The X-Files #164: Fight the Future

"Survival is the ultimate ideology."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Bridging season 5 and 6, Mulder and Scully are pulled back into the world of the X-Files when alien colonists accidentally show their hand, climaxing in Scully's rescue from a black oil farm in the Antarctic.

The X-Files movie has to be a lot of things. It's got to tell its own story and be easy to follow for non-fans (which it amazingly achieves, give or take a fan service scene featuring the Lone Gunmen, full props to Mulder's drunken exposition). It's also got to feel important to the larger story for X-Files viewers, which again, it achieves (the Conspiracy has never seemed so clear). And it's got to be of a piece with the TV series, and it works there too, in large part because the show is already very filmic and visual, and Rob Bowman is one of its best directors anyway. So the movie looks and sounds like the show, but with a fuller score, more locations (not just rainy forests), bigger effects, and more famous guest-stars (Martin Landau, Blythe Danner). All the tropes are there and well used - secret trains, gory autopsies, Scully abducted, black copters, "Trust no one", FBI hearings, virus-delivering bees, UFOs... However, I'm not a fan of franchises that cross platforms and require their fans to follow from one medium to another to understand the story (The Matrix being a prime example), and bridging two seasons with a theatrical release, while understandable given the show's popularity at the time, did a disservice to those who perhaps did not get to see it in theaters (myself included).

Okay, let's talk about the answers Fight the Future finally gives us after five years of mytharc obfuscation. As it stands after this film, the black oil which seemed a tool to enslave the human race is revealed to also impregnate us with alien fetuses and turn us into egg jelly! We're not slaves, we're food! That shocks even the Syndicate who have been working with the alien colonists if only to gain access to the black oil virus so they could make a vaccine for themselves. Of course, if the Grays are actually cannibalistic monsters (and that reveal veers into Aliens territory, perhaps a step too far), you're meat, vaccine or not. And yet, men like the Cigarette Smoking Man still seem loyal to the aliens, even above the Syndicate. But enough is enough for the Well-Manicured Man who basically gives his life to give us (and Mulder, of course) this information. the alien-human hybrids, meanwhile, are meant to be immune to black oil (and possibly toxic to true aliens), and a way to allow the human race to survive in some form. Apparently, Mulder Sr. was thinking long term/big picture when he allowed his daughter Samantha to be used in those experiments. And it's all very epic, with the movie starting in the Ice Age when these aliens clashed with (okay, yeah, badly made-up) cavemen. The aliens were here before we were, and they just want their outpost back!

Of course, the film, like the show, has to be about the characters. Right from their first scene, Mulder and Scully, working anti-terrorism since the X-Files were shut down, are in full form. Great banter, great friendship, and a sequence that makes use of their personalities to ramp up the tension around a bomb scare. Terry O'Quinn plays a small, but crucial and magnetic role, which makes me easily forgive the somewhat confusing cross-casting from Millennium's roster, which ends in spectacular fashion. From there, they get chance after chance to show their bond, which sometimes hinges, let's be honest, on Mulder's emotional manipulation of his partner. And yet it's clear that while they may both, at some point, seriously think of quitting, there's nothing they won't do for one another. That's taken to an extreme when Mulder races to Antarctica to save his partner (more on which in a moment), and for 'shipping fans, their mutual affection almost crosses from platonic to romantic as befits movie hype. The way they get out of it is perfectly organic too, no regrets from this viewer.

Where the movie gets into a little trouble is in the climactic set piece, which may provide some crazy eye candy, but also relies on an all-too familiar trope. I remember Siskel & Ebert ruining it for me with their review of Star Trek: Generations, in which they condemned the use of a vertiginous set piece for being a cliché that manufactures danger in a very crude way. Ever since, I haven't been able to watch genre movies (action, sci-fi and superhero especially) without sighing at the seemingly unavoidable climax taking place in an environment where the hero could fall to his or her death. It's true that it's way overused. In the X-Files movie, Mulder falls through the ice and eventually finds himself inside a buried alien spacecraft that acts as a deep pit (very Independence Day). He dangles off ledges, slides down tubes, and the ultimate effect is that it's hard to believe 1) he could find Scully's pod in that vast environment and 2) get out of there with her in a weakened state (he has to resuscitate her TWICE!). The geography of this sequence doesn't quite work. And THEN, the ice gives way under them as the saucer rises, and they ride what looks like an avalanche... anyway, it's all QUITE vertiginous, not to say ridiculous. It's fun enough, but it's where the film breaks from the show by going over the top.

Works as a stand-alone introduction to the franchise, but of course, better as part of the continuing serial. It's everything we like about the X-Files, just done bigger, and we can perhaps forgive it for indulging itself with big budget action sequences.


American Hawkman said...

I always thought that the aliens looked suspiciously like Venom...

Siskoid said...

It's the teeth.

Madeley said...

It was the same frustration in reverse for me- the X-Files was shown on a satellite channel before a second terrestrial run on the BBC a few months later over here, so I watched the film in the cinema before watching S5. I was a lot more invested in keeping continuity straight back in the day, so that was a big annoyance at the time. As I recall, I actually ended up watching Series 6 on video tapes a friend very kindly made for me, because around this time the real annoyance of internet spoilers was starting to manifest itself.


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