Since science fiction is about the future, a place we'd all like toget to somehow, be it via lightning-powered machines or by the regularday-by-day kind of time travel, you would think we'd be interested inseeing visions of it that'd be fun to live in.
The key flaw there is stories about the future are by definitionhappening to other people--and there's nothing we like more thanwatching other people suffer. Even better when it's the whole worldgetting ground down by the Great Heavy Boot of Unfunnery, like in1988's They Live
Roddy Piper is an honest man looking for honest work. Right until hestumbles on an alien conspiracy. Hidden from view, controlling us withsubliminal messages, these foreign invaders own everything aroundus--and the only ones who can stop them are Piper and a small group ofrenegades who use special sunglasses to see through their lies.
Most movies would totally drop the ball on a premise like that, butwriter/director John Carpenter pushes it as far as it'll go. OncePiper starts being able to see the secret messages, he sees billboardstelling us to "Obey," "Consume," to "Marry and Reproduce." Money'sprinted with "This Is Your God." Subtle? Like a screaming pinkelephant, but subtlety is not what They Live is about.
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That extends to more than its politics and gonzo media satire. Aboveall else, including a certain immortal line about a lack of bubblegum,They Live is famous for its goliath fight scene.
It's got lots of fights, but I'm talking about the fight. Theone where Piper and Keith David, his buddy from the construction yard,whale hell out of each other in an alley for over five straightminutes. The one with the eye-gouging and hair-pulling and the bodyslams. By the end their faces are so ground-up you could serve thembetween a Big Mac bun. There's no kung fu choreography here, just twohuge dudes punching each other until they fall down. And then falldown again. About ten more times.
All that wild action only comes after Carpenter uses a repetitive butcreepy score and a brooding, dialogue-light first act to build anatmosphere of weirdness and impending chaos. Remember, it's onlyparanoid if it's an unreasonable fear.
They Live is a fine sci-fi action flick that's also a boomingclass-war broadside. Why don't we see more movies like this? If youanswered "Because our alien overlords won't let us," I'll see you inthe obituaries next week.