What The Film!? is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the general fuckery Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
If you know a film with major plot holes or those that make you scratch your eyes out, tell us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “What The Film” and we’ll try to get your suggestion featured on the site.
Everyone loves a good comeback. A return to form. If you told someone from the mid 1990s that one of the biggest and most anticipated movies of 2010 (Iron Man 2) starred Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke, they would think you were crazy. Pulp Fiction rejuvenated John Travolta’s stagnant career, The Smashing Pumpkins surprised us with Zeitgeist after a five year insistence by Corgan that the band would never get back together, and after twelve years, Live Free or Die Hard brought New York cop John McClane back into pop culture.
Let’s get this out of the way; I am a huge The X-Files fan. (We call ourselves X-Philes) I genuinely think it is the greatest television show ever created. Without it, there wouldn’t be 24, Lost, Fringe, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Dexter, or really any television show that tries to tell a story over the course of the show or wants to be dark/gritty. There was a period in the late 90s/early 00s that any music that used any electronica elements were compared to Nine Inch Nails (or at least implied there was an influence). While Nine Inch Nails and The X-Files weren’t the first to use these elements, they’re generally known/accepted as those that popularized it and proved that the mainstream would accept them.
The X-Files was a science fiction drama that followed two FBI Agents as they investigated the paranormal. Any time that there was a case that the FBI couldn’t find an answer for, it was deemed an “X-file”. For the majority of the series, the show was fronted by Special Agent Fox Mulder, a psychological profiling prodigy who was initially a star agent before discovering and reopening the x-files. His obsession with the paranormal and occult which derailed his normal career is driven from witnessing his younger sister supposedly abducted by aliens when he was 12 or 13.
Special Agent Dana Scully, a medical doctor who also has a Bachelors degree in physics, is assigned to the x-files to monitor Mulder and provide a reasonable and logical foil to his fantastical (and usually correct) ideas and theories. While presented as equals, Dana represents the audience, a character who is continually amazed/doubting everything she sees. She’s just as important, if not more important, to the series than Mulder’s obsession that drive the franchise. She is us, and when Mulder leaves the series in the eighth season, he is replaced by Special Agent John Doggett, Scully becomes the believer to Doggett’s skeptic. It’s a believable arc, by the time Mulder left the series, Scully has gone from “That’s impossible!” to “You don’t know what I’ve seen, man. You don’t know what I’ve seen.”
The X-Files television show ended on May 19, 2002, after running for nine seasons, two spin off shows (Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, two shows that were canceled and had their finales worked into later season The X-Files episodes), and, at the time, one movie. The franchise had almost every single plot point tied up except for one major one that the entire series was building towards. 1998’s The X-Files: Fight The Future was released and chronologically based between seasons five and six of the television show. Fight The Future is actually very important to the franchise on a number of levels.
- It proves that the show can work in a movie format and not come off as a two hour episode.
- It proves that the major characters can function together and provide a cinematic story that couldn’t be an episode, with crazy production values and a globe-trotting adventure worthy of James Bond.
- It proves that you can further the massive plot line of the show in a medium separate from the show and have it still be successful and embraced by the mainstream. This wasn’t a movie. This wasn’t a TV show. This was a multimedia event.
About four or five years after the franchise ended, there were rumors of a second The X-Files movie. Series creator/executive producer/mastermind Chris Carter said that he imagined that The X-Files could run forever with different leads, as the idea of two FBI agents investigating the paranormal would never not be interesting. As a huge X-Phile, I was excited. To hell with 1977’s Star Wars, because The X-Files is probably the biggest influence on my huge love of science fiction and horror. (Dane, Star Wars is more fantasy than sci-fi (shut up, hypothetical persona arguing with me)). I was enthralled. I would come up with my own shitty fan-fiction and ideas of where the on-going alien invasion plot line could go, rewatch the franchise, read the books, and I almost purchased the supposedly crappy Playstation 2 title The X-Files: Resist or Serve.
As production on a second movie moved from rumored to factual, there were leaks about the plot. There was a screen capture of series lead Fox Mulder covered in werewolf makeup and there was even a photograph released of him wearing an FBI jacket, weapon drawn. These were all fake leaks of information that were created specifically to generate publicity and fans to produce theories. It was meant to go viral and it didn’t. Chris Carter even complained in interviews that no one pointed out how bizarre it was that Fox Mulder was wearing an FBI jacket when he was fired/hunted by the FBI at the end of the series finale. What stopped people from talking about what was arguably one of the hugest science fiction revivals of all time? The 22nd James Bond movie Quantum of Solace was released in 2008, but that wasn’t released until late October/early November, four months after The X-Files: I Want to Believe. What possibly could have left its shadow over what should have been another huge release?
