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The X-Files, story by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, written by Chris Carter, directed by Rob Bowman, 1998, 120 min.
The X-Files is an interesting phenomenon of the 90s. Cult TV shows are nothing new, but this is likely the first instance of a movie based on a TV show that is still running. The TV version of The X-Files is signed to deliver another two seasons, so this puts a number of constraints on the movie. Chris Carter, the mastermind behind the show, has tried hard here, but I found the movie to be a letdown. Not that I felt an active dislike for any particular part, and in fact I was impressed, as usual, with the characterization of Mulder and Scully and the respective performances by Duchovny and Anderson. This movie is certainly not of the same low calibre as cheesy cliffhanger that ended the 1996-7 season and the season opener that tried to resolve it. Mulder is dead! Oh, really? The 1997-8 season also ended with a cliffhanger -- the X-files are closed! Somehow, magically, the movie managed to return everything to a state of events that would allow the next season of TV to begin. Loud, flashy, and devoid of logic in the few answers we get, the movie simply does not work.
The movie opens with some unconvincing prehistoric scenes, and then a little boy finding the same cave and the same fate. Then we see Mulder and Scully doing typical FBI work -- tracking down a bomb scare. Their repartee in the opening bits of the movie is goofy, but I liked it. It's not often they have the time to joke around and say witty things without the pressure of some vampire or hideous mutant trying to break up the party. But, of course, this bomb is related to "the conspiracy" and soon enough Mulder has uncovered a few leads. Martin Landau comes in to tell Mulder a few vague facts. And, of course, the Cigarette Smoking Man is running around doing nefarious deeds. The Well- Manicured Man has some good scenes, actually. Skinner doesn't have much to do, but then does he ever? These background characters aren't developed particularly well, but that is irrelevant. Mulder and Scully are the centre of the show, and they have always been strong characters. Thankfully, the movie continues that tradition.
Do we get answers? Yes and no. We find out more about the gigantic conspiracy that apparently runs the world. But according to the explanation, the conspirators are the worst fools of all. I'll try not to give away any information here, but I do have some questions. Why did they sell out? It doesn't seem like they got help getting into their current powerful positions, so they were all powerful people to begin with. What possible advantage could they perceive in the way they are doing things? I've never gotten a hint that they were desperate to make such a deal or secretly fighting back. And another question -- why do they let such a pissante gadfly like Mulder run around poking his nose into everything? Any explanation that he is necessary to the plan strikes me as totally bogus. Mulder is a wildcard, despite the predictability of his obsessions. The combination of Mulder and Scully is a definite threat, and any time you hear a conspirator say anything to the contrary, you know it's simply an excuse to keep the show going. The conspirators might have ego problems but they're ruthless and not quite that dumb. Of course, they have opposition from within the labyrinths of the American government, but that is still no barrier as I see it. A suicidal fall guy, untraceable, who makes an innocent driving error. No need to even make use of any advanced technology. In terms of the series as a whole, I think that almost any explanation of the conspiracy would seem lacking in comparison to the years of hype and build-up. Carter had to hand out a few answers, but it doesn't work to give us nonsense and then have a conspirator say of Mulder, "He only knows a few pieces of the whole." But the show seems to believe that truth is indeed out there, so they wouldn't go with my suggestion of an infinite regression, of conspiracies within conspiracies without end. Who manipulates the manipulators? At least that way Mulder won't come to a point in his life where he has the answer and then has nothing to do.
I will admit that my negative impression of the movie as a whole is partly due to the fact that the theatre I saw it in had the sound turned up far past normal. The noise of people running was almost unbearable, and any time a helicopter or train went past I had to plug my ears. Any alien fight scenes were excruciating, because the noise of the attack and the accompanying crash of music were so sudden and loud. This is not a fault of The X-Files, and it made me a bit critical of what would have otherwise been a mildly enjoyable experience. It's generally easy to guess the ending of an X-Files episode, and so the pleasure is in the interaction of Mulder and Scully. That rule of thumb applies here as well, and I'm happy to say the movie doesn't mess with that success.
Last modified: July 13, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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