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          They influence our decisions without us knowing it. They numb our senses without us feeling it. They control our lives without us realizing it. They Live.
          Aliens are systematically gaining control of the earth by masquerading as humans and lulling the public into submission. Humanity's last chance lies with a lone drifter who stumbles upon a harrowing discovery - a unique pair of sunglasses that reveal the terrifying and deadly truth.

"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum."
                - Nada

          The idea that aliens control our world and secretly pull the strings on which we all dance is nothing new, nor is it particularly unusual. But in They Live, John Carpenter turns it into the almost-ultimate word in satires of American culture at the end of the twentieth century. It would be the ultimate, in fact, if Paul Verhoeven had not beaten him to the punch in the previous year with RoboCop. Both films depict an America that is in the terminal stages of its addiction to capitalism, although they also approach the material from completely different tacks. While RoboCop uses a cog in the increasingly totalitarian wheel to depict a system and a world gone mad, They Live instead tells the tale from the perspective of a total outsider. It is not a coincidence that our central protagonist's name translates into English as "nothing". He is a full representation of the ever-growing underclass that the wheel rolls over. Here, John Carpenter's fiendish imagination fleshes out a tale of who really rules in a world where the President is basically an actor.
          Nada, played with a surprising restraint by Roddy Piper, starts the story as exactly what his name implies. He is nothing, a mere cog in the system that is leaving him without a place to work. As he talks his way into a job on a construction site, one of his new co-workers shows him a place to stay and get food. Coincidentally, it happens to be near a church where some strange goings-on can be observed. Meanwhile, the television set in the nearby outdoor group home is acting up, breaking the program every so often to present a speech that, in fragmentary form, makes little sense. Most of the residents dismiss it as just being the work of a crank, but Nada's curiosity grows until he sneaks into the aforementioned church and discovers that the broadcasts are coming from there. Not long after, the police raid the church, and the people hacking the television signal are scattered to the four winds. But Nada manages to investigate what the police left behind.

          The moment when Nada opens the box and finds nothing but sunglasses is puzzling, but nothing can prepare one for what soon follows. Putting them on, he discovers that what the man on the hacked television signal has been saying is true. Signs depicting models suddenly bear messages saying "MARRY AND REPRODUCE", and it gets even more puzzling from there. It is not until a rich-looking businessman comes to buy a newspaper that the shocking truth becomes fully evident. How John Carpenter so seamlessly pulled off the contrasts between the world we see and that monochrome "real" world would make for an amazing audio commentary in itself. By most commercial standards, the film was a roaring success, earning over three times its production budget at the box office. Matter of fact, it only cost two-thirds what it cost to make Escape From New York. Carpenter must have kept in practice in the years between these two films, as They Live looks more like it cost fourteen million.
          Chris Carter must have really liked both The Thing and They Live, as almost all of The X-Files' material is more or less directly lifted from those two films. This, however, is an example of the aliens secretly controlling the world idea done the right way. Knowing that the idea alone is too preposterous for the audience to accept, Carpenter surrounds it with details of the workings of their society within a society. In less time than it takes Carter and company to meander around a single X-Files episode, Carpenter creates a living, breathing alien civilisation. He expertly suspends reality in graduating steps. It is not until the second act that we get the idea that all is not what it seems, and then it is only for brief flashes. Our hero reacts in much the same manner as any of us would. First by having doubts about his sanity, then by hedonistically exploiting the situation. It is not until the final act that our heroes get it into their heads to do something about it. By this time, the monochrome effects showing the aliens in their true form are minimised. It has the pleasant side effect of emphasising that the heroes now see clearly.

          If there is a weakness in They Live, it may be that the pacing is off. Scenes that establish the problem and its solution go by in less than a minute at times, but a brawl between the two main characters takes more than five minutes. There also seems to be a sense that the resistance network shown consists of only one cell somewhere in America. Perhaps this was the effect that Carpenter wanted, but it does throw the viewer out of the film at times. Roddy Piper is not the best actor, but this part literally has his name all over it. His dialogue in the bank robbery could only have come out of his mouth. This soon gave rise to the Wrestler Rule: when you want a character to sound boisterous nine out of ten times, cast a former professional wrestler. Keith David does not let the side for "real" actors down, either. His portrayal of slowly becoming more of a believer is what keeps the viewer in the reality of the film during much of its latter half.

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          - The line "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum." was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper. According to director John Carpenter, Piper had taken the line from a list of ideas he had for his pro wrestling interviews.

          - The credited writer "Frank Armitage" is a reference to William Gibson's book "Neuromancer."

          - The two critics speaking against violence on film criticize director John Carpenter.

          - Writer "Frank Armitage" is actually director John Carpenter.

          - The fight between Nada (Roddy Piper) and Frank (Keith David) was only supposed to last 20 seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the 5 minute and 20 second scene intact.

          - The communicators that the guards use are the P.K.E. meters from Ghost Busters.

          - Roddy Piper's character never gives his name nor is he referred to by name throughout the entire movie. He is simply referred to as "Nada" in the credits, which means "nothing" in Spanish.

          - There is a thinly veiled jab at "Siskel & Ebert & the Movies", with both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as aliens. "Siskel" is denouncing George A. Romero and John Carpenter as too violent. (In fact, Siskel had written a scathing review of Romero's Night of the Living Dead.)

          - The only character given a first and last name is Holly Thompson.

          - John Carpenter wanted a truly rugged individual to play Nada. He cast wrestler Roddy Piper in lead role after seeing him in Wrestlemania III. Carpenter remembered Keith David's performance in The Thing and wrote the role of Frank specifically for the actor.

          - When Frank angrily asks Nada how many people he had killed, Nada replies that they weren't people. The only human character killed by Nada is Holly Thompson.




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