Sunday, January 24, 2016

The X-Files - I Want To Believe (2008)

[ S9:E19/20 "The Truth" <<< The X-Files >>> S10:E1 "My Struggle" ]

Spoiler Warning: The following review may contain some spoilers. But it's not like this is the mythology we're talking about, and it's not that fantastic a movie anyway, so I wouldn't be too concerned.

If my previous review is any indication, I enjoyed this movie more the first time I watched it. Which was over a year after it came out - I had planned to see it in the theater, but it only stuck around for a single weekend (I swear to god), and I missed it. When I did finally see it, like everyone else, it was years after The X-Files had gone off the air. But I hadn't even seen the end of the series; I'd stopped watching (like a lot of other fans) when David Duchovny left the show. So, for me, I Want To Believe was a return to the days when The X-Files was about Mulder and Scully investigating paranormal cases, albeit as viewed from the distance of several years, like the characters (and the actors) themselves in this movie. (This is not the classic Mulder and Scully, but a Mulder and Scully who are alternately lovey-dovey, and alternately dysfunctional - in other words, a combination of their worst traits from the series). My expectations were fairly low. But now, having finished the series, and only just a week ago (and even more so with the revival looming, giving all of us X-Philes the hope of seeing a true return to form), I can say that this movie, while not terrible, is not especially good, either.

This is, inevitably, a very different X-Files movie than Fight The Future. I don't think it's the movie that was originally planned to follow that one up, and it's not the movie we all expected - that we had been promised - when the series finally did end 2-4 years later than originally intended. The movie itself was released four years after its earliest projected release date, and so it became less of a continuation of the television series, and more a chance to revisit two characters that had become a pop culture sensation, long after they'd dropped out of the public consciousness. Mulder and Scully have moved on in their lives - together - he, unshaven and holed up at home with news clippings all over his walls, like some mental patient; and she, pursuing her dream career of being a doctor (albeit at some kind of church hospital - I liked it much better when she was teaching forensic medicine at Quantico, as in season 9). It is only at the insistence of a young hotshot with stars in her eyes (Amanda Peet) for the legend of "Spooky" Mulder that they are dragged back to work a case again.

It's a framing story that's really little more than an excuse to give Mulder and Scully a case to work on, while largely jettisoning all the baggage of the mythology that should be catching up to them, considering that they did end the series on the run from the martial law of alien invaders. Sure, there's an offhand comment about the FBI willing to excuse Mulder if he would just give them some assistance on a random case (begging the question of where all these alien replicants wandered off to), and the subject of William does come up briefly during an intimate bedroom scene. But it's all lip service. No mention of the impending alien apocalypse - there's hardly even a hint of government corruption and conspiracy, despite the events of this movie occurring during the Bush administration. I can understand the need to sidestep all of that in order to do a low-key freak-of-the-week movie, but that's not really the movie I wanted to see. I know that fans had been clamoring for just that for years, but I never saw the appeal in doing an X-Files movie that was basically just an extended freak-of-the-week episode.

The television series had always applied a movie sensibility to its production, and it was really cool to basically see a mini-version of a sci-fi or horror movie on TV every week. But it doesn't really work both ways. The episode Ice, for example, makes for an exciting adaptation of The Thing on the small screen, but expand it to a feature length film, and do you honestly think it could hold a candle to John Carpenter's The Thing? Even with Mulder and Scully involved? I'd rather see an X-Files original concept - the mythology - done into a movie, like Fight The Future. And what's more, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, who wrote this movie, were never two of the series' best freak-of-the-week writers. They steered the mythology, but they could have used some help from, say, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban (and that cute tribute to the two of them, along with Rob Bowman, who directed the first film, doesn't cut it). For that matter, Chris Carter directed this film, and I was never super impressed with his directing efforts on the television series, as pretentious as they often were.

So this movie is just a typical X-Files case, but it's not even a particularly good X-File. There are no aliens - that's already been established - but there's hardly anything paranormal, either (I can't tell you how much cooler this movie would have been with a cryptid or a genetic mutant). An FBI agent runs afoul of a black market organ trade in snowy West Virginia (which looks suspiciously like Vancouver - that's one thing this movie did right), and the only reason Mulder is called in is because the agents in charge (a rapper and a fashion model - I swear, it's like she doesn't know how to button her own shirt; not that I don't like the look, but it doesn't really scream "FBI agent" to me) have enlisted the help of a psychic. But this is no Clyde Bruckman. It's not even a Harold Pillar. You know, the first few times Mulder disbelieved in psychics it made sense, because although he's a believer in paranormal phenomena, he's not a sucker, and a lot of psychics are just scam artists. But the more times we see him dismiss a psychic that turns out to be genuine, the less sense it makes for him to keep on distrusting them. But this psychic also happens to be a Catholic priest, and a convicted pedophile (because in this day and age, you can be convicted not just for what you do, but for who you are) to boot. He believes he's being given visions in a bid for redemption, but this has been done better before.

