Thursday, October 29, 2015

The X-Files - Fight The Future (1998)

[ S5:E20 "The End" <<< The X-Files >>> S6:E1 "The Beginning" ]

If you think about it, doing The X-Files on the big screen was really not that outlandish an idea. Even on television, the show had always been cinematic, right from the start. And if the freak-of-the-week episodes tended to be shorter, small-screen versions of what you might see in a science-fiction or horror movie, the mythology episodes always carried a certain dramatic weight, and never shied away from a sense of marvel, nor included any shortage of action set pieces. Moreover, since at least the second season, the mythology arcs have come almost exclusively in the form of two- (and sometimes three-) parters, so the show had already been telling hour-and-a-half to two-hour-long stories for years. Doing a movie just meant the opportunity to go bigger - and it paid off.

Thinking of it as a mythology episode, the story was written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz, and it was directed by Rob Bowman (who directed no less illustrious episodes of the TV series as End Game, F. Emasculata, Paper Clip, 731, Piper Maru, Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', Terma, Paper Hearts, Memento Mori, Tempus Fugit, among others). In other words, just the right people for the job. One of the tricks of writing the movie, as Chris Carter has explained in interviews, was the challenge of simultaneously making it accessible to both casual fans and complete newbies, while also rewarding the die hard obsessives who'd been watching the show from the beginning (and not boring them with exposition they're already familiar with). And I think they did a fantastic job of accomplishing that.

"So much for little green men."

I don't think you need any understanding of The X-Files to enjoy this movie (despite it being a "mythology" story), although the more familiarity you do have with the series, the more I think you'll be able to get out of it. There are a number of inside references for eagle-eyed fans to pick up on, and the movie probably provides more answers to the question of what the conspiracy is up to than the entire series has to the point where the movie sits in its chronology (which is between the fifth and sixth seasons of the show). Ironically, this has the effect of giving the complete newbie more answers when he walks out of the theater than the X-Phile probably has who hasn't seen the movie yet, but has watched the series religiously for the past five years. But that's not a complaint. I'm just excited to finally get some of those answers.

While this movie could be thought of as a mythology episode of the series, it would be a mistake to assume that it could have been made on television. The crew really go all out to take full advantage of the opportunity to tell a bigger story. Not only do we get more answers than usual, but there are wilder locations (from steamy Dallas, Texas and the deserts of Tunisia, to Antarctica, the land of ice and snow) and more spectacular effects - helicopter chases, exploding cars and even a building goes up (or down) in flames! As for the aliens, we get to see more of them than ever (albeit still hidden in shadow and during blurry action scenes, to maintain their mystique - and so they don't look too much like men in costumes), learn more about their nature and their plans, and get to see the full extent of the scope of their meddling in human affairs, dating all the way back to prehistory - to the last Ice Age! In short, it's very exciting.

"Those could be giant Jiffy Pop poppers."

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson take on the starring roles of Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully - of course - but a lot of new and familiar faces show up, too. Mitch Pileggi appears as Assistant Director Skinner, and William B. Davis shows up as the leader of the shadowy conspiracy, known only as The Cigarette-Smoking Man. Other members of the Syndicate appear as well, including Don S. Davis, billed in the credits as the Group Elder, but John Neville's Well-Manicured Man takes a central role, revealing more about the conspiracy even than the man that serves as Mulder's informant in this story - Martin Landau's Dr. Kurtzweil. Jeffrey DeMunn (who was Dale on The Walking Dead) portrays Bronschweig, another agent of the conspiracy, while Terry O'Quinn plays a senior FBI agent, and Blythe Danner takes on the role of a stern superior at the FBI's Office of Professional Review. Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, and Tom Braidwood also put in a brief appearance as The Lone Gunmen.

This is a rather different sort of alien invasion movie than, say, Independence Day (and I must admit, I thought the scene where Mulder basically pisses on a poster for this movie's unworthy rival was pretty humorous). As I've described it elsewhere, the X-Files movie is a perfect distillation of its series' mythology (and its style, including Mulder's wry humor). And it's as good a place as any for a newbie or casual fan to introduce themselves to the series. I don't know if I would call it the best programming the series ever created (I say that because I'm not sure I would, not because I doubt that I could). It may not beat the emotional drama of episodes like One Breath, and Memento Mori, for example. But it does what no small-screen episode could accomplish, and that is take advantage of the scope and grandeur of the large screen. Number one or not, it's undoubtedly among the best.

Spoiler Warning: I'm going to talk about the mythology developments in this movie now, in accordance with my efforts to work out the mythology of The X-Files as part of my entire series marathon. So, if you haven't seen the movie, and don't want to be spoiled, you should avoid reading the rest of this post.

[Spoilers!] While dispensing with most of the elements raised in season 4's finale - Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley are nowhere to be seen, and the mind-reading boy genius doesn't so much as get a mention (which is probably for the better, as I'm not super crazy about any of those plot points, anyway) - the movie picks up from the closing (and torching) of the X-Files. Mulder and Scully are at risk of being separated - not just by the bureau, but Scully sees this as her opportunity to pursue a career in medicine. In the meantime, however, they are operating on the fringes of a bomb detection task force, responding to a threat of urban terrorism in Dallas, Texas. Mulder is as much the outsider as ever, insisting on searching the building across the street from where it's expected to be found. His hunch, however, turns out to be right (as usual).

