Sunday, June 22, 2008

The X-Files - Fight the Future (1998)

(Image from Wikipedia)

The X-Files - Fight the Future (1998)

I'm the key figure in an ongoing government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It's a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet, so, of course, no one believes me. I'm an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it's gonna be the shit-storm of all time. - Fox Mulder

Ah, Fox Mulder - if ever there was a geek character who made the big time on television, it's him (though, I guess Dale Cooper comes pretty close!). And then there's his "skeptical beyond belief and in the face of overwhelming evidence" partner Scully. What a team they were, in a show that brought sci-fi and the supernatural to the mainstream without compromising good, intelligent writing and edgy thrills. The movie version of 'The X-Files' came out between the show's fifth and sixth seasons and was a pretty high profile release (despite it's modest box office), and watching it again after all these years it strikes me as a very strong extension of the show that remains faithful while being reasonably accessible to people going in cold.

The byzantine plot involves a conspiracy by Federal Agency FEMA (yeah right, after Katrina I doubt these guys could conspire to pull off a surprise birthday party) to hide the existence of extra terrestrials, whom they have been working with for decades towards sinister ends. When an alien virus hidden on earth for millennia gets out and results in a massive cover up, FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovy) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) get on the case and start digging. Mulder is aided by a possibly deluded conspiracy theorist named Alvin Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) as he searches for answers. Time is not on our heroes' side as an FBI Committee investigates the two of them, which prompts Scully to consider resigning; things don't get any better when their lives are placed in jeopardy as they start to get some answers. Along for the ride in this cinematic outing are a host of regulars from the show, such as the Lone Gunmen, Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and of course everyone's favourite villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis).

The film really does feel like a lengthy episode of the show, only with a bigger playing field. It's actually a pretty good balancing act in terms of style, never feeling too big or grand until the massive finale, which truth be told doesn't work all that well. For the most part it sticks to the dark alleys, autopsy rooms, secret meetings between old men, exploration of strange locations, and banter between Mulder and Scully, and the storytelling is fairly gripping when it does. It's hard to say if a non fan will find any of this engaging, but the script goes some way towards making the plot as standalone as possible. The relationships between characters and their history, however, are obviously not reintroduced and may be confusing to newbies, but I think the gaps can be filled in reasonably well by the astute viewer. The dialogue style is as strong as on the show, with no pandering, and the plot twists and turns without slowing down and without any dumbing down either. The story picks up on elements from the series but fortunately doesn't rely on them, and I think overall the story is momentous enough to justify a cinematic outing; there are some impressively big moments in here, like the building explosion at the start, the cornfield chase, and some of the alien stuff towards the end.

The production values are raised above those of the show, as are the set pieces, but the performances are perfectly in tune with what was established in the series. Duchovny and Anderson wear Mulder and Scully like second skins, and they play the material to perfection. As do all of the regular supporting actors, even if their presence is perfunctory and adds very little to the story besides being fan service. Martin Landau was inspired casting as the odd, paranoid, but trustworthy man in the know, and his scenes with Duchovny are great. William B. Davis as the Smoking Man is, well, his usual nonchalant self - I was never that big a fan of the character, but he plays the role well.

As a film on its own, it's not mind blowing, but for fans it's as good a TV to big screen transfer as could have been hoped for. It works reasonably well on its own but is best viewed as something complementary to the series. The denoument is perhaps frustrating in that it presents limited closure, instead serving as a launching point for the sixth series, and it's also somewhat jarringly grand in scale for the X-Files; I can let that slide because it's not bad per se and because everything leading upto the finale is pretty good. Overall the film is worth watching for X-Files fans, especially those in anticipation of the forthcoming sequel, 'I Want to Believe'.


CyberKitten said...

I used to *love* The X-Files. Until week after week the evidence that Fox Mulder need to prove - well anything really - was whisked away just in the nick of time. Even the sight Gillian Anderson couldn't overcome my building frustration.

I'm in two minds about seeing the latest film. I can't remember being too overwhelmed by the first one....

Antimatter said...

Well, I actually preferred the standalone episodes to the repetitive, wheel spinning 'mythology' ones, so I'm with you on those complaints!

The first movie was sorta mythology based, but this one is meant to be a standalone 'monster of the week' type, which could be good (though I wonder how cinematic!).

Dili said...

Well I'll be watching just cos Im an X-files fan. I thought it was a real shame how they dragged the alien invasion story on and on till it tore the show to shreds. So i think its refreshing that the new one'll be outside that.

I totally agree that "FoF" was just a big episode. It felt that way and it was good that way.

off topic: Speaking of big episodes, mid-season finale of BSG? Wow! right?

Dili said...

Sorry not "FoF", "XF:FtF" :P

Antimatter said...

*SPOILERS FROM BSG MID-SEASON 3 - cyberkitten, you have been warned!*

Yeah, the episode was pretty amazing, though I thought not quite as big a punch as the Cylon reveal at the end of last season. Also, one thing that bugged me was how almost irrelevant the four ultimately seemed in terms of their contribution towards finding earth! Unless, of course, they still have some major part to play.

But yeah, it was a tremendous episode overall, nicely tied lots of threads together in an eventful and exciting way! And that final tracking shot of a devastated earth was brilliant. It was quite a shock to get to earth at the midpoint, and very clever, because it sets up a very open ended cliffhanger.