“How many times have we been here before, Scully? Right here. So close to the truth and now with what we’ve seen and what we know to be right back at the beginning with nothing.“
It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving (that ‘made up American holiday,’ my friend Jason calls it – he’s British). I hope you and yours had a great one, if you celebrate, and are enjoying a long weekend. I’m working today, actually, but I did have pumpkin pie and turkey for breakfast.
I had some vague plan about writing a brief review of the Eli Roth’s trailer for the fake movie Thanksgiving. (One of the faux trailers added to the Grindhouse double bill that Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino made in 2007.) Then I remembered – it’s 90’s month! I can’t write about that, or Blood Rage or Thankskilling (I guess Adam’s Family Values might count, but no).
So, in a bit of a panic over having not really watched anything 90’s horror related this week I ALMOST decided to bail on the whole thing. Re-run a review of Ringu or In the Mouth of Madness or something. Then I remembered that I HAD watched a 90’s movie this week. Not technically a horror movie, but representative of a classic 1990’s phenomenon, and one that did have some horrific elements.
So, yeah, I’m stretching my remit this week to include Sc-fi conspiracy thrillers. Don’t tell anyone.
The 1990’s was full of iconic TV shows – you had Friends and Buffy and Batman the Animated Series, you had Oz and ER and Xena the Warrior Princess, you had Aeon Flux, Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion. There were like three different Star Trek series, and two of them were really good!
Have we done a Best of 90’s TV Shows list? We should totally do that, if not.
ANYWAY, while I can easily come up with a ton of TV shows that I watched in the 1990’s, the first one that always comes to mind is The X-Files. Premiering in 1993 and having an original run of nine seasons (with two recent “event” seasons continuing the storyline), The X-Files was a sea-change television series, mixing UFOs, horror, science-fiction and monsters with an ongoing conspiracy storyline and a classic “will they/won’t they” partnership. It was shot on film with (at the time) astonishingly high production values – producer Chris Carter and his crew always said they wanted to shoot a “mini-movie” every week, and for the most part they succeeded.
My wife and I adored the show. We watched it religiously for the first seven years of its existence a then… sort of drifted away from it. The production move to Los Angeles was part of that – it didn’t quite feel like the X-Files when it wasn’t gray, rainy or in a deep forest. Duchovny stepping back was another. I think also our lives were changing. For whatever reason, I don’t think I’ve ever seen all of the eighth season. None of the ninth. I need to take another shot at the whole thing. Maybe next year. (I think Romona has been rewatching all of the episodes for the last year or so.)
Despite losing interest later on I still adore those first five or six seasons. For a horror fan there was plenty to enjoy, including episodes like Squeeze, The Host and Home as well as general horrific imagery (Mulder bound under chicken wire as black oil that we KNOW is alien pours onto his face comes to mind). AND (to bring it around to this post specifically) (finally) I really enjoyed the first X-Files film, Fight the Future. I remember being disappointed in the ending – Scully is conveniently out of it when the huge, alien space ship takes off and there’s some truly 90’s CGI – but overall I enjoyed the film and thought it was a decent upscale from the small-screen, even if it felt like they had to pull back on some revelations out of fear of killing that golden goose.
Before I watched it this week it had probably been a decade or more, and I was wondering – would it still hold up?
I have the double disc set of both Fight the Future and I Want to Believe – the second X-Files film. The set was released in 2012, but they’re the same versions as the individual Blu-ray releases. The video quality is generally pretty great, with only a few scenes evoking the more small-scale feel of the TV show. There are plenty of extras, including two commentary tracks, alternate takes and a gag reel.
For streaming options, Fight the Future is available for subs on Hulu and can be rented or purchased at any number of online outlets.
The X-Files: Fight the Future (aka The X-Files Movie) starts in Ice Age Texas, with primitive men chasing a creature into a cave system below the ice. This turns out to a monster very reminiscent of the classic “greys” of UFO mythology – all rounded, balded head and huge, lidless eyes – and though the men are able to kill the creature it is not the only danger lurking beneath the ice.
Cut to modern day Texas and kids playing in in the desert outside of a small town. One falls through into a cave system where something ancient still waits. That kid (a very young Lucas Black) is unhurt, but quickly infected by a black, oil-like substance that crawls under his skin like worms and leaves a film swirling in his eyes. Soon after a rescue attempt by local authorities is taken over by secretive government men with large trucks and complicated equipment.
Then the film makes another time jump, bringing us to Dallas weeks later, where a bomb threat is being investigated at the Federal Building. In a building across the street FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) find the real bomb hidden in a soda machine. They’re relieved by Special Agent in Charge Darius Michaud (Terry O’Quinn) who, alone with the bomb, quietly waits for it to explode…
All in all, not a bad way to start! It feels like we have to wait a bit too long to see Mulder and Scully, but when they do show up there’s no awkwardness or diminishment of their presence and dynamic. Our favorite agents work great on the big screen. The setup is good, and the explosion is great – a seamless integration of CGI and miniatures. (The ‘miniature’ of the exploded building was apparently 40 feet tall in order to maximize the detail and believability because, as is noted on the commentary, shooting in miniature is great except you can’t change the size of two things – a drop of water and a lick of flame.)
