The X-Files: I Want to Believe (20th Century Fox, 2008)

On screen, the Fox TV series The X-Files spent nine years chronicling the adventures of special agents Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they investigated alien abductions, unraveled government conspiracies, and dealt with many disturbing individuals engaged in various psychotic behaviors that usually had some link to the paranormal. Off screen, the performance of the show in terms of ratings was as complex and enigmatic as the show's underlying story. Due to some exceptionally good writing, primarily from creator Chris Carter but with increasing help over the years from Frank Spotnitz, it wasn't hard to understand the very loyal following the show developed among sci fi buffs. However, the show broke into the mainstream in a big way, and by the fifth season there was considerable demand for a motion picture. The surprising success of The X-Files exposed a flaw in the main story arc, though. Carter had always said that he never expected the show to last very long, and as the web of conspiracies became increasingly tangled, there was no plan in place to bring any sort of coherent resolution to the series. (Compare this to the similarly complex current sci fi series Battlestar Galactica, where you get the sense that all the major plot twists were mapped out carefully well in advance.) The original X-Files movie tried to explain and resolve as many of the unanswered questions as possible, but the writers overreached and wound up misfiring. The show struggled from that point, but not to the same degree that most of its audience lost interest. When Duchovny took leave of the show in the first half of season 8 and was replaced by Robert Patrick as Agent Doggett, the bandwagon was more or less emptied. (Ironically, the eighth season featured some of the show's best writing, and remains vastly underrated.) The X-Files came to an end in 2002, after a ninth season that was disappointing both commercially and aesthetically.

Now, six years after the show's demise, Mulder and Scully are back for another X-Files movie, subtitled I Want to Believe in honor of a poster Mulder always kept in his office. Carter and Spotnitz likewise return to their usual roles as writers for the film. I found it amusing that there was some buzz about whether the two protagonists would finally hook up romantically, as anybody who stuck around for the last two seasons has known the answer for a while. Mulder is still in hiding from the government at the beginning of the movie, with Scully providing his only contact with the outside world. Scully, meanwhile, has taken a job at a Catholic hospital -- one of the fun ironies of the series was how Mulder's strong beliefs and Scully's scientific skepticism were reversed where religion was concerned -- and is torn with deciding whether it is worth it to put a boy in her care through a series of painful operations that would raise his chances of survival from zero to very slim. An FBI agent then comes to Scully in an effort to reach Mulder. Another agent has been kidnapped, and their only clues have been provided by a disgraced priest who either has a psychic connection to the criminals, or is in on the crime himself. Mulder naturally takes the priest at his word, in spite of Scully's protestations, and the heart of the story commences. From there, the case takes the usual series of twists and turns. The kidnappers turn out to be far more dangerous and disturbing than was apparent initially. Meanwhile conflict also ensues between Scully, who had willingly left her old life behind, and Mulder, who's reinvigorated by being on the job again.

Some people have complained that I Want to Believe lacks the aliens and the deep conspiracies that defined the underlying story of the series. (Reports have circulated that the aliens mistakenly showed up on the set of the Indiana Jones movie instead.) But The X-Files was about more than just aliens, and some of the best episodes revolved around harrowing encounters with people who reflect the worst elements of human nature. This movie would rank among the creepiest of the X-Files episodes, and the scene in which the film's climax takes place is absolutely not for the squeamish. All told, I felt like I was watching a better-than-average X-Files episode. Maybe that isn't sufficient for some people, or at least not enough to justify paying to see it on the big screen, but I left satisfied. The movie should still appeal to people who remained loyal to the show, although I can't say that it will win back any of the audience that the series lost.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

To view the trailer, click here.

1 comment:

Ms☆Go said...

I have been so very "meh" about this movie.

But lately, I'm reviewing good reviews for it.

Now, I'm regreting my decision to see Step Brothers instead.