Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Zaki's Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe


Oh, how I wanted to.

Before we get to my thoughts on the latest, and possibly last, iteration of the once-mighty X-Files brand, let's take a brief trip through the Wayback machine. To truly appreciate the significance of The X-Files as a pop-culture juggernaut (something that may seem difficult in hindsight) it's important to remember the time and place in which it first materialized. As dreamed up by creator Chris Carter in the fall of 1993, the exploits of FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), perpetually battling paranormal threats and government conspiracies, expertly blended police procedural and '50s paranoia for a potent mix that captured imaginations and, for a time at least, catapulted The X-Files to the top of the cultural heap.

Not only did the series run an impressive nine seasons (about three seasons too long, natch), at the time a record for a sci-fi series, it also launched a marketing empire that included novels, comics, action figures, and ten summers ago, its first feature film, Fight the Future. It's now been six long years since the X-Files left the TV airwaves, and, in the wake of mythology-heavy series such as Lost and Battlestar Galactica, longer still since the franchise held any real cultural sway. Watching The X-Files: I Want To Believe, a humdrum, by-the-numbers affair that was, paradoxically, trumpeted by its makers and its studio as a triumphant return-to-form for the long-dormant property, it's difficult to believe it ever did.

Six years removed from their time chasing ghosts and greys, former agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are now living but not working together, with a bearded Mulder living a hermit-like existence chasing conspiracies, and Scully administering to kids at a local hospital. When an FBI agent turns up missing and the case has hints of the paranormal -- Mulder's wheelhouse -- the pair is called into action, and they're soon wrapped up in a Frankensteinian mystery involving, but not limited to, a pedophilic priest (Billy Connolly) haunted by myserious visions, and Scully's personal quest to help a terminally ill boy.

As I watched, I found myself less engrossed in the various onscreen goings-on than I was in what was going through the actors' heads as they gamely went through their paces. David Duchovny, who was never shy about his desire to return to his most iconic role. Did he think this was the right vehicle to do it? Gillian Anderson, who seemed at times almost embarassed by her X-fame. What was it about this project that convinced her to come back? And, perhaps most of all, Chris Carter, the writer/director who clung to a veil of secrecy in regards to this film that rivaled any of the series' shadowy figures, and who must shoulder most of the blame here. Did he really think this was the story to propel the X-Files back into the pop culture firmament? This? Really?

Unlike the previous film, which was produced in the middle of the TV series' run and was steeped in its insanely-complex aliens-and-feds mythology, Carter decided to focus instead on a scare-of-the-week plot of the kind that yielded some of the show's best episodes. In this instance, however, he hopelessly tethers himself and his performers to a meandering plotline that not only fails to measure up to the series' best, but instead has the exact opposite effect of reminding us how creatively winded the show was by the time it limped to a close. Sure, I Want To Believe is eerie at times, even occasionally unpleasant in that creepy-crawly way that we love, but mostly, no matter how much we may not want to believe it, it's just...ordinary. D

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