You can argue that They Live: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory) would have been a perfect Halloween week release. And you’d be right, of course. John Carpenter’s skewed invasion movie is witty and weird and has the most extreme knock-down, drag-out fistfight ever.
But I have to say, it’s weirdly even more perfect as an election-day release. Because really, who are these economic invaders from outer space but… Mitt Romney and the 1%.
Before I get inundated with hate-mail from conservative-leaning readers, let me make clear that, although Romney was nowhere in John Carpenter’s mind back in 1988 when the film was released, the politics were always pointed in his direction. The story is science fiction but Carpenter was driven by the inequities in society where the rich were getting richer, the middle class was disappearing, and the economic game was rigged by those with money and power. It was timely then and looks even more prescient now.
Roddy Piper’s working class hero John Nada, a man with no politics and a deep-seeded belief in the tenets of hard work and essential fairness, becomes a two-fisted activist when the veil is lifted (thanks to a pair of high-tech x-ray glasses). Piper is a brawny, broad presence, not much of an actor but spirited and likable, and Keith David is marvelous as his reluctant partner in rebellion, providing a moral grounding to Piper’s B-movie activism when the lie is revealed. Earth has become a third world colony for interstellar “free enterprisers” who preach the gospel of unregulated capitalism and the promise of advancement through hard work and perseverance while insidiously sabotaging all human efforts to get ahead. Their main took for control: subliminal messages, media control, and consumerist greed.
And two-fisted is the operative term here, as confirmed in the entertainingly interminable knock-down, drag-out alley brawl between Piper and Keith David. This is a classic example of genre filmmaking with a political punch, albeit in broad, sloganeering terms. “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m fresh out of bubblegum,” shouts Nada in blue-collar guerilla mode when he steps into a bank and starts blasting the skull-faced aliens. It’s a ridiculous line and, weirdly, has become something of a pop culture slogan among a certain breed of genre geek.