The X Factor
Better check your popcorn for microchip implants. And make damn sure that the guy sitting behind you at the multiplex isn't the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Just in time for the summer blockbuster season, 20th Century Fox has released its $60 million movie version of The X-Files, and if you're not already all worked up over black helicopters, global-annihilation conspiracies and the vast desert of Scully's sex life, you likely soon will be.
And, hey, all you Internet junkies, here's a hint: Africanized honeybees will transport the mutant virus that threatens to wipe out life--and television--as we know them.
After five years of stoking pop paranoia and building a boob-tube cult thirty million strong, X-Files mastermind Chris Carter had one goal in mind: Cook up a spectacular action movie that could stand alone and make sense to mere novices while doling out some precious insider goodies to the obsessives who regard each TV episode as a chapter of the Bible. He's done a pretty good job, although some connoisseurs will inevitably air their gripes. No one, however, is likely to argue with Rob Bowman's swiftly-paced direction: Bowman has overseen 25 X-Files TV episodes and never misses a trick here in terms of familiar style and entrenched mythology.
FBI agent Mulder? He's still the true believer, convinced that a vast evil plot reaches into the lives of every man, woman and child on the planet. Agent Scully? She remains the skeptical rationalist, super-ego to her partner's id, reining him in, checking his facts, cooling his jets. In sequence two up there on what Carter has been calling "the larger canvas" (i.e., a screen you gotta pay seven bucks to watch), an Oklahoma City-style bombing blows the face off a Dallas office building, which catapults Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) into an eleaborate heart of darkness involving, among other things, unmarked tank trunks, secret cornfields in north Texas, a Washington conspiracy theorist named Kurtzweil (Martin Landau), a meeting of villains in London, and a vast underground labyrinth in Antarctica where an ancient race of aliens is being kept on ice until the day of the apocalypse.
X-Files addicts will want to digest every morsel of this super-episode in their own way, of course. But even casual viewers may be interested to know that Scully and Mulder, their faces ten feet tall now and their probing flashlight beams twenty yards long, come very close to physical intimacy on "the larger canvas." Apparently, platonic love may be fine for the TV room, but the hint of real desire is what the big screen cries out for.
By the way, Mulder's aliens lie dormant in caves as gooey "pathogen," but once they begin to gestate...
Want to meet old friends and enemies? The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) has made his way from small screen to big, puffing away, along with the paranoid watchdogs known as the Lone Gunmen (Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood and Tom Braidwood), the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville) and the agents' enigmatic boss, Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). The newcomers include Conrad Strughold (Armin Mueller-Stahl), evil head of the syndicate that means to do everyone in, and Bronschweig (Jeffrey DeMunn), the mad scientist behind the global conspiracy.
Strughold and Bronschweig? Hitler couldn't have dreamed up better names for henchmen.
While millions of "X-philes" hash out the advances of holy scripture and all the evil plots (dripping with evil subplots) conjured up by Carter and longtime co-writer Frank Spotnitz, it falls to the rest of us to wonder anew about the entire X-Files phenomenon. How is it, exactly, that Watergate-style chicaneries, imagined by a cut-rate Kafka and broadcast, it seems, live from Roswell, New Mexico, have come to so completely dominate the imaginations of militiamen and geeky college sophomores alike? And when, we might also ask, did the poets, painters novelists and, yes, filmmakers, who once articulated our social myths give way to TV producers--guys who serve up bogus profundity like so much pizza topped with pepperoni?
The X-Files, subtitled "Fight the Future," is an entertaining enough action movie--one that devotees of the series are bound to view over and over, dissecting every detail, every wrinkle, every rubric. Fine, but the cult remains more interesting than what it worships, as is usually the case. And those who look upon such phenomena with a colder eye may still be asking themselves how Chris Carter, a guy who spent thirteen years writing for Surfer magazine, has transformed himself into the nation's most popular social philosopher. Your guess is as good as mine. But the truth is out there. Somewhere.
Screenplay by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Directed by Rob Bowman. With Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Martin Landau, Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis.
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