A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
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They Live is a classic sci-fi film from the 80’s. It is the perfect example of a cult film, even more than that it is a perfect example of film making.
Why? Because the film knows what it is, it doesn’t try to be more than what it is. And it uses its stars, its resources and its limited budget to perfection to create a very good movie. This is something that many big budget sci-fi spectaculars can learn from because too often they try to overreach and became something they are not.
They Live, based upon the 1963 short story “Eight O’clock in the Morning,” by Ray Nelson and a story from the Alien Encounters comic book, takes more of a literary approach, than it does a typical Hollywood approach, which may be dictated more by its low-budget than anything else.
They live was directed by John Carpenter, who also wrote the screenplay under the name Frank Armitage. It stars legendary pro wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper (in easily the best film of his acting career) as John Nada and Keith David as Frank Armitage. Meg Foster co-stars as Holly.
Instead of some grand perfect hero coming in to save the day and defeat the big bad aliens, it is a simple man, John Nada – a homeless laborer who wanders from place to place looking for work and who gets caught up in a conspiracy far great than himself.
And instead of doomsday weapon using aliens destroying cities, it is aliens that have taken over in a rather mundane and non-violent way – through stealth, subterfuge and subliminal messages. The aliens are the ruling elite controlling human affairs.
John Nada, quite by accident, discovers the alien after putting on a pair of unique sunglasses with lenses that allows the wearer to see through the subliminal messages and to see the aliens for what they are: ghoulish looking creatures.
Convincing anyone to believe him is not easy and leads to a fight with the only person he thinks he can trust, Frank Armitage. The fight ends with Nada forcing Armitage to put on the sunglasses and see the truth for himself.
Nada and Armitage take it upon themselves to revel the truth to humanity – not knowing who, if anyone, they can trust.
This one is a classic in a completely different sense. It feels like a good novel with strong characters, heroes who don’t even like each other, a threat very few knew existed and a simple man who has to rise up to extraordinary heights to try and save the human race.