The long wait is finally over. The truth is finally revealed. "The X-Files: Fight the Future", the first feature film based on the immensely popular television series, has finally hit the theaters. But was it worth the wait? Does it reward the dedicated fans, so-called X-Philes, by making the elaborate government/alien conspiracy mythology arc transparent? Or does it pose more questions than it answers? Are the snippets of revelation consistent with the information previously established in the series, or as many pundits believe, is it obvious that series creator Chris Carter is making it up as he goes along? And more importantly, regardless of its lineage to the show, does "The X-Files: Fight the Future" stand on its own as a good movie?
For those that have followed the series, the fifth season finale had the work of FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the X-Files, being shut down. Furthermore, their office had been set on fire by the shadowy Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), destroying all traces of their paranormal investigations over the last five years. When the film opens, Mulder and Scully have been reassigned to an anti-terrorism unit under the supervision of Special Agent Darius Michaud (Terry O'Quinn, a regular on sister series "Millennium"). While in Dallas, Texas investigating a bomb threat to a federal building, the FBI is unable to defuse the bomb in time, which results in several deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Looking for a scapegoat, Mulder and Scully are pulled before an inquiry looking into their actions during the investigation.
However, Mulder, spurred on by a man claiming to be a friend of his late father (Academy Award-winningMartin Landau), finds that the bombing may have been part of a bid to cover-up the outbreak of a mysterious extraterrestrial virus, the so-called Black Oil (if you watch the series regularly, you'll know what I'm talking about, but even if you don't, some backstory is provided). With their careers on the line (which happens at least once every season), Mulder and Scully pursue the hidden agenda of the shadow government, and uncover a diabolical alien plan that will ultimately affect every man, woman, and child on the planet.
With something like "The X-Files: Fight the Future", there are two ways to evaluate its merits. On the one hand, it can be assessed as another 'episode' of the series, and be judged on its consistency with and its ability to further develop the ongoing series mythology. This, of course, would presume a working knowledge of the show and its characters. In this respect, the movie succeeds quite well, playing on the quirks of the series' beloved protagonists and the aspirations of the show's avid fans (including whether or the two agents will actually share an on-screen kiss). In addition to the presence of Mulder and Scully, other series regulars, such as Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), the Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund,, and Bruce Harwood), the First Elder (Don S. Williams), and the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville), put in appearances. However, with the exception of the latter, most of these roles seem obligatory in nature-- their appearances are more for providing familiar faces than necessary for propelling the story forward. Furthermore, with a reported $60 million budget, which is thirty times the budget of the average X-Files TV episode, the production values are much higher in this feature film, which come across in the quality of the special effects, the movie's epic scope, and even the costumes (though I had a hard time with Scully being able to chase bad guys in the slinky black outfits and the really-high heels that she sports in this outing). However, with respect to the conspiracy arc, though the new information provided more or less develops logically from what has been established in the series, there were still some ambiguities and contradictions with the nature of the government/alien conspiracy, and many new questions being posed. Yes, it seems the truth is revealed, only now it is a lot more complicated. But despite this shortcoming, the movie is definitely a treat for all X-Philes.
On the other hand, the movie can also be assessed as a stand-alone entity, and be judged on its ability to entertain and create a stand-alone story arc that someone would be able to enjoy without having ever watched the television show. With respect to this perspective, the movie also does quite well, providing enough thrills and entertainment value to those who are naive of the series. Though Chris Carter's script does provide enough backstory to bring the audience up to speed, the facts come fast and furious, and the utmost attention must be paid in order to navigate through and understand the labyrinthine intrigue. The self-contained character arcs of the Mulder and Scully are also well-fleshed out, with both characters coming to terms with their own insurmountable obstacles and frustrations, which serve as interesting microcosms of their character arcs over the life of the series. Even without a prior knowledge of these two characters, most audience members will probably find the on-screen chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson both compelling and charismatic, and it may even attract new viewers to the weekly show.
If there is anything to complain about with "The X-Files: Fight the Future", it would be that it continues the series' time-honored tradition of deus ex machina plotting and narrative cheats. Anyone who regularly watches the series can attest to this form of lazy writing. Over the course of "The X-Files", situations have been resolved on the show without the characters having to create their own solutions 'internally'-- an externally-generated solution falls on their lap, a variation of 'the calvary arriving to save the day'. Mulder always has someone popping out of the woodwork to provide information necessary for his investigation, or he is able to escape death by someone 'showing up' in the nick of time, or villains have an inexplicable 'change of heart' when they are on the verge of bumping off a main character. In the movie, deus ex machina is readily apparent, with story credibility being strained by too many coincidences-- Mulder and Scully always seem to be in the right place at the right time to see a transient event that propels their investigation forward. Narrative cheats are also used to avoid explaining how an otherwise inescapable situation is conquered-- the most notorious example from the series was Mulder escaping from a burning rail car in the second season finale. This form of lazy writing also rears its head in the movie, with the two agents making close escapes without any obvious means. But perhaps it is a symptom of a bigger problem with the premise of "The X-Files"-- how to tell a story when there is an omnipresent and omnipotent shadow government that can kill the two main characters with impunity. In such a situation, with an all-powerful and seemingly undefeatable adversary, eleventh hour resolutions, no matter how incredulous, seem to be the easiest way out.
Overall, "The X-Files: Fight the Future" succeeds reasonably well as both an extension of the television series and as a stand-alone feature film. It is a great reward for all the dedicated X-Philes, and yet is still an entertaining diversion for those who have little or no passing interest to the series. While it didn't answer all the questions it was purported to answer, it was a very satisfying effort, and I look forward to the next one, reportedly coming in the year 2000.
All images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.