[Spoilers!] But things get weird when the leader of the task force lets the bomb blow, instead of defusing it, and a few unexpected bodies turn up in the wreckage. Mulder is contacted by a Dr. Kurtzweil, who claims to have worked with his father in the State Department, and who believes the explosion was part of a cover up. (As far as informants go, Kurzweil is a little wirey, and doesn't stand up to the likes of Deep Throat and X - I suppose that, in spite of his probable innocence in the face of smear tactics, it's kind of hard to like a guy who's rumored to be peddling kiddie porn - but he gets the job done in this movie). Mulder and Scully sneak into the morgue where the bodies are being kept (under restricted access), and discover that they were already dead before the explosion - and by most unusual causes.

[Spoilers!] The audience has already seen what killed them. The movie opens spectacularly on a scene during the last Ice Age, in which two primitive men track an alien predator into an icy cave. The predator is killed, but from its body bleeds the Black Oil, which then infects the victorious primitive. Fast forward to present day, when a group of kids stumble upon this cave (in Texas), unleashing the Black Oil from its ancient slumber. The kid and three firemen are infected before the situation is contained - these are the bodies found in the explosion. Now under quarantine, the Smoking Man visits the cave to discover that the Black Oil has mutated - it is not an agent designed to create a slave race as the Syndicate had thought, but the catalyst for a total re-population of the planet. The aliens - more like the xenomorphs from Alien than little green men from Mars - gestate inside their host, before ultimately bursting out, leaving nothing but a gelatinous, nutrient-depleted hull.

[Spoilers!] I can't overstate how huge this revelation is, but it's only the beginning. Kurtzweil leads Mulder and Scully to the site of the cave, in what the media is reporting as an outbreak of hantavirus. The cave has been covered up (literally) by the time the agents get there, but they end up tracking a group of unmarked tanker trucks through the desert. It leads them to a curious corn field, and two large bee habitats (not unlike we saw in Herrenvolk). After the bees and a couple of black helicopters chase them away, Mulder consults Kurtzweil, and comes to the conclusion that he witnessed evidence of a transportation system using transgenic crops genetically altered to carry a virus. (Remember the smallpox-carrying bees in Zero Sum that were just a "trial run")? Kurtzweil further explains that he had been recruited along with Mulder's father on a project involving biological warfare. They've been in negotiation (with aliens, one inevitably presumes) for 50 years, setting the time table for a planned Armageddon. Kurtzweil suspects that the alien plague will be deployed on a holiday, and after the president declares a state of emergency, FEMA will step up as a secret government.

[Spoilers!] The final events of the movie are precipitated by Scully being stung by a stowaway bee in her shirt collar, at the climax of an excellently choreographed scene in which, after confessing their feelings to one another (of respect, I mean - not love), Mulder and Scully get pretty much as close to kissing each other as it is physically possible for them to do without actually making contact. (Depending on your perspective, this could be considered a stab at the shippers, or the ultimate limit of shipper fan service Chris Carter is probably willing to concede in this series). The Syndicate had previously indicated their intention to take out Scully (like the Smoking Man did at the end of Sleepless, just prior to her abduction in season 2), after the Well-Manicured Man stole the Smoking Man's line about letting Mulder live to prevent turning his quest into a crusade. I doubt they would have had the powers of determinism necessary to orchestrate Scully's stinging, so I imagine they were simply pulling the strings at the FBI to get Mulder and Scully separated.

[Spoilers!] On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past them to go to those lengths (provided the capabilities), and they certainly take advantage of the situation, intercepting Mulder's 911 call and spiriting Scully away. The Well-Manicured Man, however, plays the part of the deus ex machina, and betrays his own fellows in order to give Mulder Scully's whereabouts, and the vaccine to cure her. This turnabout isn't implausible, as he's been vocal about his desires to resist the alien colonizers since The Red and the Black, and even more so now that he's learned the aliens have been lying to them about the nature of the colonization. And besides, he certainly ends up paying for his betrayal, by playing the Deep Throat role of telling Mulder to "trust no one" just before he gets killed - by a car bomb. But not before basically spilling the Syndicate's whole friggin' plot to Mulder. Let's not gloss over these revelations.

[Spoilers!] The alien virus was, in fact, the original inhabitant of this planet, and has been lying dormant, waiting for the alien race to return and use it to colonize the planet, using humans as their host. (One wonders why, if this plot goes back so many years, the aliens have waited until just this time to colonize, and if they're much further evolved than us, why they haven't just done it already. But I digress). The Syndicate have been cooperating with the aliens in order to gain access to the virus, in the hope of being able to secretly develop a vaccine (although the Russians and their Tunguska rock seem to have won that arms race). In the meantime, the only people not affected by the virus are the human-alien clones. This is, in fact, why Mulder's father let the aliens abduct Samantha - so she would survive the colonization (in some form, at least). To the extent that the Well-Manicured Man can be trusted (and he seems to be pretty sincere, although he might be buttering Mulder up about his father, due to his sentimentality regarding his own children, which he cites as the reason for spilling the Syndicate's plans), he claims that Mulder's father's hope for his son was for him to uncover the truth about the project he had worked on, and find some way to stop it - to fight the future.

