The X Files - I Want To Believe
The vagaries of review discs being what they are, I'll be reviewing just the theatrical version of the film that will be available for rental on the same day as the retail release. When you buy the film on DVD or Bluray, you'll get the Director's Cut (longer by about 4 minutes), as well as commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, a feature length making of documentary (2-disc version) and more.
I loved the X Files. Back in the early nineties when the series first debuted, it was a breath of fresh air in a moribund sci-fi genre, bringing something new, original and exciting to the table. At the heart of it all were two compelling characters, believer Mulder and sceptic Scully, and their will they-won't they relationship that kept us guessing for nine years. It was a supernatural sci-fi show that was a little of everything for everyone, dark, scary, comic, bleak, moving, chilling, thrilling, suspenseful, shocking, and a myriad other tones. Two FBI agents investigating the paranormal, on the surface it seemed like an anthology show that would fit right in with The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, with a new mystery and oddity to examine each week. Except it wasn't, as from the very first we learned that it was the abduction of Mulder's sister that motivated his quest, and that there was an over-reaching conspiracy of alien visitation, and government cover-up that they had to unravel, and the deeper they investigated, the more complex and convoluted it became. I have the first five seasons on DVD, as well as the first movie, Fight The Future, and I still look back on those hundred episodes or so as some of the best television made.
Then the rot began to set in. Not immediately of course, as I enjoyed season 6 as much as the preceding five. But the signs were there, episodes that rehashed old ground, the weight of the conspiracy becoming bloated and overcomplicated, and comic episodes that began to feel like parodies. And then the lead actor left, Mulder was abducted. However, they super-soldiered on, with another layer to the conspiracy, and two new agents, Doggett and Reyes, who failed to inspire the same devotion in fans. Mulder returned, only to vanish again, and by season 9, the X Files was for me like watching a middle aged, balding man with a combover and a medallion over a hairy chest, trying to cut a groove in a nightclub, painful, but hard to resist watching just to see how bad it could get. The announcement that season 9 would be the last was more a relief than a disappointment, and for the final episodes, the creators pulled out all the stops, and briefly the show was back at the top of its game, as Mulder returned, standing trial as the conspiracy tried to discredit his investigations one final, and fatal time. It was a look back over nine years of the best of the series, the conspiracy distilled to its essentials, and a reminder of why we fell in love with the show. Of course there was one final, chilling revelation, the invasion was coming, the date was set and 2012 was the year that all of Mulder's farfetched theories would be proved right to the whole world.
That was back in 2002. We had already had the 1997 feature film, Fight The Future that gave us alien conspiracies on the silver screen, and following the end of the series, it didn't seem unlikely that a second film would be long in coming, maybe even giving us the big invasion hinted at in the final episode. The thing about films is that you have to get the talent together, find the best time for everyone to make the film, find a story decent enough to make, and that's hard enough. When studios, producers, and creators start throwing the 'l' word that is litigation around, then making a film becomes an order of magnitude harder. It was six years before all the problems were resolved and the second X Files feature hit the multiplexes, and in the end, it had nothing to do with the conspiracy, the invasion or even aliens…
How times have changed. Dana Scully now works as a doctor at a Catholic hospital, while Fox Mulder remains a fugitive from the FBI following the events of the final episode. He's not much of a fugitive though, as long as he no longer pursues his theories, the FBI don't put much effort into searching, and he's living in discreet isolation with Scully in a quiet secluded home. That's until an FBI agent is abducted in West Virginia. When a psychic paedophile priest leads the FBI investigative team to the severed arm of one of the abductors, agent in charge Dakota Whitney realises that she needs specialist help to work the case. Soon, the FBI are offering Mulder amnesty in exchange for his assistance, and he wants Scully to come back with him. But Scully has a crisis of faith to deal with, when a patient that she is treating at the hospital suffers from a terminal brain disease. And the case keeps getting weirder.
It's pointless to pick holes in the DVD transfers of current films, the 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is pristine, the DD 5.1 English, Spanish and German tracks offer the suitable audiorama that a feature film requires, and there are subtitles in those same languages as well. A useful addition to the rental disc is a DD 5.1 Audio Descriptive track.
You can tell it's an X-Files movie with the typeset captions that appear in the film, carrying on from the style of the TV series. It's a cold, bleak film, and the snowy landscapes and locations come across well. I was impressed by the FBI offices, which look to have had a polish and upgrade for the big screen finally. There's not a lot of the classic X-Files tune, although the music suits the story well.
Extras on the rental disc are confined to a you 'wouldn't abduct a Mulder' anti-piracy ad, as well as trailers for the Stargate SG1 movie, Prison Break, and the forthcoming remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still.
