Last December, I made a new friend through an old friend. As we were talking, he mentioned he worked for Shout! Factory. I replied, “As in Shout! Factory that is putting out awesome classic films and TV shows onto DVD and BluRay???”
And so, over beer and wings, forged a new relationship. One where I would ask him to send me awesome Blu-Rays to review, and then a few days later, they would show up at my door.
First up? One of my all time favorites, They Live. Just like most of my adolescent and formative years of enjoying genre films, my older brother took me to see this film back in 1988. Having an older brother that can and is willing to get you into R-Rated movies is one of life’s true miracles.
I will preface this entire review by saying that John Carpenter is one of the greatest cinematic storytellers ever.
I blow off the notion that he is somehow a “B” movie director. In fact, I find it offensive. That notion is far from the truth. While his movies may be dressed up in “B” style genre, his stories and characters are so much smarter than the category his films are placed in. His storytelling is lean, without unnecessary flourishes. His heroes are smart and resourceful. Look at Laurie Strode and R.J. MacReady – everyday people, usually outsiders, forced into a situation that requires first time heroism. Even Snake Plissken with his eye patch, gruff voice and “F the world attitude”, is a caring human being, he has many sides. And to that end, when Carpenter’s heroes make mistakes, they are human ones not dumb ones. And they almost always question authority, something Carpenter admits he does himself. This theme is often at the core of his films.
Which brings us to John Nada, played by Roddy Piper. Working class drifter, living on the streets trying to earn a dollar, who discovers the world he knows – the world he has had “patience with” – is all a lie. He makes a friend in Keith David (most recently seen in Cloud Atlas) and the two are hurled into a conspiracy adventure that reveals the true nature of human greed. Ironically enough, They Live, while certainly finding its underlying context in the 80s Reagan era, is almost MORE accurate now then it was in 1988.
I’m not going to get into great detail with the plot. So for long time fans OR first time viewers, this Blu-Ray is the version you’ll want to own.
The disc SHINES with extras. There are a bunch of new interviews and I watched them all. The Carpenter interview was great, as usual. He’s just a wealth of fascinating information and sharp wit. There are also interviews with Keith David and Meg Foster that were both really interesting. Jeff Imada (the stunt coordinator), Alan Howarth (composer) and Gary Kibbe (D.P) get some interview screen time discussing their experience. Of course, EVERYONE talks about the big brawl between Piper and David, and it’s pretty funny stuff.
The audio commentary is probably from an older DVD. It has Carpenter and Piper together and they talk about not having seen the film since it came out…12 years ago. So, that puts the commentary around the year 2000. They also talk about what Randy Savage has been up to lately, so….
It was fun to hear the two guys talk about their experience, but I felt that Roddy Piper was interrupting a lot of great information Carpenter was trying to give. I find that Carpenter’s commentaries have been some of the best film school, so Piper got in the way of that for me. Still, they clearly were enjoying catching up and reminiscing about making the film, with some fun insights into the production.
One other thing I thought was SUPER cool was an extra that featured the glossy TV spots that were IN the film. You get glimpses of them during the movie as they play on TVs in the backgrouns, but the fellow who created them was able to cobble together the original footage and provide it for the Blu Ray. It was really neat. And really nerdy.
The disc also had the original EPK from 1988, which incidentally was produced by the same guy who made the commercials that played in the film. I bet that was a fun gig. Maybe I should get an interview with him?
Crisp as the bills that read “This Is Your God”. And for me, that’s the ONLY tiny issue I had with the disc. Which might be odd because that’s sort of the point of these special editions, right?
It’s amazing to see what the negative can produce, but I feel like the charm of the grainy versions I viewed for so many years adds to its 80s feel. Maybe I’m being nostalgic. However, I’ve read this same criticism about transfers of older films before. Even George Clooney and I once discussed how Blu Ray makes the films look TOO good, thereby taking away the vibe of the era the film was produced in. Yes, you read that right, I really discussed it with George Clooney.
However, it does look incredible and shouldn’t sway anyone from buying the disc. Back in the 80s, the film stock scientists were trying to eliminate the grain that was so prevalent in the films of the 70s. So, it was in fact a choice of the time. I believe if the film was remade today, it would probably end up looking more like End Of Watch.
Overall, if you are a Carpenter fan or a sci-fi fan or an 80s nostalgist, this Blu Ray is something you’ll want in your collection. The film still holds up and the wonderful effort put into making this Blu Ray is clearly the work of an enthusiast of all of the above departments.
So cough up a bit of these…