[Spoilers!] Mulder follows the Well-Manicured Man's directions and ends up in Antarctica, where he finds an enormous alien spaceship buried under the ice. It's a wonder Mulder is able to find Scully among all the bodies frozen in rows there, but he does. He administers the vaccine, and Scully recovers, but the contaminant infects the whole system. (I guess now the aliens are going to know that those puny Earthlings have been working on a cure). The ship springs to life, and the bodies begin to thaw. Inside them are more of those deadly alien predators. Mulder and Scully make their harrowing escape, and barely survive as the spaceship lifts off and hovers away (it's a little too convenient, but Scully has her head buried in the snow while Mulder watches it float away).

[Spoilers!] In the conclusion, most of the evidence gets cleaned up, and the Office of Professional Review doesn't seem inclined to believe Scully's outrageous story. They do, apparently, concede that, without the X-Files, the bureau doesn't have the proper resources to investigate such claims, and the project is re-opened (with a quicker turnaround than the last time the project was in jeopardy!). It's a small step towards the ultimate goal, but Mulder should be happy that they've at least racked up enough circumstantial evidence to convince the higher-ups that the X-Files is a worthwhile expenditure for the bureau. Mulder and Scully reaffirm their faith in each other and to the project, and the Cigarette Smoking Man's associate in Tunisia (where they've set up their new crop of corn fields and bee habitats) curls his nose at Mulder's pesky meddling in top secret government affairs. I think we're perfectly set up, then, for a whole new season of The X-Files!

Memorable quotes (beware of spoilers):

Bronschweig: Sir, the impossible scenario that we never planned for - well, we better come up with a plan.

Mulder: Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise, random acts of unpredictability. If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen, or expect the unexpected, in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced.

Scully: Don't think. Just pick up that phone, and make it happen!

Mulder: What do I do? 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 in the highest levels of power, that reaches down to 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 now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or anyone who'll listen, that the fix is in, that the sky is falling, and when it hits, it's gonna be the shitstorm of all time.

(This scene brilliantly demonstrates just how crazy and paranoid Mulder sounds - but the thing about The X-Files is, every single thing he says here is absolutely true. Well, maybe not the fact that he's the key figure, but even that's been hinted at a little. Also, this is a great way to quickly introduce the audience - who may not be hardcore X-Files fans coming in to the movie - to Mulder and his background).

Kurtzweil: A plague to end all plagues, Agent Mulder. A silent weapon for a quiet war. The systematic release of an indiscriminate organism, for which the men who will bring it on still have no cure. They've been working on this for fifty years. While the rest of the world have been fighting gooks and Commies, these men have been secretly negotiating a planned Armageddon.

Bronschweig: So much for little green men.

Well-Manicured Man: This isn't colonization, this is spontaneous repopulation!

Well-Manicured Man: We are nothing but digestives for the creation of a new race of alien life forms. By cooperating now, we are but beggars to our own demise.

Kurtzweil: These people don't make mistakes.

Scully: Why did they assign me to you in the first place, Mulder? To debunk your work. To reign you in. To shut you down.
Mulder: But you saved me. As difficult and as frustrating as it's been sometimes, your goddamn strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You've kept me honest. You've made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing. I don't know if I wanna do this alone. I don't even know if I can. And if I quit now, they win.

(See, Scully, I told you).

Well-Manicured Man: Your aliens, Agent Mulder - your little green men - arrived here millions of years ago. Those that didn't leave have been lying dormant underground since the last Ice Age, in the form of an evolved pathogen, waiting to be reconstituted by the alien race, when it comes to colonize the planet, using us as hosts. Against this, we have no defense - nothing, but a weak vaccine.

Well-Manicured Man: Survival is the ultimate ideology. Your father wisely refused to believe this.
Mulder: But he sacrificed my sister. He let them take Samantha.
Well-Manicured Man: Without a vaccination, the only true survivors of the viral holocaust will be those immune to it - human-alien clones. He allowed your sister to be abducted to be taken to a cloning program, for one reason.
Mulder: So she would survive. As a genetic hybrid.
Well-Manicured Man: Your father chose hope over selfishness. Hope, in the only future he had - his children. His hope for you was that you'd uncover the truth about the project. That you would stop it. That you would fight the future.

Well-Manicured Man: Trust no one, Mr. Mulder.

Scully: What is it you find incredible?
Cassidy: Well, where would you like me to start?

Mulder: 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...

Mulder: I'm not gonna watch you die, Scully, because of some hollow personal cause of mine. Go be a doctor. Go be a doctor while you still can.
Scully: I can't. I won't. Mulder, I'll be a doctor, but my work is here with you now. That virus that I was exposed to - whatever it is, it has a cure. You held it in your hand. How many other lives can we save? Look, if I quit now, they win.

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