July 27, 2008

Movie Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

I like The X-Files. I really do, although I would hesitate to call myself a diehard fan, as while I have watched the majority of episodes, I have not seen them all and I could not tell you many of the details. That said, when I heard that a new X-Files film was in the works, I was anxious. I was really looking forward to another adventure in this universe, although I had to wonder if too much time had passed since the first film (which came a decade ago) or even since the end of the series in 2002. I mean, of all the big science fiction franchises, it seems that this one has had the lowest web presence over the years. You can never get far from someone talking about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, or even Babylon 5, however I cannot say I have seen much on The X-Files. In the end I guess it does not really matter, the fans are out there and this talk could only really affect the bottom line of the box office, not the quality of the film, right?

Now, what is it with The X-Files and movie titles? They are terrible! The first film was called The X-Files: Fight the Future and now we get I Want to Believe? I know it is a nit pick, but surely someone could have come up with a better name than that. I would have even preferred if they just called it The X-Files, or tagged on The Movie or something to the end. Again, not much of a problem the fans will come.

Having seen the film, my mantra of "I Want This to be Good" has been replaced with "I Wish it Was Good." I cannot call this a good X-Files movie, I cannot call this a good movie, period. Yes, there are some elements that I liked, but I could not shake the feeling that I Want to Believe was little more than a glorified TV movie.

The movie has been billed as a standalone story, that no prior knowledge of the series or characters is necessary. While this is true on a base level, this is movie that if you want to get the most out of it you need to know at least a little about the history of the leads, otherwise you may not quite get their interplay. Still, the film does stay away from the arcs from the series, so in that regard, it is at the least standalone with some knowledge preferable. Although this does put questions as to the reasoning behind the recent DVD releases, which is billed as the "Essential Guide to Viewing the Movie," containing a number of episodes from the series as selected by creator Chris Carter.

As for the story? It revolves around the disappearance of an FBI agent and a psychic who claims to know bits of what happened. The presence of a psychic leads the agent in charge, ASAC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), to hunt down Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) because of his work on the X-Files. The problem is that, as fans of the show know, Fox isn't exactly in the good graces with US Government following his character's exit from the series. So, Whitney's partner, Agent Mosley Drummy (Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner), approaches Dana Scully, now working in a hospital, about locating the underground former agent.

This does not take long and before you know it, Mulder and Scully are back working a case together, arguing as they always did while the bigger picture of the plot slowly unfolds itself. The facts slowly revealing themselves as the psychic, convicted pedophile Father Joe (Billy Connolly), lets a few clues fall, a severed arm here, a car crashed in a snow bank there, the usual.

As the story draws us closer to the reveal (not to be revealed here), I kept waiting for a true X-File type of twist or turn to appear. It never did. At no point did I feel like the plot was worthy of The X-Files (well, maybe a television episode, but not a movie). I waited for the story to truly take off and draw me in, instead I was held at arms length, never receiving that invitation to truly embrace the characters or story.

What this film is really hinged on is not so much the story but the characters. During the bulk of the show's run, the characters of Mulder and Scully came to be the true center, no matter how big the conspiracies and plots got, these two were always at the heart (minus the last couple of seasons, that is). Could Duchovny and Gillian Anderson recapture what they had? The answer is yes and no.

Early on, I felt that they were trying to hard to rediscover the characters. Each of their big screen reintroductions involved scenes of them giving speeches, well, not so much speeches but scenes that required them to say things that define their characters. They reminded us that Scully is a woman of science and ever the skeptic, while Mulder is a man who wants to believe in paranormal phenomena and is willing to stretch the boundaries of conventional wisdom and belief. The problem is that it felt forced and not all that natural. On top of that, the new agents played by Peet and Xzibit were shoehorned into the same roles of believer and skeptic.

Once you get past the awkwardness of the introductions, the duo seem to settle into their old personas quite well, although it is true that Anderson has a little more trouble being comfortable in the role. The supporting cast is adequate, with only Billy Connolly delivering a memorable performance. For that matter, Connolly's Fr. Joe is the best character in the film. He brings depth to the performance and every moment he was on screen I was mesmerized. I know that sounds weird, but if you see the film (something I cannot recommend) you will see what I mean.

As for the story, I have already gone over it in a general fashion, but once moving past the big picture, some of it just really does not work. Character motivations are fuzzy; there is a big thing that happens as they close in on a suspect that is never mentioned again. I found this to be quite disturbing in that it has no conclusion and not much in the way of ramifications. This is just one example of movie oddities contained within I Want to Believe. Lets also not forget the odd scene with the photo of President Bush, what was up with that?

Okay, it is not all bad; there are a couple of things to like. The classic Mark Snow theme is present and accounted for, still holding all of the suspense and mystery that it ever did. While the film was clearly a lower budget affair (reported at $30 million), it has some nicely shot scenes. The cinematography is nice, some great work with shadows and silhouettes. Then there is Connolly.

Bottomline. I have to label this a disappointment. As much as I wanted to like this, there is not enough meat to care about. There are a couple of nice moments and nods to the series, but when all is said and done, the story is not worthy of the title. I would love to a standalone X-Files film that told a great "monster of the week" type story, something that this should have done, but I doubt that this franchise will warrant another sequel. At least we will always have the series to revisit.

By the way, what happened with those werewolf production shots that were leaked? Purposely faked? I would have rather had that story.

Not Recommended.


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