Monday, February 20, 2017

Flashback Review: THEY LIVE (1988)

Original Theatrical Poster
One of John Carpenter's most popular and fondly remembered cult films, They Live (1988) is a film that, upon revisiting, doesn't hold up to close scrutiny. As a die-hard fan of the master filmmaker, I revisit this film every couple of years, hoping to find something that would make me change my mind about it. That's not to say this is a bad, or even mediocre, movie. Not at all. Carpenter is incapable of making an unwatchable movie, as his voice/style always shines through, but They Live is truly one of his lesser works.

The concepts presented here, including staunch criticism of uber-capitalism and consumerism, are admirable and still hold up to this day. It is the execution that's less than stellar, as this is Carpenter at his most uneven, with the film starting out as a focused criticism of Reaganomics and the plight of the working class during the reign of conservative governments, and then, once the protagonist, an immensely likable Roddy Piper as Nada, puts on the "special sunglasses" and discovers the true shape of things, the film shifts tones and become a somewhat cheesy and technically conventional thriller, with less and less of Carpenter's storytelling prowess shining through.

It might be that Carpenter got so caught up in the politics and conceptual ambitions of the story that he somehow mishandled or let drop other aspects needed to make this a complete success. The performances, with the exception of Piper, are lacking, with the always reliable Keith David and Meg Foster delivering performances that are surprisingly unpolished. As for the film's technical merits, something that Carpenter always excels at in his pictures, they are below standard, as the film lacks Carpenter's usual visual panache, while the effects are, for the most part, not very impressive. Even the score by Carpenter and his associate Alan Howarth is unmemorable.

They Live also seems to have been a turning point for Carpenter, as he took a four year break after the film's release, returning in 1992 with the problematic studio picture Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). In the years since, Carpenter has arguably produced some good work (1994's In The Mouth of Madness, and 1998's Vampires, for example), but he seems to have lost some of his passion after They Live.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

No comments:

Post a Comment