They Live is a film that gets better with age. There is a sense of truth to it- not that aliens really are secretly in control of the world and are subjugating the poor, but rather that certain classes and groups of humanity can behave like aliens against their own. The class and power divide is as valid now as it was when the film was made, and its portrayal of the detached political elite and the power of television as true as it ever was.
In this sense, it also seems one of John Carpenter’s most sophisticated and intelligent films, and will, I suspect, have a greater shelf-life than some of his ‘bigger’ hits. Whenever I re-watch the film it remains as horrifying and thought-provoking as ever and its a lovely demonstration of Carpenter’s craft- thriving, as he always seems to, under a tight budget and shooting schedule. I don’t think big-budget studio films really suited him, and its such a shame he retired from the business having become so tired of it. They Live suggests that he might have had some great low-budget/high-concept anti-establishment films in him and its our loss that he didn’t make them.
This 4K UHD release of one of Carpenter’s later, so-called lesser, films (when he dabbled back in the low budget arena with films like Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness after the big-time left him behind), is something of a surprise and is perhaps a measure of how popular his films are. After all, we haven’t even seen a release for James Cameron’s The Abyss on Blu-ray, let alone 4K UHD, and here’s Carpenter getting his due with 4K releases of They Live, The Fog, and next month Prince of Darkness and Escape From New York. On the demonstration of They Live, the other releases may be cause for some excitement (particularly EFNY, which has recently not fared well on home video) because They Live looks terrific. Detail is excellent, colours balanced and really, any issues are likely down to the original photography, such as the night footage still having some black crush. I doubt this film has ever looked this good before and for a fan its a great treat. I haven’t watched any of the extras yet but one particular surprise is that the soundtrack bundled in the collector’s edition is actually the extended ‘full’ soundtrack issued as a limited CD some years ago. Being such a fan of the film this boon is somewhat wasted on me, as I own both versions of the soundtrack already- I remember ordering the original album on import via mail-order way back in the pre-internet days and getting such a thrill when it eventually turned up. I kinda miss those days. But some fans will get a kick out of that CD, I’m sure. They Live has a great Carpenter score, one of my favourites.
Anyway, They Live is one of the greats and its a real treat to see it get this 4K UHD treatment. The only bad news is that it likely paves the way for all the rest, and having bought so many on DVD and Blu-ray before, the prospect of another set of purchases is a little depressing- at least this should be the last double/triple dip of the Carpenter catalogue. Besides, in this case, I only had They Live on VHS and DVD prior, we didn’t get a Blu-ray over here… so win-win! But wait, this box contains both 4K UHD and Blu-ray so they got me anyway. Dang it, they get you everytime… like I said, there is a truth to this film, you can’t beat the system….