Saturday, May 12, 2012

They Live (1988)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.1).

It's hard to overestimate the weak-but-broad cultural reach of John Carpenter's sci-fi horror/satire about aliens enslaving humans with consumerist subliminal propaganda.  The film is pretty shallow: it's about class strife in the era of Wall Street and Reaganomics, essentially a story about a violent hero getting involved in a Marxist uprising by the oppressed proletariat overthrowing a ruling class of alien conquerors disguised as the human bourgeoisie.  The shallowness makes it accessible, which is the very reason its imagery has been appropriated far and wide, particularly in culture-jamming art and anti-consumerism but also in more surprising places.  Anyway, regarding the film as a film, I feel this is a surprisingly weak Carpenter entry for its era; it followed both The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, both of which were great movies that bespoke a growing talent.  Some of the problem is budget: this film was made on $3 million and it shows.  Sadly, I think some of it is writing as well; there's a reason Carpenter is better known as a director than as a screenwriter.  That said, a "surprisingly weak Carpenter entry" is nothing to sneeze at, supposing it's not Dark Star.  Score: 3 stars out of 4 (includes one bonus star for cultural significance).

Aside: I find it frankly rather concerning that the film is so eager to depersonalize the real-world upper class fictional aliens to the point that kill-on-sight is the correct response.  You can't change the world by decrying your opponents as evil commie mutant traitors and calling for their heads.  You, your allies, and your opponents are all humans (or, in this case, movie aliens with suspiciously human-like drives and emotions), which means your minds are all made of the same inner workings: you and your allies are just as corruptible as your opponents, therefore violent overthrow grants a temporary reprieve at best (viz. Tsarists, Bolsheviks, Stalin).  I won't delve any deeper into that, as it's an essay or two by itself.

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