They Live – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review
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Film Title: They Live (1988)
Release Date: 2021
Runtime: 93 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free (4K), Region A (Blu-ray)
Studio: Scream Factory
Audio Formats: Dolby Atmos & DTS-HD MA 5.1 & 2.0
High Dynamic Range: HDR10, Dolby Vision
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Version Reviewed: 4K UHD Blu-ray
Release Date: 1/19/21
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Peter Jason, Raymond St. Jacques
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Full 4K Tech Specs found at the bottom
“They Live” was a 1988 film that was written and directed by John Carpenter. Technically Carpenter wrote the screenplay to the film under a fake name, Frank Armitage, and it was based on a short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” originally written by Ray Nelson. Carpenter is best known for also directing the films “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976), “Halloween” (1978), “The Fog” (1980), “Escape from New York” (1981), “The Thing” (1982), “Christine” (1983), “Starman” (1984), “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986), “Prince of Darkness” (1987), and “Escape from L.A.” (1996).
The story of this film revolves around a protagonist really lacking a name, yet is known as “Nada” in the end credits, played by Roddy Piper. Our protagonist is a drifter, who we first see arrives in Los Angeles by hitching a ride via train. This man is wearing a backpack and appears to just be a man down on his luck. That is the very case, as he’s currently homeless, and is seeking employment. He’s not had much luck at using the government agencies to help find himself any gainful employment so eventually, the protagonist just approaches a foreman at a construction site and asks for a job. He’s lucky and actually manages to find a job, where he also finds himself some help from a co-worker. “Frank” (Keith David) also works at the construction site and can tell by his backpack (with a rolled-up sleeping bag) and such that he’s in need of a place to stay.
Frank takes the protagonist to a bit of what some would call a shantytown or a tent-city in the Los Angeles area. This isn’t as bad as somewhere like Skid Row, as it’s run by a guy named “Gilbert” (Peter Jason) who is working with the nearby church and is able to help as best as possible. Gilbert and the folks at the nearby church are able to actually provide the homeless a place to stay here outdoors in tents with hot meals being served and even television being available in one area. Earlier, when our protagonist had first arrived in town he came across a street preacher (Raymond St. Jacques) that happens to be a part of the nearby church.
The television in the tent-city at some times is interrupted during its broadcasts by a man speaking about these invaders and such, wanting us to conform and obey, calling for us to stand up and realize there’s something out there controlling us and feeding off of us. The messages are constantly interrupted and when they happen the people watching complain of the head aching. One day when this happens our protagonist manages to notice something peculiar about that aforementioned street preacher and the nearby church. Let’s just say there’s more going on here than folks like Frank and the other homeless in the tent-city know about and our protagonist (“John Nada”) knows there is. Eventually, after doing a bit of snooping around, Nada comes across a box of sunglasses. He’s at first upset that it’s all that he found, but then he puts them on and starts to see things for what they really are.
“They Live. We Sleep.”
After putting on those special sunglasses, our protagonist, as mentioned, starts to see things completely different than he ever saw before via the local advertisements on billboards, the signs for stores, magazines, television broadcasts, and the space aliens. Yes, space aliens. And just as he says “figures it’d be something like this.”
He’s had a little bit too much of this at once and he starts to try his best to get answers and doesn’t decide to do any of the suggestions such as “Obey”, “Sleep”, “Consume” and whatnot. He takes matters into his own hands and tries to get some help from his friend Frank. What this film represents is one large part of political undertones and a perfect blend of science fiction. And, you know what’s the craziest thing about this movie? That it’s actually “Certified Fresh” over at Rotten Tomatoes. Can you believe that? Usually, mainstream critics don’t ever recognize brilliant filmmaking like this but when a legend like John Carpenter puts his mind to it he can create something that even they cannot deny proves to a very thought-provoking and mind-blowing cautionary science fiction tale.
Movie Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“They Live” makes its North American debut on 4K UHD Blu-ray in the very same 2.35:1 aspect ratio that it was previously presented in on the Blu-ray format.
The movie itself was shot on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras with Panavision Super High Speed anamorphic lenses. “They Live” has received a new 4K remaster from a new 4K scan of the original film elements. Also, according to IMDb, this has received a new 4K DI (digital intermediate) master, dated 2021. The 4K UHD Blu-ray release comes with HDR10 and Dolby Vision forms of high dynamic range.
Next, let me get technical, for a bit, in regards to the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc itself here. This release is using a BD-66 (66 gigabytes) disc, 64.89 gigabytes total, and 63.2 gigabytes for the film itself. In hindsight, the original 2012 Blu-ray release of the film only was using 40.83 gigabytes total, and then just 24.7 gigabytes for the film in 1080p HD. The new 2021 Blu-ray release, first included with this 4K release, is now using 43.66 gigabytes total, and then 27.6 gigabytes for the remastered version of the film in 1080p HD.
