For a long while, UK genre fans had one up on U.S. fans when it came to the subject of John Carpenter’s They Live. British fans had access to a special edition DVD with a director’s commentary while stateside fans had to make do with a standard, extras-free catalog title release. However, Scream Factory has turned the tide in favor of U.S. fans with their new blu-ray reissue of They Live. Not only does it have that commentary from the U.K. DVD, it also boasts a sharp new transfer and a host of additional new extras.
First things first: this is another strong high-definition transfer from Scream Factory. The anamorphic presentation maintains the beautiful ‘scope photography by Gary Kibbe with vivid color (not to mention the crisp black-and-white on the “sunglasses P.O.V.” bits) and a strong, film-like texture. The sonic component of this transfer is similarly impressive, offering both the original 2.0 stereo mix and a new 5.1 remix. The latter option was used for this review and it does a nice job of adding depth, particularly during the action scenes. Fans of the John Carpenter/Alan Howarth score will be happy to notice it has impressive presence in this remix, particularly in the bass department.
As noted above, this disc is also fully loaded in the special features department. First up is the commentary track, which pairs Carpenter with star Roddy Piper. Carpenter has a rep for doing quality commentary tracks, particularly when he has a good participant to bounce off of, and that is definitely the case here. Carpenter discusses how the Reagan era inspired his script and also how his friendship with Piper not only led him to cast Piper as John Nada but also to tailor the role to fit Piper’s real-life experiences.
Piper adds plentiful good cheer to the track – he’s very quick with a laugh – but more importantly discusses the challenges of his first real acting gig, including the famous fist-fight scene, and also how his work in this film impacted his career as a wrestler. Those used to his wrestling persona might be surprised to discover how charmingly humble and appreciative he is here. He and Carpenter clearly have great respect for each other and their cameraderie makes the track an easy, down-to-earth listen. The end result deserves its cult rep amongst genre fans as a strong example of a cult movie commentary track.
This track is complemented effectively by a quartet of new featurettes. “Independent Thought” is a new interview with Carpenter in which he discusses how the film came to be and offers a fresh set of recollections about the cast and crew. He’s careful to add new insights that don’t overlap with the material on the commentary track, a gesture that fans will appreciate (and his response to a question about whether he had to shorten the film’s big fist-fight is priceless). “Woman Of Mystery” is a brief but eventful chat with Meg Foster, who discusses her brief but important role in this film and fondly reflects on working with Carpenter and Piper. She also tells a fun story about the film’s cult following.
Fans of the film’s cast will be delighted with a new interview with Keith David. It boasts a unique hook: he discusses both of the films he did with Carpenter, starting with The Thing before moving on to They Live. David is quite eloquent as he holds forth on a number of topics, including how Carpenter was instrumental in his screen acting career, the challenges of shifting from stage acting to film acting and the joys of choreographing fights for the camera.
The crew also gets their due with “Watch Look Listen,” which includes interviews with cinematographer Kibbe, stunt coordinator Jeff Imada and co-composer Howarth. All offer fascinating nuts and bolts info on how the film achieved its visual and sonic effects, including that famous fist fight. All three talk about Carpenter with great fondness and offer fascinating technical insights into the film.
The featurettes and commentary are complimented nicely by an impressive array of promotional material. Both t.v. spots and a theatrical trailer for the film are included: it’s interesting to note how well the short t.v. spots sell the film’s complex story concepts. There is also an animated still gallery and a vintage EPK that is more interesting than the usual studio-funded puff piece. The director of the EPK, Larry Sulkis, also shot the commercial footage used on t.v. broadcasts in the film and a reel of that is included here for the viewer’s amusement (one bit involving a mock-music video is particularly hilarious).
In short, Scream Factory continues to impress with their work here. They Live looks and sounds great and its value is doubled by its array of genuinely informative supplements. It’s the best way to see this cult classic on home video – and if you’re a fan, you should rush to pick this edition up.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of They Live, click here.