REVIEW: The X-Files [1998]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 121 minutes | Release Date: June 19th, 1998 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Rob Bowman
Writer(s): Chris Carter / Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz (story)

“Survival is the ultimate ideology”

I’m not sure if there’s ever been another television show besides “The X-Files” that received a cinematic adaptation while still on the air. It’s a testament to the property’s popularity and the studio’s faith because green-lighting it couldn’t have been an easy decision. While it must stay relevant to the story being unraveled since a new season will follow, it also must possess an appeal unbeholden to what came before to attract a wider audience. In my mind The X-Files succeeds at delivering the former while failing at the latter. It may ultimately fail at the former too since it seeks to sensationalize the core mythology for grand-scale action, but at least someone keeping tabs at home can peer beneath such surfaces. Newcomers, however, only receive genre redundancies.

I’m talking about the decision to evolve the “black oil” conspiracy from aliens inhabiting human bodies and therefore controlling their actions to using us as incubators on the road to repopulating the Earth with their more lethal, personified selves—a form they took millennia ago before the Ice Age wiped them out and decomposed their flesh into liquid like the dinosaurs. It works as far as expanding upon what we know in a way that facilitates more complex effects Hollywood budgets provide, but for those unfamiliar with the mythos it comes across as a blatant Alien rip-off. The entire climax is aesthetically attempting to replicate that franchise’s atmosphere and suspense and it doesn’t work. The film’s best parts become those quiet moments that can’t help leaving non-fans bored.

The film is a bridge to right the ship after Season Five leaves the future of the FBI’s X-Files in doubt. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) went too far to unearth the answers they seek about extra-terrestrials and the Attorney General shuts them down as a result. So we meet them on a regular assignment—still partnered together—searching for a bomb in Dallas. Mulder’s penchant for ignoring orders purposefully puts them in the wrong building only to end up saving lives while still being blamed for deaths (planted bodies whose evidence provides a clear-cut connection to the black oil virus). More inquisition meetings are set (overseen by Blythe Danner and a wasted Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Skinner) and soul-searching commences.

This last part is what I found taxing about the movie and TV season preceding it because the belief Mulder and Scully has is constantly shifting. After her cancer she becomes a believer while he stops—government conspiracy pushing forward with aliens providing a double-deflection cover-up. Then as the film begins he believes again and she’s the skeptic ready to quit the bureau. I’m guessing this stems from the hectic production schedule with show producers Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, and Rob Bowman doing their best to tie everything together (the film was shot between Seasons Four and Five but occurs in canon after both), but it gets extremely frustrating. Luckily series regular John Neville and newcomer Martin Landau help add welcome intrigue beyond our leads’ doubts.

Neville is once again the complicated “Well-Manicured Man” who uses William B. Davis‘ “Cigarette-Smoking Man” (wasted like Pileggi in a role that puts him onscreen with little to do) only as far as he advances his agenda. Now that the virus has mutated, though, all bets are off. Suddenly he might be Mulder’s ally with Davis—Fox’s once secretive protector—proving enemy. Landau’s Dr. Kurtzweil is the latest “Deep Throat” character pushing ideas into Mulder’s head with stories of being his father’s friend. Everything he says seems true, but how could it be? Only when Mulder and Scully see it themselves can trust be cultivated, but by then it might be too late. Infected bees may already be on their way to facilitate humanity’s extinction.

“The X-Files” has never been an action-packed show, but it’s still surprising Carter didn’t find a way to inject the film with more. Even as a fan I must admit the opening sequence of Neanderthals stumbling upon aliens moves as slow as molasses. Things pick up once a very young Lucas Black crosses paths with their remains in the present-day, but the iconic black-clouded eyes come and go in a flash before vicious monsters take its place. Thankfully Duchovny and Anderson’s banter save our attention from the somber drama and distractingly remixed “Tubular Bells” score, but even they can’t quite infuse any needed exhilaration into the plot after a gigantic explosion leaves a bigger mystery. A scene of them running from helicopters halfway through proves the action-packed highlight.

The rest’s a slow burn and that’s okay if it doesn’t last for so long. Two-hours is a chore unless everything is firing and sadly this is not the case. Too many times events occur to simply put a recognizable face on-camera (shoe-horning Lone Gunmen Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund proves the most egregious). We know early that the virus is going to have to infect one of the leads so the stakes can be raised—history showing the victim will almost always be Scully—and thus the whole becomes a waiting game until that occurs. We do get some much-needed answers thanks to Neville and Landau, enough to even work towards having the X-Files reinstated before Season Six. But the climax proves misguided.

It’s Alien meets Independence Day with dark, glowing backdrops I have to believe were matte paintings because they look so flat. Aliens who were once docile and curious as their flittered across the frame throughout the show become aggressive, nightmare-inducing creatures my memory had clean forgotten. Now I wonder if they were the reason I stopped watching the show because I don’t think I finished Season Six. Here are answers that take the mythology into a wholly new direction, one that’s frankly not as interesting. It’s like in a horror movie when filmmakers show the monster too soon and for too long—the impact it may have provided fades away. It makes sense contextually, but it may have advanced the plot too fast too soon.

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