|Aug/Sep 1998 Film and Cinema|
Capsule: The X-Files is just an elaborate
episode of the television series done large for the
screen. There are some nice visual touches and
some good character actors, but the plot lacks the
intelligence to make the film more than just a
throwaway. Mulder and Scully are buffeted like
corks until the script contrives to put them at the
right place and time. You can get by seeing the
series and not the film or vice versa.
Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
The X-Files is, of course, a screen version of the popular television show. The first thing that people will want to know is if they are not fans of the TV series, will the film make sense to them. Well, I can say only what my experience was. I would say that I am not particularly a fan of the X-Files show. I probably have seen in the range of six to ten episodes and have not seen anything that would make me want to be a more regular viewer. So not keeping up with the series was I confused by the film? I would say only in the right places. An X-Files plot is intended to be somewhat confusing. I certainly did not feel at a loss to understand what was going on for any lack of following the television series. I think that if the viewer only knows that the series is about two FBI agents who battle government efforts to cover up paranormal phenomena, he is ready to see this film and, as far as I know, will not miss a lot of what is going on. How about the other side of the coin? Will regular viewers who miss the movie miss a lot of the arc of the story line? Again my guess is that the answer is no. In spite of claims in the coming attractions that all will be revealed; it would be too radical a departure from the X-FILES formula to tell much of anything helpful. That highly successful formula keeps the viewer tantalized but never reveals enough to really clear up the basic mysteries. The film appears to me to be no more and no less than a very deluxe version of an episode of The X-Files television series, one with good special effects and a few very respectable character actors.
The problem with The X-Files is that as political thrillers go it really does not cut the mustard. In a really good political thriller, say Seven Days in May, the characters do intelligent things and it makes the film all the more compelling. It is clear from the script (written by series creator Chris Carter) that Mulder is supposed to be a very clever agent of the FBI, and certainly his continued (albeit limited) success at keeping his investigations going would lead one to believe that he should be fairly bright. In the film he never gets to exercise much intelligence. The plot is repeatedly moved forward by people who are privy to secret information dropping Mulder surreptitious clues as to what is really going on, or by Mulder making extremely lucky guesses. Remove his lucky hunches and his Deep- Throat-ex-machina informants and Mulder really does not do a lot besides going through the obvious motions. In fact the only time we really get to see his professionalism is when he blurts to a barmaid that the FBI is covering up an alien invasion. Carter would like us to believe that Mulder is intelligent, but apparently Carter has no idea how to write Mulder that way.
Toward the end of the film Mulder's incredible luck becomes almost laughable. He has what amounts to a needle-in-a-haystack-within-a- haystack quest. Suddenly Mulder falls through a hole, drops a long way, and lands amazingly uninjured within a few feet of exactly what he is searching for. This guy Mulder must have friends in much higher places than the cloistered rooms of conspirators in which the film glories. Mulder must be friends with "the Guy Upstairs"... Chris Carter, that is.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The film opens with the familiar eerie whistle and almost immediately the plot twists start coming thick and fast, though this may be "thick" may be in the sense of "stupid." We start with a short prolog taking place in a glacier- bound Texas of 35,000 BC (more or less). Somewhere deep inside the ice something scary is happening. We cannot really see it well, but it is something with a lot of sudden jumps and loud noises. When the same violent thing happens again in present day Texas (minus the glacier, of course), the government finds itself with some dead bodies. And it would want nobody to ask too many questions about them. In one of those great government conspiracies it tries to conceal the deaths. And you should hear the absurd way they try to cover it up! I discuss some of the problems with the government plan in the spoiler section below. Part of the cover-up uses agents Mulder and Scully and sends them looking for answers to all the most embarrassing questions. It will lead them to the edges of a new conspiracy bigger than the ones before, a conspiracy to change our whole future.
In addition to series regulars David Duchovny as Special Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully we have some impressive character lending their talents: Martin Landau, John Neville, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Glenne Headly is present for a single scene as the barmaid...Long on style and visuals, but short on story The X-Files rates a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. ).
Incidentally, even in the worst of the Ice Age the glacier did not extend south to Texas. Remember that the glacier tore up the ground in the North, leaving that region good only for industrialization. It did not roll over the South, which is why they later could remain agricultural. That was a big part of the cause of that ruckus we Americans had in the 1860s.
The initial cover-up with the building explosion could not have worked. First, I am sure the fire department knew to where the firemen had been dispatched and it was not where they supposedly died. The black-eyed boy's mother also would have known her son was not by chance in the exploded building. And it is very unclear why the bomb expert was willing to commit suicide for the good of the cover-up. Also given that they had worked out all those problems, the last people they would have wanted involved with the cover-up would be their two star paranormal investigators Scully and Mulder. It is within minutes of the start of the film that it starts losing its credibility.