Despite saving dozens of lives, Mulder and Scully are brought up in front of an FBI commission and raked over the coals because – in addition to Michaud – four people died in the explosion. Assistant director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) thinks they’re just convenient scapegoats for an operation where the FBI had the wrong info, but later Mulder is approached by a man in the alley behind a bar. This is Alvin Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) who becomes the latest in a long line of “Deep Throat” type characters to feed the agents info while following their own agenda. In this case, Dr. Kurtzweil insists the people supposedly killed in the blast were already dead, and the explosion used to cover up the cause.
I love Martin Landau in this. He manages to appear both believable and skeevy at the same time. He also manages to impart a stew of conspiracy theory and backstory while remaining understandable, no easy feat. In a scene later on he manages to include aliens, JFK and the FEMA “secret government” conspiracy in a way that makes total sense – until you’ve had a minute to think about it, anyway.
All of this sets Mulder and Scully on a path that leads through that small town in Texas, into an experimental cornfield pollinated by weird bees and finally onto the ice fields of Antarctica and what lies hidden beneath. In between the X-Files unit will be disbanded, Mulder will be called “Spooky” by Glenne Headley, Mulder and Scully will ALMOST kiss, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) will lurk, Scully will be endangered (again), and both The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville) and Dr. Kurtzweil will find out what happens to people who work against the shadowy government/alien conspiracy – the Syndicate. (Spoiler: it’s nothing good.)
In general this all manages to hold together much better than I remember. When I first saw this film there was a palpable disappointment in how little seemed to be revealed of the show’s “mythology.” Appropriately or not fans, me included, expected major revelations and changes to come out of the shows move to the big screen and it felt like they’d held back, given us some minor revelations and then reset the status quo. To be clear, that was the norm for episodic television back then, when a showrunner’s primary concern was to get the show picked up for another season rather than tell a coherent story. My expectations were too high.
And the thing is, this movie reveals a ton of secrets!
*SPOILERS FOR A 90’S TV SHOW AHOY*
After four seasons of increasingly complex and dangerous events involving governments or agents of the same seeming to work hand-in-hand with alien civilizations to mysterious and presumably nefarious ends – including clones, alien abductions, assassinations, moles in the FBI, implants, hybrids and more – we finally got some clear and scary answers. Yes, the governments of the world are conspiring with aliens to colonize the earth. They engage in multiple projects with the aliens posing as collaborators all while trying to find a way to defeat the aliens – or, failing that, to find a way to survive when their masters finally come to stay. The black oil, an element that played an important part of the shows mythology in seasons three and four, is revealed to be a virus that essentially infects human beings with an alien consciousness. The bees are part of the distribution system for this subtle invasion. The events of the movie, however, reveal that even the conspiracy has been lied to about the true nature of the virus – given the right, extreme, temperatures, the virus forces the human body to gestate an actual, living, alien. Meaning humanity is, really, nothing more than a “growth medium.” Lucky for Scully, who has been infected with the alien virus via a bee sting, there is an experimental vaccine – though if the aliens became aware of it, it would trigger immediate invasion.
I think this plot works fine for a big-budget film, and on a purely action/thriller level the movie is pretty good, with plenty of action and skullduggery that leads up to a revelatory infiltration of a hidden alien ship. Where it works less well is in developing the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Oh, not for me – as a fan of the show I’d had years of development between the two to fall back on. No, I think it uses that knowledge to shortcut introducing the characters in a meaningful way to non-fans. Yes, their chemistry is still there and works well, but the whole movie – and the whole franchise – depends on their relationship and the script simply assumes we already know these characters and their backstory. Looking at it with a bit of dispassion at this later date I feel like, sadly, that relationship is given the least room to breathe and develop. What there is feels forced and jammed into meaningful speeches and lingering looks.
Fight the Future takes place between seasons five and six but was filmed on the hiatus between season four and five. I’m not sure why this tidbit of information is important, other than that it’s a relatively seamless addition to the long-term plot (although with elements that would be back-pedaled and revised), and thus indicates that Carter et al were way more on the ball with the mythology than they seemed. It was also shot in a style that would become familiar in season six, after production moved from Vancouver to LA. That too feels like a plan was in the offing, as there was still one more season shot in Vancouver after the film was produced, but the film offers a great transition between season 5 and six.
A note on the music. Though Mark Snow was primarily known for producing the X-Files theme and show music on a synthesizer he was a classically trained composer and it shows in his orchestral score for the film. It manages to echo the same themes as the show while being bigger and richer in every way – not unlike the film itself.
The Bottom Line
The X-Files: Fight the Future is actually better than I remembered, serving both as an expansion of the show and a decent sci-fi thriller in its own right. While it sometimes engages in scenes more appropriate to the show in scope (and criminally under-uses The Lone Gunmen), on the whole the film proves that the show has enough cope and character to satisfy the larger format, even if it does end with things back at the status quo. It was successful at the box office, and if Fox hadn’t ordered more seasons of the show who knows where an X-Files movie franchise could have gone. Unfortunately, the series painted itself into a corner and the second film failed to expand the franchise the way the first one had. We’ve had newer X-Files since this film, but nothing that’s come as close to breaking out into a bigger story.