28 July 2008
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
It turns out that there aren't nearly as many would-be believers today as there were a decade ago.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe opened in theaters last weekend to the tune of about $10 million in domestic box office receipts—roughly one third of the opening weekend tally of the first X-Files feature in 1998.
As an X-Files fan, I enjoyed the new movie. There is comfort just in spending time with Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) six years after the series ended. But it's far from a triumphant return and unlikely to win over non-"X-Philes."
Written by series creator Chris Carter, who also directed, and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz, I Want to Believe ignores the confusing alien/government conspiracy plot in favor of the "monster-of-the-week" format. It is anything but a "standalone" story, however.
The relationship of Mulder and Scully, now a couple living and sleeping together, forms the heart of the movie. Both are out of the FBI—Mulder is in hiding, having been convicted of a trumped-up murder charge in the series finale, and Scully has returned to medicine, working as a surgeon at Lady of Sorrows Hospital.
FBI Agents Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Jones) seek their aid on a missing person case in which the only lead is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a convicted pedophile and possible psychic who leads agents to body parts buried in the snow.
Scully has to convince Mulder to take the case. He insists he's perfectly happy spending his days locked away in a room, covering its walls with newspaper clippings to track his conspiracy theories. When he throws himself back into his obsessive quest for the truth, it's Scully who has second thoughts. She's left that life behind, she says. It isn't so easy for Mulder. That darkness is a part of him and all he has ever known.
The back-and-forth between Mulder and Scully over the issue is the central conflict. It is as if Carter and Spotnitz developed their story, then tacked on the "X-File" as an afterthought. Early scenes have a familiar X-Files spookiness and Connolly is suitably creepy, but the actual case is given insufficient time for the movie to become truly scary. It's frustrating because it feels like it could have done so in a wonderfully old-fashioned way—there are no explosions or even gunshots in sight.
Duchovny, even with an unkempt beard at the beginning, and Anderson simply are these characters. Even so, you can tell they still put thought into their performances, and I like the way Carter holds certain beats and takes during their conversations. However, the dynamic between Mulder and Scully has changed forever now that their intimacy is physical as well as intellectual and emotional. Their relationship is no longer the one that was so compelling through nearly nine years of television.
That, combined with their status as former FBI agents, gives the movie a very different feel than the series. Granted, that is only issue for X-Files fans, but at this point, they likely form the vast majority of the audience.
For all my griping, it is still The X-Files, especially when a certain bald assistant director of the FBI appears and when Mulder decides to waltz into the bad guys' lair alone and unarmed. I was excited to see this movie and I'm happy it was made. I hope enough people agree with me to give them another crack at it.
(Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material. 104 minutes.)