Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

The new X-Files movie seems to have already been left behind by the internet, a one weekend failure that will quickly vanish from theaters. Now, few people were as big fans of the show as I was, but after watching the film, the major question was why did somebody decide that this was a story that needed to be told? I don’t think there was anything inherently wrong with doing a new film, I was eager to see Mulder and Scully together again, but this film was just so aggressively pointless, it leaves you wondering what Chris Carter was thinking.

That’s not to say it was actively bad. If this was an episode of the show, it’d have been okay, one of the series’ weaker episodes, but not one of its worst. But, coming six years after the show went off the air, and playing in a movie theater, you’ve got to be a bit more than just a decent episode.

The biggest flaw of the film was that, once again, Carter exhibited a seemingly perverse desire to not give people what they want to see, to arbitrarily withhold information for no apparent reason, and tell a story that’s such a boilerplate ‘scary story,’ with none of the fun or excitement of the series at its best. The show is about Mulder and Scully working together to solve these cases, that was the constant, a template flexible enough to span elaborate mythology episodes, really scary episodes and funny episodes.

But, this film gives us essentially no moments of Mulder and Scully working together. Instead, he puts the two of them in a weird relationship, the details of which we’re not quite sure of. Presumably, Mulder has been hiding out in this house for the past six years, just hanging out. Scully wants him to get out, yet is angry at him when he goes back to investigating. What does she think he’s going to do? And, why have they just given up the fight and chosen to stay in this house? That’s an issue that comes out of the show’s messy conclusion. The film wisely avoids referencing most of seasons eight and nine, but it’s hard to reconcile the series’ rather urgent ending with the laid back world of this movie.

And, it really bothers me that they put Scully on the sidelines throughout the whole movie, giving her the subplot with the kid rather than letting her get out there and investigate. I thought the show had laid to rest the idea that Scully was a doctor, not an agent. On the show, she was every bit Mulder’s equal, as he says in the film, he needed her to do his work. So, why isn’t it treated that way in the film? I suppose the plot with the kid is meant to tie into her losing her own child, but that’s all so far in the background, a tossed off bit of information, it’s hard to emotionally engage with the character. I’ve seen reviews that said their kid had died, I assumed the part about ‘losing’ him referred to giving him up for adoption in the series.

Either way, if you’re going to go with Mulder and Scully as outsiders from the FBI, why not have them united, and not do this lame messing around with their relationship. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with putting stress on their relationship, but the way it’s played, it makes Scully into the domesticated character, not wanting her man going out and doing stuff. There are some nice Mulder/Scully scenes, but considering how tossed off the main plot was, it’s their relationship that the movie hinges on, and there’s no sensical or interesting development with them.

As for that plot itself, it didn’t really work for me. It doesn’t come close to ‘Beyond the Sea,’ an episode that plays a lot of the same beats in a much more emotional and effective way. Plus, the whole aesthetic is so relentlessly downbeat. There’s very few jokes in the movie, and I think the show always did have a strong humor component. I’d have rather seen a story that was a bit more fun. And, for me, there was a huge disconnect between the summer weather outside and the winter world of the movie. I think this would have been better released in the fall or winter.

The problem with The X-Files at this point is that nearly all the compelling supporting characters have been killed. Without the Smoking Man, Kryceck and the Lone Gunmen, the movie universe feels kind of empty. Skinner got perhaps the best role of the film, coming in for ten minutes, kicking some ass, then getting out of the way. But, if you’re going to do a movie with only two characters from the series, it’s got to be better. It’s got to be Jose Chung or Home good. Where the first film was a great expansion of everything the series did well that probably made no sense to new viewers, this film was so disconnected from the series itself, it’d probably play better for people who’d never watched the show, then for people who had watched the whole thing and wind up disappointed that it’s so poorly handled.


Todd C. Murry said...

I agree with 95% of what you say, here, with the big difference of opinion being on the subject of Scully's sidelining. It seemed, to me, like the movie wanted despirately to be about Scully's struggle with belief to the exclusion of everything else, and wasn't very interested in Mulder except as it informed her struggle, or in just a plot-mechanics way with the actuall mystery-plot.

Scully carried almost all of the thematic weight on the story, and Mulder's character arc (such as it was) was resolved in a few minutes (I don't want to anymore - oh I guess I have to - wait, this is my calling). I think it was this wanting Scully not to be in an X-files movie but a Lifetime movie that created the distance that destroyed - just completely obliterated - the potential for us to see that chemical sparks of their interaction which is THE BIGGEST SELLING POINT of any X-Files venture.

Patrick said...

I'd agree with that, Scully wasn't sidelined from the story, but she was sidelined from the action. I don't care about plot device kid, and it bothers me that Scully spent all her time dealing with him instead of out working with Mulder on the case. It's hard to believe this was the story they thought would get the series going again after six years off.

Anonymous said...

By all means the movie was a bust. The movie financially performed horribly with a 67.6 million worldwide box office. Which doesn't necessarily constitute a bad movie but the plot was just terrible. I completely agree with everything you've said about the movie. I remember watching the first 5 minutes of the movie and knowing this was going to be bad. The movie was so half hazardously thrown together it was as if a fan had made it. I left the movie so disgusted that it took me days to get over it. If Carter wants to redeem himself he will have to put out a third movie that involves aliens. That's what I expected from the second movie and now demand if a third is made.