Friday, February 6, 2009

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

The X-Files was a fluke from the time it began in 1993. Its first season’s ratings were among the lowest of any show at that time, and by all rights it should have been canceled. Fortunately for the show, it was on the fledgling Fox network, which didn’t have a ready replacement for the time period, and allowed it to continue (ironic, given that Fox now takes a lot of heat for dropping shows before they have a chance) The ratings moved toward respectability in its second season, and it finally became a hit in the third season. In 1998, a feature film, X-Files: Fight the Future, was released while the show was still on the air, with mixed results. After the show finally ended its run following its ninth season, there was immediate talk of another film, but it wouldn’t arrive until 2008.

Although I was a big fan of the show, I missed the movie at the theater, put off by extremely harsh reviews, and just now caught up with it on DVD. I expected the worse, but found I actually liked it.

One of the problems with the first movie was it tried too hard to be a big spectacle, probably to compete with its own ongoing series. It was full of special effects and explosions, and packed with things that required a deep knowledge of the TV show to understand. The second movie goes in the opposite direction. It is a small scale film (possibly better suited to be seen on home video than at the theater) and plays more like a long double episode of the series. Little or no familiarity with the TV series is required to enjoy the movie.

An FBI agent has been kidnapped in the snow-covered wastes of West Virginia (the movie was filmed in Canada; hence the large amount of snow). The only lead in the case is a local psychic, Father Joe, a former priest and convicted pedophile. Desperate to find the missing agent, the FBI reaches out to a former agent with experience in paranormal events: Fox Mulder. Mulder, who is still a wanted fugitive, is living in hiding with his old partner, Dana Scully, who is practicing medicine at a Catholic hospital. In exchange for amnesty, Mulder and Scully join the investigation, which leads to a conspiracy (surprise!) of Frankenstein-like medical experiments.

The script hits notes that are familiar from the series. There is doubt as to whether Father Joe truly is a psychic, or involved somehow in the case, and there is a subplot of Scully struggling to reconcile her religious faith with both science and the paranormal.

One of the things that set The X-Files apart from similar shows was its sense of visual style, and the movie does a good job of continuing this. Shots of bluish flashlights against the snow and snow falling through fog at night are beautiful and eerie.

For those of us who watched the show, it is like revisiting an old friend. I doubt it would cause a sensation if it was the only part of The X-Files in existence, but it is a nice treat for the fans. Chris Carter, the creator of the show, has been quoted as saying he would like to continue the movies (according to the last episode, there will be an alien invasion on December 12, 2012, so we’ll need Mulder and Scully back for that) if the movie does will enough. Did it? The answer is unclear. The movie’s production cost was $30 million, and its U.S. box office was only a little over $20 million. However, it did another $47 million in foreign box office; so, combined with DVD sales, there may be a chance.

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