I imagine that Chris Carter must have found the concept of the pedophile priest irresistible. What better archetype to exploit in order to demonstrate a natural distrust of authority? And I can't fault him for it - it's a good idea. But Father Joe is just not a very compelling character (editor's note: I'm not very familiar with Billy Connolly, but judging from the "making of" special feature, he seems like a fascinating personality - that they managed to make his character in this movie so dull is a wonder). I know he's supposed to be despicable, but we only know that he's a pedophile because other people say he is. I'm not saying we have to witness him buggering an altar boy, but give us something (besides praying) to make the character more interesting, more nuanced, so that his desire for redemption engenders conflict in the viewer, and not simply a distanced, dispassionate disdain. It would also make it less frustrating when Scully - who has the most close-minded reaction to him - ultimately believes him when he just happens to tell her the one thing she wants to hear most. (I'm almost tempted to say that he exists only to challenge Scully's faith and compassion, and give Gillian Anderson an opportunity to emote. Although, after all the emotion she's shown in the series, it feels a little dry here. It must be hard under all that plastic surgery).

If you haven't guessed, this movie is not the most sympathetic towards sexual minorities. I'd read one fan's opinion that it was both homophobic and transphobic, so I was looking for evidence of that. Sure enough, the murderous villains are a married gay couple, one of whom wants to transplant his ugly male head onto a female body (because that makes sense). In its defense, its not very sympathetic toward the Catholic church, either, but I could just as soon do with an X-Files that doesn't put so much emphasis on the importance of religion, which is something that increasingly marred the series (and particularly Scully's character) towards the end. It's awfully convenient, as well, that the research involved with the black market organ trade dovetails so nicely with the stem cell therapy that Scully needs to (maybe?) heal the terminally ill boy she's so dedicated to saving (because he's William's age, why else?). Honestly, the movie drags on too long (I guess I made the mistake of watching the extended cut), although it's a treat to see Skinner at the end. I'm less certain about what to make of the final scene, with Mulder and Scully on a boat in a tropical sea, now that it's not the final end to their story. More so if they're really not going to be together in the revival. But, whatever. I've spent enough time on this movie. Bring on the new miniseries already!

Memorable quotes:

Scully: Do you think God hears your prayers?
Father Joe: Do you think he hears yours? ...I have to believe he does hear me, or why would he send these visions?
Scully: Maybe it's not God doing the sending.

Agent Whitney: I'm not the most popular girl at the FBI right now for calling you in, believe me.
Mulder: I wasn't exactly Miss Popularity at the FBI myself.

Father Ybarra: We are here to heal the sick, not prolong the ordeal of the dying.

Scully: I'm lying here cursing God for all his cruelties.
Mulder: And do you think God is losing any sleep?

Scully: This is not about finding an FBI agent, this is about you trying to save your sister!

(When I heard Scully say this, I swear I shouted at the screen, "what?!" They're still hung up on that? It makes even less sense now than it did in Oubliette. It's like Chris Carter is trying to have his cake and eat it too - you can't close the book on the Samantha case and then still use it as a dramatic element. And I'd just like to ask Scully - if Mulder's trauma causes him to want to go above and beyond the call of duty to save other lost girls, even after everyone else has given up, why is that a bad thing? You're only hurting yourself by believing this paranoid obsessive will ever lead a normal life. This is his strength; this is what he was put on this planet to do, if you believe in that sort of thing. So just roll with it).

Agent Drummy: I don't believe this.
Mulder: That's been your problem from the start.

Scully: I can't look into the darkness with you anymore, Mulder. I cannot stand what it does to you, or to me.
Mulder: I'm fine with it, Scully. I'm actually okay. I'm good.
Scully: Yeah, that's what scares me.

(Somebody's been watching too much Millennium. Excellent response, though, Mulder. I'm with you on this one. Scully seems to be fishing for drama).

Mulder: We'll get out of here. Just me and you.
Scully: As far away from the darkness as we can get?
Mulder: I'm not sure it works that way. I think maybe the darkness finds you. And me.
Scully: I know it does.
Mulder: But let it try.

1 comment:

  1. I remember this movie being a nice nostalgia trip but I was pretty disappointed with the subject matter they chose. I get that psychics and such was a common occurrence for the series but I was always more interested in aliens, cryptids & the like.

    I guess today's the big day! Can't wait to hear what you think of the new series. I wonder how it will be........