The X Files Revisited: The Movie - Fight The Future
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The X Files ran for nine seasons and two movies, charting the efforts of Agents Mulder and Scully in their search for the unexplained. And then in 2016, it returned for six new episodes, a mix of mythology and case of the week stories that brought Mulder and Scully back the FBI. From the brilliant Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster to the frantic mythology cliff-hanger in My Struggle II, it was largely viewed as a success and there are hopes that season 10 is just the first of more. In the lead up to the revival, The Digital Fix reviewed the best and most significant episodes of the first 100 episodes in the season's run, from the pilot episode all the way through to the 100th episode Unusual Suspects. Now we're going to continue that run, picking key episodes from the second half of the show; this time we're taking a break from the show to take a look at the 1998 movie that fell between season five and six...
In the mid-1990s, The X Files was a global TV phenomenon. It won awards, the big twists were pure water-cooler moments and the dynamic between David Duchovny's Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully was electric. With its mix of monster of the week, conspiracy stories, serial killers and comedic episodes, its popularity was at its height and talk of an The X Files movie had everyone excited. And so between seasons four and five The X Files: Fight The Future (or The X Files Movie as it was simply known) was filmed. In the summer of 1998, the film hit cinemas. This was the moment fans had been waiting for...
...and needless to say, it could never meet expectations. It was too complicated said some, not dramatic enough said others. I think a lot of fans were expecting Mulder and Scully meets Independence Day (something the film rifes by having Mulder pissing on a poster from that movie in an alley). For me on the first and now my third viewing, it is a lot of fun, blending great performances from the two leads with a widening mythology that actually does give audience answers, some fantastic monster moments and a finale deserving of being a cinematic X Files. But it is also a little tame in its approach; in Chris Carter's attempt to entice audiences unfamiliar with the show and fans the majority of the film is a good, solid mythology story, that had been bettered by some episodes within the TV show.
The first thing I noticed about the movie is how heightened everything is. Having just finished my run of season five, the 'acting' feels more intense; even the two leads seem louder, more expressive. I'm not sure anyone would notice the difference between TV and film but here, sitting between seasons five and six chronologically, it is very clear. Mark Snow's score is dramatic too. There are a number of times where we hear a sweeping version of the classic The X Files theme that feels like it is competing with James Horner or John Williams. It works because it is a film version of the classic TV show, but it also means that there are elements of the film that feel like a parody of The X Files.
It is also a film that tries to be a bit of everything, all the best bits of the show. Some of these ideas really work. The gestating alien creature is not only a continuation of the alien mythology thread but also delivers some fantastic monster moments that the show has done so well. And amid the black oil, bees and secret government facilities there is a plot. The black oil, to be transmitted by genetically-altered bees in order for alien colonisation and the subjugation of humans into a slave race, has mutated. Instead of the human race being slaves for aliens, with the shadowy consortium in power, everyone will become hosts of an alien virus that will gestate from our bodies, killing us. It is shocking, brutal and turns the whole colonisation story from enslavement to genocide. And in that sense the scale of the movie - as opposed to a standard episode - is clearly evident.
The film opens in Texas, during the ice age, which sees two cavemen encounter something beneath the ice and become attacked by an alien monster and the deadly black oil contagion. Cut to present day a young boy (played by Lucas Black of American Gothic fame at the time the film was released) who falls into the same hole and becomes infected with the black oil. What quickly unfolds is a secret military cover-up, led by Jeffrey DeMunn's Bronschweig. Mysterious domes, secret labs built into the hole and a blanket of lies to the local fire departments and wider populace; this is the government conspiracy in full action.
Only then do we get our first look at Mulder and Scully in action, working as part of an FBI anti-terrorist unit to discover a bomb in Dallas. There is great banter between the two agents as they patrol the roof, even if Chris Carter's expositiony dialogue is all too apparent. It smacks of being a scene setting piece for non-fans. We learn about human psychology in terrorists (this is all before September 11th remember), mentions of Mulder's unconventional methods, the closure of the X Files...it's all a little forced but Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny play it well. Mulder's discovery of the actual bomb in the vending machine of a second building is rather amusing - and a little tense - as he finds himself locked in. Enter Terry O'Quinn as FBI special agent Michaud, leading the investigation and a dramatic series events that sees Mulder and Scully racing away in a police car as the building explodes behind them, killing Michaud in the process. It is a spectacular sequence to be fair
But after a strong opening, the film ventures into familiar TV territory. Mulder is accosted by Doctor Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) into investigating what the bomb was really covering up; a government medical research facility containing three dead firemen and the boy from Texas. It's a grandiose conspiracy but also something we have seen before. The talk of FEMA gaining access to all government agencies during a planned viral outbreak is something we eventually saw in the recent season 10 finale My Struggle II (albeit very rushed and not paced well). On rewatch it is interesting to see that there is more groundwork for later stories than I realised.
And perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. There are some interesting ideas (the revival proved that Chris Carter has great ideas, he just can't always execute them well) and as a long term fan watching the film in chronological order with the series, I don't have the perspective a casual fan or someone who hadn't watched the show would have had. It is just a shame the tribunal to hear Mulder and Scully's stories over Dallas, the race to clear their name, the shadowy consortium and Scully being taken away from Mulder are all tropes The X Files has done well before.
