It was the release of this movie alone which forced me to buy a DVD player. Originally slated to be released in December 97 but then pushed back into March of the next year, I waited anxiously for this thing and I even cut class early the day it was released so I could be there the moment video store opened! I gladly plunked down the full retail price of $29 bucks and when I rushed home and watched it I knew that it was worthy every penny. It still is. Essentially the first full 2.35:1 presentation the film has ever had on video that I know of (the Japanese release supposedly crops the frame to around 2:1), The new 16:9 master on this disc is vibrant, color, and made me see film in a totally new light. I noticed a few brief flashes at the bottom edge of the screen, which are probably due to a slight undermatting of the transfer that allowed the splice-marks to appear. The biggest line which I noticed was right during the dip to white, right between the end of the police destruction of the mission and the aftermath. But these flaws are incredibly small, may only be limited to my personal disc and probably won't be noticed by anyone who doesn't take the dvd and then fanatically play it over and over for about three days constantly. The big disappointment of this release is that it features no extras features; there's the widescreen feature, a DD 2.0 stereo soundtrack and that's it. The menu system, an incredibly spare type that Image usually favored in it's early DVD endeavors, is simply just a few screens worth of chapters, no configurations page or anything else, but really there's nothing to configure on this bare-bones disc so it really doesn't matter. One neat feature of the menu is that as you select a chapter a funny one-word slogan similar to the type in the film is displayed over the chapter thumbnail.

This release was one of the early discs which were licensed to Image Entertainment by Universal and then given a no-features, overpriced release. Image also released Prince of Darkness in a similar edition. The John Carpenter releases were lucky however in the aspect that both of them sported brand-new 16:9 transfers which were supposedly supervised by Carpenter; most of the early Image DVDs featured old, antiquated and sometimes very cropped transfers of their films. When Image recently began nearing the end of their licensing period for the Universal releases they repriced their remaining stock to $10 and dumped them onto the market, making me feeling foolish about being ripped off by paying full retail, but now that they've all sold out it's now "out of print" and hence demanding outlandish prices, thus making me feel happy that I bought the dvd while it was still affordable and available. So life is fun.

1987, 92 Min. / Image Ent. / NSTC SS-SL DVD
2.35:1 (16:9) /DD 2.0 Stereo Surround / MSRP $29.95


John Carpenter's body of work ranks up there as one of the most critically-assessed of any modern American director. The reasons are many and varied, but most likely it's simply because Carpenter himself has never seemed to refuse the hundreds of dumb interviews which come before him each year and there's a wealth of material on the man which making writing about him easier for lazy people. Film Comment recently called Carpenter "an analog man living in a digital world," which is rather humorous since it was Carpenter himself who blazed the trail for electronic soundtracks in feature film. But the critics aren't always necessarily skewed or off-base, since Carpenter is remains probably the closest thing we have to an auteur and all of his films possess a unique brand of satire. They Live is a perfect example of his specialized type of filmmaking.

John Nada ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper) is a laid-off factory worker who wanders through the often-surrealistic urban landscape of downtown Los Angeles as the title credits roll by. John quickly gets a small job working at a construction site and one of his fellow workers (Keith David) shows him a nice soup kitchen and homeless shelter where he can crash. Things are looking up, but suddenly reality crashes down; the shelter along with a nearby church is in actuality a front for a resistance movement who seek to bring down a breed of inter-galactic goons who have taken over the world by subliminally-imprisoning most people and paying off the rest. The only way you can see the aliens in all their hideous glory is to try on a pair of special sunglasses which break through the hypnotic signal and show the world as it really is: a black and white world full of odd slogans and instructions. John teams together with remnants of the human resistance in order to find the source of the mind-controlling signal and destroy it, but along the way he manages to shoot some ETs, get in a wrastlin' match or two and spout some of the eeriest one-liners ever.

The 50's scifi concept of invisible aliens mesh perfectly with the grand cinematic intentions of John Carpenter, who even manages to inject a bit of old-fashioned western flavor. Even though the 80's saw the release Carpenter masterpieces like The Thing and Escape from New York, They Live remains an entertaining, thoughtful piece of action/sci-fi.





























































1988, 93 Min. / Momentum / PAL Reg. 2 DVD / 2.35:1 (16:9) / DD 2.0 / 15.99


Kinowelt's German DVD Special Edition of They Live was quite an excellent and hard-to-find release, and now U.K.'s Momentum have ported the entirety of Kinowelt's content (including the Kinowelt logo and bilingual menus) onto a nicely-priced U.K. version which should be easier to find. The 16:9 PAL video transfer exhibits the same sterling qualities as Image's DVD with the only difference being a slightly smoother, darker appearance on the Kinowelt transfer. Audio remains the same 2.0 stereo mix, a sad state of affairs for a film which could benefit from an intensive 5.1 overhaul. The main special feature of interest on Kinowelt's disc is an audio commentary from Carpenter and Star Roddy Piper which definitely lives up to fan's expectations as the director and star both engage in a lively discussion of the film and it's importance in Piper's acting career, with Piper holding nothing back in his thoughts on Vince McMahon and the current state of wrestling. The disc also includes a documentary shot during the production of They Live (this video segment is slightly jumping, possibly suggesting NTSC-to-PAL conversion) which provides some interesting period interviews with the cast and crew as well as glimpses of Carpenter recording the score and some behind-the-scenes footage of the Kieth David/Piper FIght scene. Three additional interviews with Carpenter, Piper and Meg Foster are hidden on the disc as easter eggs (highlight the alien's eyes in the "making of" menu). Despite the absence of the film's superb theatrical trailer (which was also missing from this U.S. DVD), this is one great value for a classic 80's alien invader film.


Momentum PAL Menu

Image NTSC Menu


The Making of They Live


Image NTSC Transfer:


Momentum PAL Transfer:



2005 John Hand. All rights Reserved.