Monday, June 8, 2015

"The X-Files: Fight the Future" (1998)

Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Martin Landau
Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman
Rated PG-13 — Violence, language
Running Time: 122 Minutes

FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have been reassigned following the events of the fifth season of "The X-Files" TV series. When a bomb threat is called in to the Federal Building in Dallas, Texas, Mulder and Scully are among those ordered to search the building. Playing on a hunch, Mulder discovers the bomb is actually in a neighboring building, but is unable to stop it and the building is destroyed.

Later, Mulder is approached by Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil, who reveals to Mulder that the building actually contained a FEMA quarantine office, and that the bodies of three firefighters and a small boy found within it were already dead. With the FBI blaming them for the bomb's destruction, Mulder decides to investigate Kurtzweil's claims. The bodies they find weren't killed by the bomb, but by some kind of alien infection.

The deeper Mulder and Scully get into their investigation, the more resistance they encounter. And the more resistance they encounter, the more dangerous things get. But this is more than just a single cover up, because Mulder and Scully soon find themselves drawn back into the dark conspiracy to hide the existence of extraterrestrials from the people of Earth, and revelations about just what those extraterrestrials want with us.

I've lately been rewatching "The X-Files" now that the series has been remastered in high definition. Let me tell you, the results are fantastic. If you're a fan and you haven't revisited it in a while, now is the time to do so — especially since the show is due to return in 2016. After finishing up the show's fifth season, I threw in the series' first feature film, released in 1998, which takes place between the fifth and sixth seasons.

I remember liking the film when I first saw it at the tender age of 16 while watching the show in first-run broadcast. But I think it works a bit better now in the context of the series and also the fact that I'm older and understand it better.

The biggest criticism of the movie I've seen is often that it feels like little more than a big-budget episode of the series. Which, frankly, it is. Unlike, say, a "Star Trek" film that can be hampered by feeling that way, "The X-Files" film actually ought to be that way. This is not a film that will likely be understood by people who haven't been watching the show.

It's a bit broader, with a bigger canvas and more action/adventure than the TV series was capable of, but its story is rooted deeply in the show's mythology. It ties together several ongoing threads in the series, such as the deadly bees that appeared several times in the fourth and fifth seasons, and lays out the alien colonization plans more succinctly than the show.

It also fits pretty perfectly with binge-watching the show. I queued up the film as soon as the fifth season finale ended and aside from the fact that the movie is in 2.35:1 widescreen (as opposed to the remastered series' 1.78:1 ratio), there's very little difference. Mark Snow's score is bigger and fuller, performed by a real orchestra for the first time, but still sounds pretty much like the show. Most of the series' major recurring characters are here, including the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and Mulder and Scully's boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and the fan-favorite Lone Gunmen nerds.

It's a little disappointing that the movie hinges so much on Mulder having to go to the ends of the earth (literally) to save Scully, essentially removing her from the last half hour of the film, since, as always, the best parts are really the interactions between the two. Few other TV duos have had the pure chemistry that Duchovny and Anderson have. By the time the movie rolls around, the two of them work so incredibly well together that it's just a joy watching. Their first scene together, with Mulder and Scully joking for a moment while searching for the bomb, is warm and funny. The hallway scene in which Mulder admits just how much Scully means to him and how much he owes her is pure gold. That's also a scene I remember elicited a near-riot in the theater when I saw it in '98.

In the end, though, while "The X-Files" first foray into motion pictures is one that is successful in the context of the larger franchise narrative, that's really about it. As a standalone feature, it'll never make all that much sense and newcomers will likely find it difficult to care about the characters or even know who many of them are. This is not unexpected, nor is it entirely unwelcome.

But for fans, it's a great bridge for the series, a chance to see "The X-Files" writ large. In hindsight, it would have been nice for the show to have one or two more seasons after it and then maybe another couple of movies rather than dragging on through nine seasons and mangling the conspiracy mythology into something beyond bloated and unrecognizable. But, in 1998, that was a long way off, and this film presents "The X-Files" at its peak.