I had the ever so slightest of reservations when I heard that the second X Files feature would be a standalone, which would have nothing to do with the alien conspiracy, until I realised that the standalone episodes are the most memorable aspects of the television series. I'm sure that everyone remembers the conspiracy and the aliens, the shapeshifters and the cigarette smoking man, but remembering which episode goes where, and which ones are the most striking is a different prospect. But the standalone episodes are different, everyone has their favourites, whether it's the innate creepiness of Eugene Tooms, the green bugs released from ancient trees to devour victims, the giant mutant worm in the New York sewers, the witch teaching in high school, or rapidly aging in the North Atlantic, and the one with Jesse Ventura, there are countless episodes that spring to mind as typifying the X Files, all without requiring excessive continuity or depending on the ongoing conspiracy. So I was rubbing my hands with glee at the thought of Mulder and Scully investigating another monster of the week, vampiric mutant, paranormal phenomenon, psychic freak or technology gone mad in I Want To Believe. That isn't what I got.
The second X Files feature just never picks up steam, it never really grabbed me the way the series did, it never once enthused me, excited me, or at all felt like the major event that the first film was, or that many of the series episodes felt like. This felt like one of the lesser episodes, bloated with filler to hit a two-hour runtime, and hampered by a lack of scope, depth, and even budget. It felt small, under-thought, and unfinished. Yet for all that, it did manage to hold my attention for its runtime, managed to entertain, and at times, did rekindle the old spark of what made the X Files such a major draw.
It all boils down to what I cared about. I certainly didn't care about the story; the missing FBI agent, and the investigation into her disappearance just didn't provoke any response in me. It's perhaps because we are thrown in at the deep end, with the investigation in progress, and a couple of poorly developed characters at the head of the search, agents Whitney and (checks IMDB for name) Drummy, the would be believer and the ultra sceptic. There's no hook to these characters, no reason to feel sympathetic to them, they're just ciphers to move the story along, and for our heroes to be motivated by.
The weird stuff in the film just isn't weird enough for the X Files in my opinion, it's barely one step up from a bog standard thriller, with abductions and random body parts showing up, you could change the name of the movie and change the two leads, and you'd have no problem selling it as a movie in its own right. I certainly didn't care about the psychic paedophile priest, although I've rarely been able to buy Billy Connolly as anyone other than Billy Connolly. I could buy him as priest, as a buggerer of altar boys, maybe, but as a psychic, even with the tears of blood, not so much. He's just too nondescript and ephemeral. The thing is that the X Files has done psychics before and better. Agent Whitney cites Luther Boggs and Clyde Bruckman as examples, and they were two of the finest episodes of the series, both of which put this film to shame. You'd remember Clyde Bruckman; you probably can't get Luther Boggs out of your mind if you tried, but Joseph Crissman is as disposable a maguffin as they come.
The same goes for the villains of the piece, the abductors. They are complete non-impacts on the film, they certainly don't resonate after the film finishes, and you won't be holding them up as bogeymen to recalcitrant children in years to come. Their weirdness takes far too long in revealing itself. At first they just seem like random kidnappers, then as the story unfolds their motives get stranger and stranger, but it's only in the final act that their crimes venture into genuine X File territory, and by then it's too late. The X Files needs the freaky and paranormal early on, not a last minute shocker.
Where the film works is in the main characters, and I loved the fact that they had moved on and developed in the past six years, and you could see the growth in them as people. The film gives good Mulder, and when we first encounter him, it's like briefly walking back in time to one of the original episodes. The I Want To Believe poster is on the wall, there are pencils stuck in the ceiling, and there are sunflower seeds at his side. It's only the thick beard that indicates that all is not well. This is a Mulder who has been sidelined, and has been in hiding for the last six years, so the offer of an amnesty from the very same FBI that ostracised and rejected him is something of a double edged sword. But it quickly becomes clear how much he needs the weird of the X Files in his life, worryingly so, as getting back to what he does best is surprisingly easy.
Not so for Scully, who has put that life behind her, and has returned to her original profession of Doctor. She sees this sudden enlivening of Mulder as a darkness that she has forsaken, and it proves to be something of a rift between the two. She has her own priorities at the hospital now trying to preserve life, and doesn't appreciate having to deal with death once more. Yet she has her own crisis of faith to deal with, the paedophile priest offending her sensibilities as a Catholic, as well as with contemplating a course of action that her employers at the hospital would frown upon.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't give good Mulder & Scully. The X Files needs the two of them together, working as a team, but in this film they are pulling in opposite directions, and to be honest, while I did enjoy seeing Scully again, I did feel that the child with the degenerative brain disease provoking yet another crisis of faith for Scully was contrived and bloated filler that, while it may have worked for the character, certainly didn't work for the film. They even subvert the old mobile phone gag, with both of them getting each other's answering service when they try calling one another. But that lack of communication hampers the film, as I wanted to see Mulder & Scully, not Mulder, and then Scully, and then back again, as they try to avoid their relationship issues by focussing on their own particular professional problems.
It feels unfinished and underdeveloped, bloated by an irrelevant subplot, but it just about cuts the mustard as a bleak and icy thriller. You can certainly pass the time with the film, and there are little spots of the old magic that remind you why you watched the show in the first place. I've certainly missed that dry sardonic humour over the years, and for that alone I can recommend this film. It doesn't have any flashlights in dark corridors though. I Want To Believe isn't much of an X Files movie, but it will do until the real thing comes along.