Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
They Live is a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter, who also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym "Frank Armitage". The movie was based on the short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" by Ray Nelson.
The story is both science fiction and black comedy, dealing satirically with the declining economy and the culture of greed and conspicuous consumption associated with the 1980s. It posits a world in which some of the "haves" - the monied elite or the yuppies - are in fact space aliens seeking to oppress the "have nots" - poverty-stricken Earthlings - through subliminal advertising in the mass media.
The film stars former wrestling professional Roddy Piper as a homeless laborer who falls in with a group of shantytown rebels who have invented special dark glasses that enable the wearer to see past the facade the aliens have constructed to prevent their detection. One of the film's more memorable scenes occurs when Piper's character dons the glasses for the first time, and notices that a billboard featuring a smiling model now simply blares the word "OBEY".
With its narrative conceit of the world being an illusion behind which a darker reality exists, They Live can be said to presage The Matrix and its sequels - though Carpenter's film does not overtly indulge in philosophy. Interestingly, a similar premise was featured in an episode of the 1950s television show Lights Out titled "The Martian Eyes", in which Burgess Meredith plays a man whose sunglasses allow him to see Martians who have disguised themselves as Earthmen.
As with many of Carpenter's excursions into genre filmmaking, They Live was critically panned upon its release and fared poorly at the box office, only to develop a more favorable reputation in later years on home video. A special edition DVD was released in 2003.
- The memorable and oft-quoted line, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum," was ad-libbed by Piper.
- They Live contains the single longest fistfight in all cinema, an alleyway brawl between Piper and Keith David that lasts over six minutes onscreen and features wrestling suplexes. In 2001, the creators of South Park parodied the scene in the episode "Cripple Fight," which contains an alley brawl between two handicapped children that copies much of the dialogue and fight choreography of the scene in They Live.
- They Live page at www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com
- Review at scifilm.org
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