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The X-Files 2: Still Out There

July 28th, 2008

One of the movies I’ve been most anticipating this summer, and also one of the movies I’ve been most concerned wouldn’t meet my expectations, is the long-awaited second X-Files feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

My father introduced me to The X-Files mid-way through the first season.  By my recollection, I was hooked pretty immediately.  I quickly became an enormous fan of the show, and I have fond memories of catching a midnight showing of the first X-Files movie (which was titled Fight the Future on all the posters, although that title did not appear in the opening of the movie itself even though that phrase was used throughout the film).  That first film was disappointing in that it was marketed as delivering the answers to many of the long-standing questions of the show, which it most certainly did not.  However, the film also in many ways encapsulated everything that was great about the show (the Mulder/Scully dynamic, the cigarette smoking man and government conspiracies, aliens, chases, explosions, creepy meetings with shadowy people in dark alleyways, etc. etc. etc.), while also really amping things up to a movie-level: the chases were more exciting, the aliens more violent and dangerous, the visual effects more elaborate, and more.  Its definitely a film that I have watched and enjoyed many times since.  That movie’s release was, in many ways the high-point of the show.  It was followed by two very strong seasons (the 6th and 7th), and then two fairly mediocre seasons (the 8th and 9th, which were almost completely without Mulder).  The show ended, at least for me, in a very lousy way.  I recall finding the two-hour finale, “The Truth,” to be incomprehensible and, even worse, something the show NEVER had been for me before — a total bore.

So now, years later, the launch of a new X-Files movie gave me a lot of hope of a return to the glory days of the show.  When Chris Carter announced that this film would be a “stand-alone” monster story, not tied to the show’s labyrinthine conspiracy stories, I had mixed emotions.  I liked the idea of jettisoning a lot of the complex baggage that had weighed down the series in its final years — and yet, I really LOVED the so-called “mythology” episodes of the show, and wasn’t sure a movie not dealing with any of those stories would be worth anyone’s interest.

So, what did I think?

Well…its mediocre.

(I’m going to try to stay clear of spoilers in the below review, but I suppose that anyone who wants to see the movie without knowing anything about it should probably come back to this posting only after seeing the film.)

There is a lot I really enjoyed about the movie.  First of all, its just terrific to see Fox Mulder and Dana Scully again.  These are two wonderful characters, and its very enjoyable to get to watch the two of them in a new adventure.

The movie did a great job at, on the one hand, not ignoring the weird place Mulder and Scully were left at the end of the series (in love, on the run from the FBI).  They’re not magically back in the FBI after five minutes.  And yet, the movie doesn’t get too bogged down in all of that back-story.  Mulder and Scully’s new status quo is set up quickly and efficiently and then we’re able to jump right into this new tale.

There are some really interesting ideas in the story, particularly when it grapples with the issues of god and faith that I always found so fascinating in the show.  Billy Connoly’s Father Joe is a great “guest star,” and his character provides an excellent focal point for these issues.

There’s some nice suspense, some great creepy atmopsheric moments in the snow and ice, and a terrific classic X-Files Mulder foot-chase, about two-thirds of the way through the film, that really captured a lot of the fun of the old TV series.

And yet…

The movie feels “small.”  The mystery that is the centerpiece of the movie doesn’t feel like enough of a reason for the FBI to reach out to Mulder and Scully… and it also doesn’t feel like enough of a tale to warrant this story being a movie.  If we’re going to revisit these characters in the form of a feature film, it seems to me that the story being told should be one of more CONSEQUENCE to the long-term lives of these characters, and the long-term story being told by The X-Files… not just one more monster story.

(Speaking of that, there really isn’t much of a monster at all.  There are actually very few paranormal goings-on at all, other than Father Joe’s supposed psychic visions.  I really was expecting more of a fantastical, X-Filesy bent to the story, and was surprised that we didn’t really get that.)

Again, the movie felt “small.”  I know it was made for very little money (around 30 million, reportedly), and very quickly… unfortunately, the film feels that way.  This is especially evident in the end of the movie.  The first film built to an enormous, exciting climax with a buried space-ship in Antarctica.  This movie builds to Scully knocking someone out with a beam of wood.

I also found the storytelling to be a rather inconsistent.  Some scenes and sequences seemed truly excellent — suspenseful and exciting.  And then some other scenes just fell totally flat to me.  I’m not sure if the problem was the writing, the directing, the acting, the music, or some combination thereof.  But there were some moments in the film just didn’t work for me at all.  The most egregious example of this?  OK, spoilers here, so go away if you don’t want to read.

Still here?

About 45 or so minutes into the movie, things are going well.  I was enjoying the building suspense, and also the return of the great Mulder/Scully dynamic, and the way they were slowly getting sucked into this new case.

Then, suddenly, we cut to Mulder and Scully in bed.

And I was like, say what now?  Apparently, Mulder and Scully have been living together all this time.  But NOTHING in the first 45 minutes of the film gave me that impression.  When Scully goes to find Mulder, at the behest of the FBI agent who reaches out to her, I had no idea she was going to HER OWN HOUSE, and that the two of them had WOKEN UP IN BED TOGETHER that morning.  And nothing in their dynamic in all the scenes that followed lead me to that conclusion, either.

So either the film-makers deliberately withheld that information until this scene, intending it to be a shock and surprise to the audience — which I find to be foolish because it totally threw me out of the film for a while — OR they thought it was CLEAR that Mulder and Scully were together — in which case they failed utterly because that was totally UNCLEAR to me.

Either way, that scene was a major failure of storytelling.  (I also found it to be rather, well, icky — I just didn’t want to watch Mulder and Scully canoodling in bed.)  A few other moments like that bring down what is otherwise a very fun, tense, and interesting story.

I feel like I’m dwelling on the negatives, and I don’t want to do that.  There was indeed a lot that I really enjoyed about the movie.  This is no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s just, I wanted a lot more from the first new X-Files story in 6 years.  And if this is the LAST X-Files story, I don’t think this was a particularly storng way to end.  (Although I guess it IS a lot stronger than that last episode of the show!)

Here’s hoping we’ll get at least one more X-Files movie, and that it’ll deal with the upcoming date of alien invasion, as indicated in the last season of the show — Dec. 22, 2012.

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