One of the things I found odd was the decision to bring in oscar-winning actor Armin Mueller-Stahl to play a leading role in the shadowy consortium. He had never appeared in the series and never would again and yet here he is overseeing the debate on whether to fight or conspire with the aliens. It means that the series' main villain William B. Davis's Cigarette Smoking Man gets to look all mysterious (his first reveal stepping out of the helicopter and lighting a cigarette is ridiculously OTT) but doesn't offer much to the plot. Other prominent members like Don S. Williams's First Elder are relegated to a virtual non-speaking part and only John Neville's Well Manicured Man gets anything decent to do.
Sadly this would be Neville's last appearance in The X Files. Over the last three seasons he had become my favourite member of the consortium and his ability to make 'dear God!' sound like he was reciting Shakespeare was always impressive. His final scene with Mulder (particularly in the extended version of the film) offers some real progression in the overall mythology. We learn that his sister was abducted to become a human / alien hybrid designed to fight colonisation through the black oil and Mulder gets answers to what the Consortium have really been up to. His ruthlessness as he shoots the driver ready to kill him, betrays his colleagues by giving Mulder a cure to save Scully and nobly going to his death in the exploding car is gallantly done.
As for the investigation into what happens, the film does keep things at a steady pace as Mulder and Scully lie their way into a military morgue to study the corpses of one of the dead firemen from the explosion. The mutation on the corpse's body, turning him almost gelatinous is rather gruesome and over in Texas the real horror is revealed, making this as much a monster move as it is an alien conspiracy thriller. Despite being very Alien in its inspiration, the moment Bronschweig discovers the dead body in the lab, its chest ripped open and encounters the alien is incredibly tense, brutal and surprisingly violent. It sets the scene for the dramatic finale in style.
There is a sweeping, epic feel to the cinematography as Mulder and Scully drive through the Texas desert in search of the oil tankers ferrying the virus. Plot wise it feels like a stretch for them to wander so desperately into the wilderness in search of answers, particularly when Scully has a hearing to attend but there is a beauty to whole proceedings that sucks you in. The discovery of the domes and the swarms of bees add grandeur to the proceedings - though I did find it odd that Mulder made no reference to the bee colonies he discovered in Herrenvolk at the start of season four. The chase through the cornfields by the black helicopters was pure North By Northwest and adds an exciting action sequence to break up the investigation - should casual cinema goers at the time get bored!
And of course, the film teases a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully like nothing before. Forget Ross and Rachel, it was Mulder and Scully that a huge fan base wanted to get together, so the almost kiss after she is separated from Mulder and decides to quit the FBI, must have had shippers squealing with anticipation in the cinema. Chris Carter wisely chooses not to make them a romantic couple at this point and the lone bee under her collar stings her just before their lips can touch. The fake paramedics abducting Scully and shooting him in the head is a shocking twist, even if this is largely Ascension mark II.
The following scene with Mulder recovering in the hospital adds a nice touch of humour as he avoids government special ops by sneaking out disguised as Byers. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but I think this is also the first time Skinner meets the Lone Gunmen. They're barely a cameo in the film but they make for a fun addition.
And then after the Well Mannicured Man gives Mulder the cure (the same one I assume stolen from the Russians in season five's The Red And The Black) Mulder makes his way to Antartica for the dramatic finale. This is where The X Files: Fight The Future really does pay off as a movie. There is a great sense of claustrophobia and acrophobia as Mulder falls through the snow and climbs through the ice tunnels into the alien craft. The final set piece looks amazing. Long metallic tunnels filled with pods filled with green light, huge drops into the abyss, a very ugly, industrial and yet stunning ship that is influenced by the Alien franchise even more than the creatures bursting out of the chests of its victims.
After a few nail biting moments (Mulder slipping and hanging over the edge of the chasm as he tries to navigate his way through the ship) he finds Scully encased in a glass pod. You can feel your heart racing as he smashes his way through the glass and injects the cure into her while the terrifying aliens stir in the other pods. Her resuscitation is gruesome, encased in slime, the tube decaying as it is pulled from her throat. And the race back to the surface as the creatures break free is terrific, edge of your seat stuff, particularly when Scully loses consciousness just as the first pod breaks and when he is chased through the tunnel back towards the light. . The monster movie moments are indeed where The X Files: Fight The Future really triumphs.
RThe jaw dropping spectacle continues as they race across the ice as it collapses behind the, and the UFO emerges. The X Files movie was never going to go full Independance Day or Alien but this is the closest the franchise gets as the ship soars above Mulder while Scully lies unconscious, eerie green light emitting from its base as it makes its ascent.
And so The X Files: Fight The Future ends with Scully presenting the evidence her panel has so readily dismissed (the genetically modified bee that stung her), securing her place at Mulder's side and having the X Files reopened. Of course things wouldn't be resolved quite so easily in season six, but it is a triumphant conclusion here, particularly when Scully knowingly tells the panel there is no unit within the FBI that is able to investigate the extreme events that took place.
The film is a good mythology story, not as strong as classics like the Anasazi trilogy or Nisei / 731 but it does progress the mythology even if there is a disconnect with how season five ended. There are moments such as the Texas bombing and the alien craft in Antarctica that make it worthy of being a film version of the show but there was not enough to warrant the leap from small to big screen. Perhaps if Chris Carter had gone with his original plan and ended the show after five years to continue The X Files in movie form, it might have been more successful. But constrained by the events of the TV series, it doesn't quite go far enough. Still I rather enjoyed it after all these years, even if, like the second movie, it feels a bit like a novelty than a big screen adventure in its own right.