Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday Movie Review

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the new X-Files film yet and plan to, stop reading now.

Since the Chris Carter creation left television, the world became a different place. In a post-9/11 world, conspiracy theories, assassination plots, and story lines related to terrorism are no longer common place in the entertainment industry. Illegal aliens have replaced the little green men that Chris Carter made famous. Shows centered around the government agencies whose purpose is to protect us are no longer light-hearted and have often focused on larger issues like torture.

With that said, X-Files fans walking into theaters over the weekend to see the latest installment, I Want To Believe, knew some things would be different. What we didn't know was that things would be so different. Barring disappointment, this could have been a spectacular end to a show a lot of us grew up with. Would it answer our questions? Would it leave us feeling, as the series finale did not, that there was a finality to it all? Would we be happy with Carter's final project? A distribution executive for 20th Century Fox said of the film that "hardcore 'X-Files' fans, they're happy. And frankly, that's who the movie was made for."

Happy? This X-Files fan is not happy!

If Chris Carter wanted to make a film that would both bring in a younger audience, as I said last week, and satisfy a long-standing audience, he failed in both respects. The younger audience that may have been intrigued by a sci-fi thriller were let down. Long-standing X-Files fans that wanted a film that would do justice to the brilliant series were let down.

For a younger audience, those who may have wanted to see Xhibit were disappointed with a character that had no depth. Minus one comment about Mulder's sister being abducted by E.T., Xhibit exhibited absolutely no humor, no emotion, nothing. His skepticism could be misconstrued as boredom and disinterest. All audiences were looking for a strong performance from Amanda Peet, playing yet another FBI agent, and what we got was a shallow performance from Peet that was more or less a result of poor writing. Peet's character, according to reviews, was supposedly "smitten" with Mulder and an admirer of his work, yet until I read those reviews after seeing the film I never would have put the two together. Not nearly the skeptic and empty character that Xhibit was, she still brought very little to the story.

Where Carter went wrong with Believe is his all but abandonment of the base mythology. Minus the previously mentioned comment about Mulder's sister and a photo of her on Mulder's home office door (or shrine), there is no discussion of her abduction. This was essential to the television show. In looking for a missing FBI agent, Scully rightly accuses Mulder of always searching for "her." Meaning he's still looking for something he will never find, his sister, the truth, or otherwise. In addition to the absence of Samantha Mulder, there is only a brief mention of Scully's son William. Only once do she and Mulder acknowledge they had a son. This was the base of the final two seasons of the show and yet it is completely missing from the film. The grand government conspiracy to introduce human-alien hybrids is missing as well. No discussion of what happened to their former partners Reyes and Doggett (though it is quite obvious that the 'I Want to Believe' poster once picked up off the trashed X-Files office and rolled up by John Doggett got back into the hands of its rightful owner).

And what about the supposed alien take over in 2012? No mention whatsoever of "the truth" as discovered by Mulder in the first part of the series finale. Don't tell me just because the Cigarette Smoking Man is dead so is the biggest conspiracy in the history of scripted television!

There is this huge missing piece when it comes to where the hell Mulder and Scully have been for the past six years. We get the idea that Mulder has been hiding out, still a fugitive for murdering a super solider in the end of the series, but what we don't ever put together is how they got to where they are--living together in a remote house where Scully seems largely absent as she is working as a surgeon at a Catholic hospital. At least they tell us that Mulder's sins will be forgiven if he assists the FBI in searching for the missing agent.

Sure, it is nearly impossible to answer all of the questions we Filers have been asking since the series ended. Sure, we should be simply happy to have our favorite characters back on the big screen. Sure, bringing Walter Skinner into the mix was worth seeing the film, period. But this is all Carter had? After six years this is the best he could do?

There's no paranormal arch to the film. There aren't monsters (despite perhaps the greatest line from the entire film from Scully: "I'm done chasing monsters in the dark."), though the body snatchers are a bit unsettling and the headless man is absolutely disturbing. The only semi-paranormal story is Father Joe's "visions" of the missing agent. The audience, and our favorite agents, are left questioning Father Joe's role in the entire ordeal. Minus the body snatchers and the large number of barking dogs, there aren't any monsters. Just a whole lot of snow.

What Carter does get right, as he did in the entire series, is the issue and often battle between belief and faith. Mulder wants to believe in everything, Scully in nothing. That underlying difference between them that perhaps drew them together and made the show what it was is not missing from the film. Despite her employment at the Catholic hospital, Scully remains the skeptic. She questions why a loving God would bring a child into the world only to suffer. She questions Father Joe, a former priest and convicted pedophile, asking him what he was praying for when they first meet him and asking if he thinks his prayers are heard, but shows up to speak to him about faith in one of the more moving scenes of the film. In the seventh season, an episode called "All Things" really doted on the faith issue, almost as much as the series did as Scully's character was battling cancer. That tone was evident in the film, one of the most redeeming things about the film.

From time to time that old chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson emerges and the audience is left wishing these kind of characters still existed. There is that old frustration that they'll never figure out how to be together, though Scully admits that Mulder's stubbornness is what made her fall for him. And they play off each other so well. Even in dark moments, like when they first meet Father Joe, they come up with some zingers that are nearly as great as the back-and-forth banter in the original episodes.

What do we know now that the film has been released that we didn't know the last six years waiting for it? All of the mythology that the first feature film was criticized for would have made the latest film a worthy final installment. Where the first film stretched too far for an unknowing audience, this film didn't stretch far enough. In an attempt to bring in a new audience the old audience is nearly ignored. To make a thriller acceptable by today's audience standards they used gore instead of exploring the creepy paranormal that the original show clung to. Minus the visions, what Scully and Mulder were known for investigating is all but lost on not only a new audience, but the fictional FBI agents that questionably gawk at the old team's entrance.

But they're still a team and Carter doesn't abandon that. Mulder is still the stubborn believer. Scully is still the strong willed skeptic driven by the possibilities of medicine and science. If you loved the original show for the two characters alone, the film will be enough for you. If you loved the show for the combination of superb writing, great story telling, character chemistry, the philosophical battle between believing and having faith, and supporting characters, the new movie will disappoint.

1 comment:

Adam said...

like i said, thats it?? can't believe how bad this movie was.