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Taking a Second Look at John Carpenter's 1988 They Live

Taking a Second Look at John Carpenter's 1988 <I>They Live</I>

Remember how the design and F/X work in Elysium was so much more persuasive than its populist morals?

Medium and message are more congruent in John Carpenter's wonderful 1988 sci-fi agitprop They Live, which cost a thrifty $3 million and, frankly, looks it. The picture stars one Roderick George Toombs — better known to pro-wrestling devotees as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper — as a strapping, backstory-free drifter who boxcars into Los Angeles seeking work.

As with Keanu Reeves in the similar The Matrix, Piper's limited range is a feature, not a bug. (Could Daniel Day-Lewis improve upon Piper's line reading when tasked to tell a well-dressed older woman, "You know, you look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957"?)

Location Info

Map

IFC Center

323 Sixth Ave.
New York, NY 10014

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Greenwich Village

Details

They Live
Directed by John Carpenter
Opens December 6, IFC Center



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A homeless camp that welcomes him in turns out to be a base for the resistance against — oh, hey, didn't you know? — Earth's capitalist alien occupiers, revealed when you wear the right sunglasses as bulbous-eyed ghouls, like live-action Matt Groening drawings.

These Wayfarers block "the signal" that hides the aliens' appearance and reveal the sans-serif orders encoded on every billboard and magazine cover: "OBEY"; "MARRY AND REPRODUCE."

There's something winning about the fairy-tale simplicity of Carpenter's allegory — compared to this, RoboCop is Candide. Its action scenes are unmemorable, with the exception of a gonzo brawl between Piper and Keith David; They Live is, to scramble its most famous line, better at chewing bubblegum than kicking ass.

 
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4 comments
JoeD
JoeD

Who's the bougie, hipster, douchebag that wrote this article? As a member of the media you're one of them. 

Robert Patterson
Robert Patterson

Jenny Holzer and Shepard Fairey should attend and then give a bit of career gratitude.

Willem Powell
Willem Powell

Dig, grab your shades, it's time to chew bubble-gum & kick ass.

 

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