You could shrug off I Want to Believe‘s failure to the fact that Fox released this movie the week after the highest grossing movie of 2008, a movie that broke every record except for Titanic‘s. Was this movie poorly marketed? Yes, but that’s not what went wrong. This movie was hidden by 20th Century Fox because they knew it wasn’t any good. They had a sequel to one of the very few monetarily and critically successful television-to-movie transitions, they had the original cast on board, they even had Amanda Peet, X-to-the-Z/Yo dawg/Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, and the-always-awesome Billy Connolly on the cast. There would be interest in this release, because most of that sounds awesome. Duchovony’s hit series Califonication had just started its second season, and Gillian Anderson had just starred in the Academy Award winning movie The Last King Of Scotland. Despite all that it had going for it, the movie was hidden in the worst possible release date in the history of cinema history. Why is that?
My parents would send me to bed when an episode was particularly scary, and those episodes that I lacked closure on are still scary to me ten years later despite knowing their climax now. The “monsters” in the fifth season episode Detour flash in my head every single time I leave my room late at night to get water or go to the bathroom. This movie was important to me. I was oblivious to any of the fake leaks that they released as this was the first/only movie I avoided its entire marketing campaign. I didn’t see a trailer, didn’t see a TV spot, didn’t see any posters. I knew I was getting more of The X-Files after six/seven years and I refused to have any possible part of the movie spoiled for me. I have a Batman chestpiece tattoo and was just as excited for this movie as I was for The Dark Knight. During The Incredible Hulk, I actually left the theater during the I Want to Believe trailer.
I saw The X-Files: I Want to Believe opening night. Our group of friends watched as much of the series as we could before the movie was released, hoping to pick up on every nod, reference, and on going plot lines that stretch throughout the entire franchise. Opening night, counting myself and my friends, there were five people in the theater total. Not a good sign.
Let’s go over what the movie does well first: there was a short joke regarding the change in government from when the show aired during the Clinton administration to the Bush administration (not much of a political joke as much as a small visual gag), Skinner kicks ass in a surprise cameo, there is a sequence where a severed head opens its eyes and tries to say something but it can’t because it’s a severed head and fucking dying, and there is a small level of satisfaction of seeing the return of a franchise I grew up with.
Now onto the negative side: the changes with the Mulder/Scully relationship doesn’t bother me like it does with a lot of people in the fandom. You know damn well from the pilot that they would become a couple. The major issue is that they spend nine seasons building to a conflict involving alien invasion and six years after the series ended, they chose a cliched dark cop movie in the vein of Se7en, The Bone Collector, Silence Of The Lambs, Kiss The Girls, and Along Came A Spider. That’s fifteen years of hype setting up an alien invasion thrown out the window for a weak stand alone movie. The movie plays like a two-hour episode, exposition strung out to pad time and there’s a subplot about Scully doing a surgery with stem cells inserted with almost no relation to the main plot line outside of filler and justification of the BELIEVE theme.
The plot line is literally about gay Russian scientists killing people to harvest organs to make one scientist’s lover overcome cancer. Yes, seriously. There is absolutely nothing paranormal about this case and it most certainly isn’t an x-file.
The fact is that after a six-year hiatus, you need to come back with full force. You can’t half-ass your return and this is exactly what they did. The 17th James Bond movie Goldeneye was released six years after the 16th movie Licence To Kill (the longest gap between movies in the James Bond franchise). There were legal battles over the James Bond license and after the end of the Cold War, people wondered if James Bond (who had been fighting Russians for 30+ years) would work in a post Cold War world. What did MGM do? They made what is widely considered one of the best movies in the franchise. They made the first James Bond movie not based/influenced by the books and proved that James Bond can still work in a world after everything he was created to fight had died.
With I Want to Believe they took what could have been a decent episode ten years ago and stretched it to two hours and filled with some fan service and nods/winks to the old series. After six long years of waiting for the conclusion to the alien invasion, we received a side story that was not relevant to what fans wanted. On one hand, you could explain this as fans (myself included) as feeling entitled and after over half a decade of begging for more of The X-Files, we weren’t happy with what we received.
But, if you break it down even more, the entitlement of “I want more/Your more sucks!” gets pushed out of the way with another incredibly valid point: we didn’t need more of The X-Files. The series’ ending, while open, was still an ending that we should have been happy with. Yes, a third movie in The X-Files franchise was originally planned to come out last year (2012) that focused on the alien invasion, and it was very disappointing that the failure of this movie ended up canceling the movie that we wanted. In a world with Lost, Smallville, and other sci-fi shows, The X-Files needed to stand out and reclaim the throne it once built. It didn’t and Fox tried to hide it by releasing it the week after The Dark Knight came out. There was no wow-factor like there was in multiple scenes of Fight The Future. There was just a grave.
A grave marked with an X shaped cross.