(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a creation myth, like maybe a sci-fi explanation for the way things are.)
When Earth and its people were young,
From out of the cosmos far-flung,
An alien race
With a butt-ugly face
Found humans worth living among.
They hid their exterior well
To blend in, so no one could tell,
And here they resided
Until they decided
Mankind didn’t raise enough hell.
Whenever they noticed a sign
Of man’s selfishness in decline,
They swayed and brainwashed
And summarily squashed
Good will by their evil design.
On magazines, screens, world affairs,
We see messages unawares.
What we do, they direct,
And as you may suspect,
The Internet’s probably theirs.
That’s how the world got to this place,
So high on hate, lacking in grace.
Although I can’t prove it,
You cannot disprove it,
So who is the real mental case?
MPAA rating: R (mainly for language and brief nudity)
John Carpenter seemed to direct films designed to be cult classics, films that it’s hard to call good cinema on the surface but which end up finding admirers anyway. Escape from New York and Starman are just two favorites that strike a unique balance between sci-fi depth and imaginative cheese, and They Live fits right into that mold. The film centers on a drifter known as John Nada (famed wrestler Roddy Piper), whose discovery of a secret resistance movement and some special sunglasses reveals an alien mind-controlling conspiracy that can only be taken out by a shotgun and a classic one-liner.
As is typical with the other Carpenter films I’ve seen, it takes a while for the story to get going, as Nada meets a fellow construction worker (Keith David) and slowly notes a few nearby oddities at a church. Piper isn’t exactly a world-class actor either, so the only reason to sit through the beginning is for the promise of action to come. When it does, though, it’s pretty darn fun as Nada goes from gawking at a black-and-white world decorated with words like “Conform” and “Consume” to blasting every skull-faced alien in sight. The most famous sequence has to be the five-minute-plus smackdown between Piper and David over convincing the latter to wear the sunglasses, a fist fight that becomes laughable simply by how many times they both get up to keep on slugging each other.
I’ll admit that, after the slow start, They Live is very watchable, but it does seem weak in several areas, and not just the so-so acting or occasionally fake effects. There’s a pointed critique of commercialism at its core, summed up by the invisible message “THIS IS YOUR GOD” printed on all dollar bills, and the film points fingers at the elite as collaborators with the alien overlords. Yet the satire doesn’t seem to develop far enough to have much depth beyond the obvious hidden words, and it’s never clear exactly why the aliens are doing this or what they get out of keeping mankind petty. It’s like the beginning of a great idea that’s only half-fulfilled. Even so, Carpenter’s cult classics don’t always lend themselves to the same kind of criticism as mainstream films, and the final scene of this one sort of encapsulates what it is: weird, a bit indecent, strangely funny, and keen on eliciting a reaction.
Best line: (Nada) “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a**… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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