[box cover]

The X-Files: Fight the Future

Fox Home Entertainment

Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Martin Landau

Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Directed by Rob Bowman

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

"I'm the key figure in an ongoing government charade, a plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials It's a global conspiracy, actually, with key players at the highest levels of power, and it reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet. So, of course, no one believes me. I'm an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun shouting to the heavens or anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling. And when it hits it's going to be the shit storm of all time."

— Fox Mulder, The X-Files

One of the many small pleasures of the Fox television series The X-Files is its addiction to unconventional names. Start with the two main characters. Their names are clean, simple, yet at the same time unusual and evocative. Fox Mulder, the secretive creature hunted by others. Dana Scully: upright, strong, with a touch of ethnicity. Other names on the series and the film made from it are equally odd and memorable. The list goes on and on, spilling out over the series's eight seasons. Budahas. Eugene Victor Tooms. Colonel Belt. Brad Wilczek. Krycek. Michaud. Kurtzweil. Bronschweig. Less a cast of characters than a deli menu, these delightful monikers symbolize how the series plays with science fiction conventions. The unexpected and densely odd noises these names make are as unexpected as the depth and detail of the stories and conspiracies unfolded in the show. But just as the names are perfect, so are the actors and faces that go with them. The X-Files has consistently been one of the best-cast series in the history of American television.

The X-Files made its debut on the then-struggling Fox Network on September 10, 1993, introducing Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) as the sole agent attached to the X-Files division of the FBI, which houses unsolved paranormal cases, and his new partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the agent and super-rationalist forensic doctor secretly assigned to keep tabs on Mulder. By its second season The X-Files had already become one of the most popular shows on television, inspiring short lived mimics such as Dark Skies and others. Alternating self-contained episodes of "anthology" horror stories with episodes that continued the parallel universe of the "mythology" narrative about a consortium of powerful men leading global conspiracy to mask the presence of aliens on earth and their reason for being here, The X-Files has continued to intrigue viewers with a taste for soap operas about horrific events, but without betraying their interest the way that David Lynch's Twin Peaks ended up doing. And as with Twin Peaks, a film was almost inevitable, especially coming from a producer and writer as ambitious and dedicated Chris Carter, the brains behind the series.

Thus in the summer of 1998, between the end of season five and the debut of season six, Fox theatrically released The X-Files: Fight the Future. (Pet peeve tangent: following the Maltin Principle of movie titling , which states that the title of the movie is what you see on the screen, this film is actually called The X Files, with no hyphen. The phrase "fight the future," often appended to the title, is actually the slogan Carter came up with the replace "The truth is out there," which appears at the end of the show's credit sequence.) Costing $66 million, the film earned $83 million in the United States, and an additional $99 million worldwide. A modest hit, the film pleased fans and probably puzzled non-viewers. Season five ended with Mulder's office burned to a crisp and he and Scully reassigned. Season six, which also marked the move of the production company from the moody, beautiful Vancouver, B.C., to the brightly lit Los Angeles, began with Mulder and Scully back together again, but with new characters imposed as obstacles. In between, like an extended, airier version of the show, came the film.

Usually in a television series familiarity leads to enlightenment. Or contempt. But with Carter's X-Files, the viewer is put into a remarkable position — the more you learn, the less you know. As he has issued forth bits and pieces of the global conspiracy at the center of the show, the mysteries within The X-Files have grown, rather than diminished. Part of the excitement of the movie, directed by frequent series helmer Rob Bowman, and co-written by Carter and Frank Spotnitz, is that many of the questions raised by the series would finally be answered. Who are the leaders of the conspiracy? How did they get together? What is the deadly black oil, and how do the killer bees figure in? Have aliens really come to earth?

The good news for X-Files fans is that the first feature film is as polished, competent, and as much in the spirit of the show as it should be, though with more "action" sequences, as befits a summer movie spectacle. It's also good to see Scully go from detractor to one of Mulder's biggest supporters. And thanks to Fight the Future (and the CD soundtrack album, on which Carter intones the whole detailed history of the conspiracy at 10 minutes and 13 seconds in — serious fans will get the 10/13 reference), most of the so called Consortium's intentions are now finally clear, though many X-Files mysteries remain. Subsequent seasons have added to the mystery, while solving others. As such, the movie hangs in a weird place, in the middle of an ongoing narrative.

Seeing Fight the Future with the benefit of higher production values, the viewer is struck instantly by the realization of how low the flame of the show burns. It is all darkness, cogitation, failure, and the slow accretion of knowledge, like a coastal shelf building over centuries. The show, and now the movie, really demand close attention, for anything may be a clue that explains everything else. Fight the Future is not an event movie. Sure, there is a stunning chase scene through a corn field at night, and the final sequence is massive, but for the most part the film consists of people walking slowly into dark rooms with flashlights, of Scully pulling the morgue sheet off yet another sticky corpse, and of clandestine meetings in dark, wet alleys.

Which isn't to say that Fight the Future fails to be an enticing movie. The film is suspenseful, exciting, eerie; it is well-written, well-acted, and well-photographed. I love the shot near the beginning in which Scully is in the front seat and Mulder in the back seat of a police car speeding away from a building about to blow up and their heads turn synchronously, looking back first from the right, then from the left as the car swerves; the movie's lead cinematographer (one of five for different parts of the film) is Ward Russell. And like the show, the movie is perfectly cast, from the Well Manicured Man (John Neville), with his prim English manners, to the infamous Cigarette Smoking Man, aka "Cancer Man" (William B. Davis), with his rich voice, hangdog face, and calm malice. People who don't follow the show will probably wonder why a big deal is made over the first appearance in the film of Cancer Man. Anderson and Duchovny are dependable leads, as usual, and one of the things that distinguishes the show from its many imitators is not only the high production standards but its satirical wit and self-satire — note the scene near the opening wherein Duchovny mimics and mocks his own expressionless acting, a somber style that successful TV dramas, from the Mod Squad to L.A. Law, seem to require.

