More noise than signal

The X-Files Movie

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

This feature length outing of the X-Files, sometimes subtitled Fight the Future, nestles itself between series five and six of the then phenomenally popular television show cum pop culture touchstone. So popular that describing what The X-Files is, at least to folks of a certain age, feels as redundant as describing what Game of Thrones is to current audiences. But, on the off chance you, gentle listener, are not as fossilised as your dear hosts, I shall back up a little.

The X-Files, as a concept, sees David Duchovny’s cynically wisecracking FBI agent Fox Mulder out to prove the existence of the paranormal in general and existence of extra-terrestrials in particular, trawling through the bucket of weird and unexplained cases that constitute the FBI’s titular X-Files. Initially sent by higher-ups in the hopes of debunking his work, Gillian Anderson’s skeptical medical doctor turned FBI agent Dana Scully proves to be a staunch ally as they looked at not only a whole bunch of standalone, monster of the weeks type episodes, but the mysterious conspiracy between the shadow agencies running the world governments and the alien menace that is the centrepiece of this movie.

This Syndicate of collaborators have been helping the aliens with their plans to take over the world with a virus, in an effort to buy time while secretly attempting to develop a vaccine of their own. However the shape of their alliance shifts after a kid in Texas falls into a cave and is infected with a prehistoric form of this virus, that’s not simply killing humans, but uses them to gestate an alien inside them. Not an invasion, then, but spontaneous repopulation.

The cover-up for containing this, seemingly coincidentally, sees Mulder and Scully as part of a team investigating a bomb threat and unexpectedly finding the bomb, albeit in a building neighbouring the one that was actually under threat. With the FBI unable to defuse the bomb, during the subsequent operational post-mortem their spider-sense into procedural irregularities sees them tugging on some threads that lead back to the aforementioned outbreak, and could give them the evidence they need to finally prove this whole alien shebang. But, of course, the dastardly Syndicate aren’t about to let that happen, those dastards.

And so it goes, with roles for many of the series’ regular and beloved supporting acts, like Mitch Pileggi’s Assistant Director Walter Skinner, William B. Davis’s shady Cigarette-Smoking Man, and Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood and Tom Braidwood as Langly, Byers and Frohike, Mulder’s even more paranoid buddies the Lone Gunmen. So, plenty to go on for fans of the series, and (William B. Davis aside) a bunch of brief and pointless cameos of entirely unexplained characters for anyone coming to this cold.

Which, in a nutshell, is the rather obvious, well, lets call it a problem, with the X-Files Movie, in that if you were to judge it as a movie, divorced from the five series and, what, a hundred hours of familiarity with the characters and the conspiracy arc, it’s pretty much an inexplicable mess of dense story arc and no character setup. And, so far removed from it, I suppose it is possible that someone may stumble upon this movie in isolation from the series, or think it a good way to get a flavour of the series before committing to watching it. They are, I suspect, in for a bad time. I suspect even I may have had a bad time, if I hadn’t watched a smattering of episodes a few years back.

But that’s a very much a problem that didn’t exist at the time of release, and it would be perverse to expect what is essentially an extravagant two-part episode to pretend that all that hundred hours of baggage, good and bad, didn’t exist. If you’re already bought in to the X-Files horse and pony show, there’s a lot to like in this outing – all the character interactions you love, and a sort of conclusion, or at least a very significant evolution, to a mystery that’s been dangled in front of you for five years.

I still like this a lot, in the main because I still like the X-Files a lot, and this is part of it. It is not, however, the best part of it, and it’s not too controversial a position to take that this was the series’ last hurrah before sliding somewhat in quality, or perhaps just position in the general zeitgeist over the next four seasons. Between nine seasons of this, and three of spin-off series Millennium and a half series of The Lone Gunmen, it rather exhausted most folks patience, mine included, but when occasionally dipping into the later episodes, or even the recent reboot, it’s still surprisingly enjoyable. In small doses. Years apart.

That’s all a bit of a ramble, but there’s not a lot of sense in separating this from the X-Files as a gestalt. If you’re new to it, well, this isn’t the place to start – that would be the first few episodes then practically any random selections from the first five series. But if you’re watching it through in order, this is a solid instalment.