Monday, 4 August 2008

Review - The X-Files: I Want To Believe

During Season 3 of ‘The X-Files’ there was a run of serial-killer episodes, many only tenuously linked to the supernatural. These episodes were not great: they ignored the basic premise of the show, they were very similar in script and tone, and Mulder and Scully tend to have less friction and therefore chemistry when they agree on the facts of a case. It thus seems strange that Chris Carter would bring Mulder and Scully kicking and screaming back into contemporary entertainment with a feature-length ‘serial-killer episode’.

The latest X-Files movie is basically a bog-standard serial-killer scripts with Mulder, Scully, and their character development layered over the top of it. It would be a poor thriller but the presence of the beloved characters brings the film as a whole up to ‘watchable’. Billy Connolly is surprisingly good and dominates every scene he’s in: in keeping with the spirit of the show there’s very little resolution about his psychic abilities. The rest of the characters are entirely two-dimensional which means that the film’s success really hinges on Mulder and Scully’s relationship.

Unfortunately their subplot never comes across as that meaningful. Their relationship is supposedly in jeopardy because of Mulder’s stubbornness and his attachment to the case (despite the fact he doesn’t work for the FBI anymore). The script hits all the right thematic buttons but ultimately falls short because the nature of the relationship is never explained. It’s hard to sympathise with something that hasn’t been explained. At the start of the film, they’re clearly not living together: Mulder is growing a beard in Nowhere, USA; Scully is a high-flying Catholic doctor. Subsequent scenes however allude to them being a couple and going to the same home at night. There are in fact only two scenes with them as a ‘real couple’ and so their relationship is both confusing and unrealistic. It might have been better if the two had been struggling to raise a child against a backdrop of criminal darkness but Baby William was given away.

One thing to mention is that there are some brilliant locations. The snowy mountains and vast open fields give a great feeling of isolation and unease. It’s a shame that there’s nothing better going on in the locations than abstract conversations about belief and various platitudes flying all over the place. Also with regards to shooting, close-ups are sadly no longer Mr. Duchovny's friend.

It’s such a shame that the X-Files mythology was virtually destroyed in Season 6. After that they limped on valiantly: there were some good episodes after the Syndicate was destroyed but not many. The writing suffered, Mulder left, Cigarette-Smoking Man died, the liquid Terminator and some woman took over, and the show died. If it had ended a little earlier and left a lot more open-ended, there would have been a hell of a lot more opportunities for the franchise. There has been talk of moving back to the mythology for a possible third movie but how realistic could an alien invasion be if to be in keeping with the shadowy subversive tone of the show?

The second X-Files movie isn’t a bad film. There are certain lines (mostly from Mulder in the first half of the film) that give a brief reminder of the witty dialogue from the show’s early days: this nostalgia of former brilliance is surely enough to give a fan justification to see it. For the non-fan, it’s watchable in a there’s-nothing-else-to-do-let’s-go-see-a-film kind of way. It’s not cinema-as-art but it is cinema-as-entertainment.

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