nada as a wise-cracking drifter who makes the discoveries about aliens as he decides to fight them off and such while saying some funny things as it’s definitely an iconic performance from Piper.
They Live is a phenomenal film from John Carpenter that features superb performances from Roddy Piper and Keith David. It’s a very smart film that is entertaining but also with some brains where it’s not afraid to make fun of conformity and consumerism as well as bring something that is adventurous. In the end, They Live is a sensational film from John Carpenter.
John Carpenter Films: Dark Star - Assault on Precinct 13 - Halloween - Someone’s Watching Me! - Elvis - The Fog - Escape from New York - The Thing - Christine - Starman - Big Trouble in Little China - Prince of Darkness - Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Body Bags - In the Mouth of Madness - Village of the Damned - Escape from L.A. - Vampires - Ghosts of Mars - The Ward
The Auteurs #60: John Carpenter Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
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