This 4K is running the HEVC (high-efficiency video coding) codec on average around 70Mbps to 80Mbps, and it hits as high as 94.4Mbps at times. That’s not at all bad, especially in terms of bitrate for a BD-66 and a film that’s 94 minutes in length. The lowest that I saw it dip down to ever for over 10 seconds was running around 40Mbps, and this was during a darker nighttime scene.
Now, let’s look at some comparisons between this new 4K and the original Blu-ray release, for reasons I’ll be using to reference a tad bit further below.
SOURCES: 2012 Blu-ray (left), 2021 4K UHD Blu-ray (right)
And, I can also offer you a video slideshow of these with my Blu-ray VS. 4K UHD Blu-ray screenshot comparison over on YouTube (also found below).
Now, looking at the older 2012 Blu-ray in comparison to this new 4K remastered version on the 2021 4K UHD Blu-ray release it’s pretty obvious that you’re getting a more realistic toned down color grading here. The color seems more realistic, in a warmer tone, here in the HDR10 and Dolby Vision forms in comparison to the overly bright and almost exaggerated color found on the previous Blu-ray release. The black level here is finally solid, the flesh tones are accurate, and there’s a large amount of newfound detail all throughout but most especially in facial close-ups. The colors feel just more subdued in the correct way that this film should have always been in, and was intended to be in, looking back on the previous home video releases.
This has a really brand-new feel to the film here in 4K resolution with the addition of HDR. I have to say this is the best that I’ve ever seen this film ever look over the years on home video. It really feels pretty close to theatrical now with the 4K presentation found here. It’s great to see yet another one of John Carpenter‘s films finally get released in 4K. I am very happy to report that I feel that “They Live” here on this 4K UHD Blu-ray release comes with an extremely impressive 4K visual presentation worthy of a perfect 5 rating for video quality.
Video Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“They Live” makes its North American debut to the 4K UHD Blu-ray format in Dolby Atmos with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core for those unable to decode the lossless format. There also are both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo lossless sound mix included as an option, in addition to the Dolby Atmos.
I’ll first, and foremost here be covering the new Dolby Atmos sound mix. One of the most impressive things about how this sound mix manages to take a 1988 film that had a 4 channel Dolby stereo mix and improves on it in so many ways more than you ever heard in the nearly as impressive lossless 5.1 surround sound mix. The Dolby Atmos format allows for height channels and this film has a lot of helicopters flying overhead at times, where they manage to make excellent use of those height channel speakers and make things feel more realistic than a 5.1 configuration could ever allow for, whereas for example a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration can. The music here gets nicely used in the height channels as well as do the sound effects throughout the movie. It’s safe to say that this film heavily benefits from the use of an object-based sound format like Atmos. This adds a very cool new feel to the film that you’ve never experienced. Coming from someone who has heard the film in all of those sound configurations mentioned, this is by far the best the film has ever sounded (in Dolby Atmos).
The front left and right channels drive the film’s unforgettable original musical score (by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth) primarily and there’s also a whole lot of presence to be felt via the LFE of the subwoofer with its low-end bass. The music also gets a very nice amount of rear channel use as well, and the same can be said for sound effects all throughout. In fact, that being said, this is a good time to point out that really most of this paragraph (so far) really also applies to the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround lossless mix included on this release as well, just omit the parts about the height channels and you’re good. The dialogue in Atmos and in 5.1 is delivered distinctly primarily from the center channel and its spot-on, with zero need for any volume adjustments. This mix is downright intense, especially in Atmos, and even in 5.1.
It’s great that this 4K UHD Blu-ray release of “They Live” comes with an intense Dolby Atmos mix as well as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mixes. All three of those mixes do this film complete and utter justice and are all well-worthy of earning this a perfect 5 rating for audio quality.
Audio Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Bonus materials physically on this release include:
The 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc features extras that are presented in 4K video quality (as noted below) with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo sound. The bonus materials on the 4K disc include:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Star Roddy Piper
- Theatrical Trailer (1 minute, 59 seconds – 4K)
- Teaser (54 seconds – 4K)
The Blu-ray included here is a newer 2021 Blu-ray and not the previous 2012 Blu-ray. It features the new 4K remastered video quality (in 1080p HD) in the same 2.35:1 aspect ratio with audio in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 as well as DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (with a DTS 2.0 core). All of the bonus materials on this release are presented in HD (high definition) video quality with DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo sound.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Star Roddy Piper
- “Independent Thoughts” (10 minutes, 7 seconds – HD) includes an interview with the film’s writer/director John Carpenter.
- “Woman of Mystery: Meg Foster” (5 minutes, 20 seconds – HD) features an interview with the actress (Meg Foster) who played a small but unforgettable role in this film.
- “Watch, Look, Listen: The Sights & Sounds of They Live“ (11 minutes, 14 seconds – HD) features interviews with the film’s director of photography (Gary B. Kibbe), stunt coordinator (Jeff Imada), and the film’s musical co-composer (Alan Howarth).
- “Man vs. Aliens” (11 minutes, 12 seconds – HD) is an interview with the film’s primary co-star Keith David (“Frank”).
