Saturday, August 16, 2008

X Files: Spoilers Ahead.

I came to "X-Files: I Want to Believe" as only a casual watcher. I have a working knowledge of the series and, over the years, have become a continuous fan of David Duchovny's work, but I by no means am the core audience for the oddly-timed, stand-alone attempt at a film that was released last month. For example, I know about the Smoking Man and enjoyed those episodes in which he popped up, but the only thing I can remember about the first 1998 film "The X-Files" is that it had something to do with bees. My favorite episodes were always more alien-oriented (I went through a phase as a child of gobbling up any and all psuedo-history books having to do with Area 51, Roswell, and the history of Aliens in America), but I had no idea that Duchovny had left the series two seasons before its end. Apparently my phase of interest had already ended by then.

Now, when I said I was not the core audience, I am probably the target audience for the film. Creator of the series and writer/director of the film Chris Carter has made it very clear that this film is something of an all-access pass to the world of Mulder and Scully, without all of the heavy plot and complications of the previous film. My brief but capable knowledge of the series should have been the perfect platform to enjoy this film. What began as Carter's good idea, though, was executed into a clunky, bizarre, too-tame caricature of what made the series so strong.

During the series, Agents Mulder and Scully were precisely that -- agents -- and there was an inherent conflict with the overarching authority of the FBI and the paranormal investigations being conducted. Carter has cut the characters loose from their agency, and because of this they seem to have spiraled out into silly, fake versions of themselves in the time between the series end and the film. Gillian Anderson, in particular, has been away from the role of Scully long enough that she may have forgotten who the character was in the first place; and this is exacerbated by the fact that Carter may have forgotten how to write her. At one point Scully resorts to Google to learn about Stem Cell Research, and Carter resorts to a short montage of Scully writing "Stem Cell Research" on a manila folder to show that she has, in fact, the smarts of a doctor. Later, an entire scene centers on Scully not being able to make a phone call, and her printer not being "On."

Instances of these weird, worthless conflicts or silly characterizations are rampant throughout. Any romantic or sexual tension that was present between Mulder and Scully is completely shattered and replaced with outright, forced romantic interaction. Apparently, while the series was still around, there was an entire faction of fans who called themselves "Shippers," short for "Relationshippers," who were proponents of the possible connection between the two leads. When the movie descended into its more blatant territory, I couldn't help but feel sorry for those more dedicated fans who thrived on that which was not said, not known, only intuited.

The other major, semi-disappointing aspect of the film is the total lack of Aliens. The only 'paranormal activity' is a psychic man who is maybe a fraud, but who we all know is actually psychic just like Mulder "wants to believe." The title of the film constantly hashed out in informational dialogue: I want to believe. You just don't want to believe. Then, half way through the film: Do you still want to believe? Carter definitely wanted to make the movie accessible by eliminating as much extraterrestrial plot as possible, but he inadvertantly complicated things. In a world of Russian black market body harvesters and psychic paedophile priests, Aliens seem like a simple problem.

Everything has a feeling of falling off the mark: Billy Connolly is cast entirely against his strengths, and the actors are all lit in a way that unfairly accentuates this passed decade. This might be the only time that I recommend that cinematographer Bill Roe take a look at the age-hiding sheen of recent blockbusters, "Sex and the City" and "Indiana Jones." The writing is reserved and catering to an apparently non-existent audience; one that has some bizarre combination of draw to the material but hesitance toward Aliens and ambiguity.

The film excels the most in a single moment of pure action, when Mulder engages a Russian decapitator in a surprisingly fun chase through streets and buildings. The chase is surprisingly both in its nice blocking and the fact that it is nearly without dialogue; the film finally shut up for a minute and let things just happen rather than talk talk talking about them.

Unfortunately for Carter and his characters, I enjoyed the film immensely despite all of these things. About half way through I got a case of the giggles induced by the high number of spikey objects entering peoples brains or faces, the often-terrible dialogue and the total silliness of the whole thing. This continued through to the end of the film, and I was very glad I spend my 10$ on that train wreck.

Movie Review 3 of 10

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