"The X-Files: Fight the Future"

The makers of TV's "The X-Files" used to think they were making a little movie each week -- until they actually set out to make a movie.

Published January 16, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"The X-Files: Fight the Future"
Directed by Rob Bowman
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Mitch Pileggi
Twentieth Century Fox; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: "The Making of 'X-Files'" documentary, audio commentary with Rob Bowman and Chris Carter

"X-Files" creator Chris Carter and "The X-Files: Fight the Future" director Rob Bowman wanted the first "X-Files" movie to thrill fans and newbies alike. Unfortunately, it was an ambition they couldn't quite realize. Their movie comes off like an episode of the television show with a really big budget -- which isn't a terrible thing. Some of those blockbuster flourishes are fun to look at: There are a pair of impressive snow field scenes bookending the film, and the set with a couple of backlit, translucent domes nestled in a cornfield looks great.

But much of the action in the film is small, and worse, betrays the television show. When the movie starts, the X-Files have been shut down by the FBI. Scully and Mulder are working at a field office in Dallas. Mulder accidentally discovers a bomb set to cover up a few dead bodies. The building explodes, sending Mulder and Scully off to figure out the conspiracy. With the help of a special informant, played by Martin Landau, they basically bust the government and find out, definitively, that there are giant alien spaceships on earth.

There are nods to fans of the show, including an appearance by the Lone Gunman nerds, but much of the time is spent going over boring back story. The movie also invents new characters and new motivations for older characters. Worse, Mulder gets wasted and treats much of his career as if it were a rambling joke.

The DVD commentary track, mostly spoken by Bowman with some help from Carter, is lively and informative. Bowman talks about the collaborative process of making television, and how the TV crew always said that they were making a little movie every week. When they got around to producing an actual movie, however, they found out that they'd all been talking out of their asses. You can see what he's talking about when you hear what they went through to get those glacier shots.

The "Making of 'The X-Files'" documentary spends even more time on these technical details -- especially the massive building explosion. Narrated by Mitch Pileggi (Skinner), it also contains some silly interviews with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Mostly, though, it's a lot of clips of the film you just saw edited together in a way that's supposed to make you want to watch the movie you've just seen.

The commentary is much more worthwhile. Bowman, most compellingly, talks about some principles of the show (like the noir lighting) as well as his rules for drama, which make up a decent lecture on storytelling and filmmaking. For example, he points out that tension is created by physical space and by mystery and misinformation: Monsters are scarier when we don't know what they look like, and when we see them in one space, far away from their prey, and then suddenly across the room, devouring their victims.

Of course those principles of misinformation and obfuscation can be maddening. "The X-Files" TV show was always best when we didn't exactly know the motivations of the Cigarette Smoking Man or the cabal of old, white men -- even whether or not the aliens were aliens. The "X-Files" movie promised to clear up some questions, but ended up undermining itself with some of those answers. You can't have it both ways.

By Jeff Stark

Jeff Stark is the associate editor of Salon Arts and Entertainment.

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