- “Original EPK: The Making of They Live“ (8 minutes, 2 seconds – HD)
- Never-Before-Seen Footage (2 minutes, 34 seconds – HD)
- TV Spots (1 minute, 55 seconds – HD)
- Still Gallery (2 minutes, 17 seconds – HD)
- Trailers include:
- They Live Original Theatrical Trailers (1 minute, 57 seconds – HD)
- Halloween 2 (2 minutes, 18 seconds – HD)
- Halloween 3 (2 minutes, 44 seconds – HD)
The bonus materials here don’t offer anything much new and just bring us the previous Scream Factory “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray bonus materials ported over on a new Blu-ray of the film, from the new 4K remaster. Also, you get the audio commentary with the film’s writer/director (John Carpenter) and star (Roddy Piper) on the 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc itself as well as two trailers for the film presented in 4K video quality (without HDR). It’s still a solid set of extras at over an hour in length and adding those few things to the 4K disc, especially the audio commentary was a very nice touch.
Bonus Materials Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
“They Live” was a 1988 film that John Carpenter used political undertones and science fiction to tell one hell of a story with the help of the late wrestler turned actor Roddy Piper in one of his most unforgettable roles. In this film, he manages to really captivate you as a viewer and you learn to empathize with his situation. You also learn how upsetting it would be to learn that things are not what you’ve been told and by putting on a set of sunglasses you could see things for how they really are. Most of us would be pretty upset learning that we are just being led by space aliens. As a result of discovering this more than disturbing informative, our protagonist eventually delivers one of the most memorable lines from the film as quoted below.
“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
They Live is easily one of my favorite films that the legendary John Carpenter made. It’s also become a cult classic over the years and remains one of the most popular of Carpenter’s films still to this very day. It’s most definitely worth noting that not only does the late Roddy Piper give a great performance here but so does his primary co-star Keith David and anyone who has seen this film will know why I say that. His refusal to put a pair of sunglasses on and see things for how they are results in a fight that lasts almost 20 minutes in this film. I won’t get into further details to avoid “spoilers” to a film, but let’s just say that that could easily be compared to listening to talking heads arguing over politics today.
Two people not wanting to see things eye-to-eye so to speak, and one refusing to even see things from their perspective (point of view) is really no different than a 20-minute physical fight between a wrestler turned actor and physically fit actor. In the end, sadly the talking heads on news shows arguing over politics never seem to come to an epic conclusion or work to make things any different. I can tell you that this film shows a man attempt to at least do that as one human being. That’s probably a whole lot more than most of us ever will do aside from vote. Sorry, it’s just the sad truth that this country is divided and it was back when this film was made. Things haven’t changed really much at all and that’s why this film is so relevant today. Hell, it’s actually more relevant than ever. John Carpenter is a fucking legend and is by far one of his finer films. If you’ve never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to give it a viewing.
Now, in regards to the visual 4K presentation, this release manages to serve as a very nice improvement over the previous 2012 Blu-ray release. There’s a whole lot more realistic approach to the lighting here with the addition of HDR (high dynamic range) and as a result, you’ll see some scenes do look darker than they did before and that’s because they’re using the time of day and amount of cloud coverage for outdoors scenes. The Blu-ray release from the past felt a bit too bright and now, here on this 4K release, you’ll see more warm tones that are admittedly slightly subdued. I find this presentation to be superior to the previous Blu-ray and DVD releases. This is the best I have ever seen this film look and it earns itself a perfect rating for a perfect 4K presentation.
The audio options on this release here include a new Dolby Atmos mix that is very intense and manages to make very effective use of the height channels as well as the rear channels and does the film complete justice. The two other lossless sound mixes found on here in the forms of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo both manage to do the film justice as well and are welcome to see included as options. Again, this is the best I have ever heard this film ever sound and it truly earns itself a perfect rating for a perfect object-based Dolby Atmos sound mix as well for its excellent lossless 5.1 surround and 2.0 Stereo mixes.
Lastly, this release comes with all of the previous Scream Factory “Collector’s Edition” Blu-ray release bonus materials ported over, mostly included on a newly authored Blu-ray Disc that also features this new 4K restoration. On the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc itself, you’ll get the excellent audio commentary featuring the film’s director John Carpenter and the late Roddy Piper, which is a must-hear. Then you also get two trailers for the film even presented in 4K resolution on the 4K disc. It’s not a whole lot if really any new material but it still manages to be a very solid set of extras that does the film justice. All and all, there are 55 minutes of bonus materials here, not counting the trailers for the two other John Carpenter films.
This North American 4K UHD Blu-ray debut of John Carpenter’s “They Live” in the form of a “Collector’s Edition” release from Scream Factory proves to be a must-have for any fan of the director. With both video and audio presentations that are equally as impressive, in fact perfect, and a solid set of extras, this release comes as very highly recommended.
In terms of 4K UHD Blu-ray release, this gets:
5 (out of 5) for video quality
5 (out of 5) for audio quality
4.25 (out of 5) for bonus materials
Very Highly Recommended
2021 4K UHD Blu-ray Release