But the film has flaws, too: Dallas is visualized as a regular big city rather than as an island of urban nightmare surrounded by scads of suburban municipalities, and north Texas, a native assures me, is not all desert and hills — it is rolling prairie. And at the end, the leading villain of the high-tech cadre of conspirators receives crucial information via — a telegram! Perhaps it was delivered by Western Universe.

These minor distractions do not detract from Fight the Future's power, however. The larger issue (which the studio press releases seek to deny) is that the movie will not make sense to someone who has not seen the show. Publicists insisted that the biggest problem facing Carter, et. al., was reaching out to non X-philes, in order to create a movie that would not insult veterans while still attracting neophytes. This is bullshit. The film makes no concession to the newcomers, which I think is great.

For me, the only problem with the TV series is the non-Mythology segments — that is, the episodes that do not directly relate to the conspiracy mounted by the Consortium to save their hides come the eventual invasion by aliens. Watching the show week to week, as Mulder (a younger and more sardonic Kolchak, the Night Stalker) stumbles upon a host of horrific presences on the earth, one wonders how these discrete episodes might tie into the long running mythology-half of the series. The two halves of the series are "ladyhawking" it; when one is mounted, the other goes away, and vice versa. In a sense, Carter has suffered a profound failure of imagination, in that at some point he should draw together all the episodes as part of some H. P. Lovecraftian manifestation of of the dire and unpredictable effects of the alien presence lying in abeyance here on earth. Though these episodes usually are unsettling and imaginative, all too often the non-mythology programs are the worse, even when the shows are written by masters of horror such as Stephen King, who turned in one of the lamest episodes of all. The overall effect of the series' continuing lack of resolution is to cause the loyal viewers to feel that The X-Files is greater in anticipation than in experience, and Fight the Future suffers from a little bit of that, too. It's a little thinner than it should be for something so big.

No, the power of the TV series rests on the Mythology. With these episodes Carter has weaved a wide-reaching, unpredictable, complex, and intriguing alternate history of modern times. But it is also the aspect of the show that opens it up to the scoffing of the mainstream media. As conventional and humorless media drudge Jonathan Alter opined boringly in a Newsweek cover story on the film at the time of its release, "Alas, a frightening number of people seriously buy the premise of a world full of conspiracies… The history of secret government agencies is… [really] about screwups… Now [our] government is generally cleaner and possesses fewer secrets." This middlebrow apologist for the mainstream maintains that with communism dead and capitalism triumphant, "that leaves conspiracism… our newest ideology… the civic faith of the moment." Unfortunately, conspiracy theories are easy for the ignorant to buy. They reflect our sense of helplessness, of forces conspiring to control and manipulate us for their own ends. They appeal to our natural tendency to assume the worst, and are therefore easy to discredit by know-it-alls who assume that because they live and work in Washington, D.C., they are in touch with reality. Yet if history is reviewed from a conspiratorial perspective, conspiracy appears to be prime mover of events. From Julius Caesar, stabbed to death by a cartel led by his friend Brutus, to Richard Nixon, who may have been the victim of a rather complex silencing scheme, conspiracies are the engines that drive significant changes in power structures.

But look closely at the conspiracy that Carter has weaved in his mythology. It draws upon issues and elements that are common currency in both the real world of writers like Alter and the research of investigators into mysterious doings throughout the world, reported in obscure books, magazines, and on the Internet. Carter's conspiracy posits an independent body populated by world leaders and intellectuals — a body not unlike the Trilateral Commission. He posits that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a tool of the Consortium with wide-ranging powers to declare martial law — which it has. He proposes that a federal building in the Southwest was blown up for reasons other than the ones presented in the mainstream media, which is what some mainstream journalists and and "crank" investigators have been saying since not too long after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. What is amazing about The X-Files, both show and movie, is that a major studio and network have given free reign to someone who plays with and takes seriously such ideas, even if they are ridiculed by the Alters of the world, rushing forward to justify why they rarely do any real reporting.

Fox Home Entertainment's most recent release of The X-Files: Fight the Future is the second version of this DVD. Fox originally came out with a disc, now discontinued, in May of 1999, but without the anamorphic transfer found on this new edition. Released in January 2001 as part of a general re-release of several Fox titles, this single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL) disc comes with both Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks, and a sampling of the DTS track unveils it as a significantly richer than the Dolby variant. The video transfer (anamorpic 2.35:1) is also excellent — flawless, and with beautiful colors and deep blacks. Supplements include an audio commentary from producer Chris Carter and director Rob Bowman; Carter is informative, and dominates the chat, explaining some of the X-Files mythology and the differences between making episodes of the series, which cost $2 million each, and the movie. There's also "The Making of The X-Files Movie: Fight the Future," a promotional featurette hosted by Mitch Pileggi, who plays FBI Deputy Director Skinner. The box from Fox advertises deleted scenes, but they couldn't be found on the disc this reviewer surveyed. However, there are three very effective theatrical trailers, a THX OPTMODE digital test program, and an eight-page production booklet.

— D. K. Holm

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© 2001, The DVD Journal