Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Chris Carter
Screenwriters: Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz
Running Time: 104 mins
Certificate: 12A
Released: 1st August

In the early 1990s writer Chris Carter, inspired by the report that 3.7 million Americans claimed to have been abducted by aliens, created the television phenomenon that was The X-Files. The rest as they say is history, and after nine seasons and one cinematic outing in 1998, the show has been forever cemented in popular culture. The famous theme tune, the slogans (“Trust No One”, “The Truth Is Out There”), “Spooky” Mulder, the sceptic Scully, and it even spawned a Brit Pop track from Welsh rock outfit Catatonia. Yet The X-Files was very much a product of its time, tapping into the ‘90s cultural obsession with all things supernatural and government conspiracies, fed by the rise of the Internet. In a post-9/11 world audiences are still intrigued by the workings of a shadowy government, but terrorism and security have overtaken aliens and flying saucers.

The TV episodes could be categorised in two ways: the “myth-arc” episodes, dealing with the alien/government conspiracy, and the “monster-of-the-week” episodes. X-Files: I Want To Believe is of the later, and it sees Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), 6 years after the end of the series, being drawn back into the world of the FBI to investigate an unusual murder. Unfortunately the title is something of a misnomer as this feels like anything but an X-File. Psychic paedophile Father Joseph Crissman (a horribly miscast Billy Connolly) is having visions of the murder victim and is leading the FBI and our favourite rogue agents closer to the perpetrators. This mostly involves some really yawn inducing police detective work (include Amanda Peet’s Agent Dakota Whitney sniffing a used swimming costume and exclaiming ‘Chlorine!’ like she just found the cure for cancer) and some laborious dialogue scenes between our protagonists as they get angsty over faith and belief.

While the easy criticism levelled at TV-adaptations is that they feel like extended episodes of the series, it’s all too true here. Unlike the ’98 film which was incredibly cinematic (if narratively burdened by being a stop-gap between seasons), this feels like a cheap and rushed production, no surprise given it’s been written, produced and lensed in the last six months. Worst of all though is that this is clearly the worst X-File ever written. Psychic phenomena was dealt with better in the excellent episode ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’ with Peter Boyle from season 3, and the tension between the belief systems of Mulder and Scully is better examined in just about any episode you can pick at random. Fans and non-fans alike agreed that “monster-of-the-week” was the way to go, but this distasteful story of Russian scientists/sex abusers pales in comparison to classic stories like Squeeze (stretchy liver eating Eugene Victor Tooms) or Home (surely the most shocking scripted drama to be aired on TV).

Repugnant jokes and ludicrous assumptions about paedophilia aside (sexual abuse leads directly to homosexuality, apparently) it’s just left to wonder what the point of this was. With a mythology so tangled even Duchovny and Anderson can’t explain it, clearly there was no desire to bring closure to the TV show, yet it seems Carter was not willing to indulge fans in some nostalgia either. The locales are foreign to viewers, no Mulder’s apartment, no Syndicate, no black oil, no scary eye-less aliens, no Cigarette Smoking Man (okay, he’s ‘dead’ but it would have been enjoyable), finally, no fun in having these characters back whatsoever. Carter has recently claimed that a financial success will see Fox produce a mythology led film about the much-mooted alien invasion that was at the centre of the final season. However given this film was released the same week as The Dark Knight in the U.S. should ensure that the X-Files are once again boxed up and left on the shelves in the deepest, darkest basement of the FBI headquarters where they belong.

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