24 July 2008

At the movies: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

It was a dark time for fans of intrepid FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder and their television show. Arcing from underground phenomenon to cult crossover to mainstream success to entropic and protracted flameout over the course of its nine seasons, The X-Files was simply an inescapable part of pop culture in the nineties. And now, six years after the show whimpered out of existence, Mulder and Scully are back. For much of the world, currently in the midst of a recursive bout of Batmania, the question is "Why?" But after having seen The X-Files: I Want To Believe, I can gleefully report that for fans of the show and characters as well as idea-driven SciFi thrillers, the question to ask is "Why did it take this long?"

The central mystery of the film is quintessentially mysterious, gross, and creepy. We also have a psychic convicted sex offender added into the mix, as well as some stem cell research. The best part for viewers is that it requires almost no knowledge of the labyrinthine alien colonization/black oil plot that dominated 1998's X-Files: Fight the Future film, and only the slightest familiarity with the characters themselves. As a film, it's more satisying than Fight the Future, and it's also a better beginning to a new and revitalized X-Files franchise. What I Want to Believe does is rather moving; it allows us to reconnect with characters we had thought left behind to reruns and punchlines at the expense of SciFi/Horror enthusiasts, it answers a few questions and poses a few more, and it allows the foundation for something new and wonderful to come from The X-Files franchise. Even if done as straight-to-DVD releases, we could have one of these every 12-18 months and I would be ecstatic.

Time away from Mulder and Scully have allowed Anderson and Duchovny to evolve both as performers and as characters. Anderson, in particular, brings her a-game. Much has been made of recent admission that reconnecting with her iconic character has been more difficult for her than she'd imagined, but that reticence fits in with the arc of this character in this film, and its cumulative effect is devastating. There's one moment when she talks with the parents of an ill child and, for just a moment, you see the stricken mask of her Lily Bart from The House of Mirth creep slightly across her features, and the moment is as immediate as being punched in the solar plexus. Billy Connolly plays the aforementioned psychic convicted sex offender, and he can seem overly schematic at times. That said, he still adds a few remarkable moments to the proceedings, certainly taking a difficult character and imbuing him with some uneasy gravitas.

There are moments when an exchange of dialogue seems awkward or mawkish, something that sounds almost right but feels like it might could have used a precision rewrite, but those are few and far between. There's a weird surprise gay plot point, but I'm not sure what message it's actually trying to convey- whether it's merely an example of equitable treatment of characters or if it merely is aiming to toss out some monstrous gay menace. I lean more toward the former, as that interpretation contrasts with Scully's ongoing travails with caring for a child with a rare brain disease.

What The X-Files: I Want to Believe does is allow you to catch up with old friends, and even if no X-File is ever opened in the future, we're allowed an end credits cookie that offers us a moment of peaceful potential. It's a warm ending to a cold film, but we live in a much colder world. And I take from I Want to Believe's ending a sense of satisfaction and anticipation. Here's to more from Chris Carter and these characters in the future.

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