Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2008

Seeing isn't believing

Mulder and Scully show wear and tear in 'I Want to Believe'

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
20th Century Fox
Director: Chris Carter
Screenplay: Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Callum Keith Rennie and Alex Diakun
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 40 minutes
(out of four)

Mulder and Scully exited the national consciousness when The X-Files ended its nine-year run in 2002. And despite a second big-screen effort this year, they failed to make a re-entry.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe disappeared from theatres before many even noticed it had been released, largely as a result of the studio's absurd decision to release it one week after The Dark Knight. Further, the series ended on such a lousy note that the fervor surrounding it, even from die-hards such as myself, died down so much that the prospect of a second big-screen entry was met with as much trepidation as anticipation, if not more.

A good friend, fellow critic and fellow X-phile of mine worried about the way Chris Carter and Co. had written Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) into a corner in the final season, and wondered before the film's opening whether the two characters could overcome it.

As it turned out, they couldn't.

Curiously, what makes I Want to Believe a weaker movie than it should have been is simply the fact that it's an X-Files movie. When we're uncovering the increasingly macabre details of the story, the film is engrossing - it conjures that eerie X-Files feel we recognize from the best episodes of the series.

But then Mulder and Scully keep on spoiling it. Though they are the selling point for the entire thing, this time they seem only to be getting in the way - often stopping the momentum of the story in its tracks.

It's as if Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz are hamstrung by their own creations. It feels like they're so obligated to go where they've already gone before - playing it alarmingly safe considering the original series was built on taking chances - that they let convention get in the way of everything else. Rarely do they miss an opportunity to stop momentum in its tracks.

Carter insisted that I Want to Believe was made primarily for fans of the show, which is fine. But the fans have seen all this before. We don't need to be pandered to. We've seen all about Mulder's obsession with his sister, Samantha. We don't need an awkward reminder about her dropped into a plot that has nothing to do with it.

We know all about Scully's long-standing crisis of faith. We don't need this movie to plug her into a job as a physician at a Christian hospital - an oh-so-obvious contrast between Science and Belief - especially when the subplot that they build around it is so flat and, ultimately, inconsequential.

The truth is (and yes, that was deliberate) that X-Files fans didn't love the show just so we could be constantly reminded about the things we loved about it. We loved it because it constantly revitalized itself, challenged itself - and for about six years, kept itself from the very rut this movie finds itself in.

In I Want to Believe, Carter and Co. force Mulder and Scully into the story even when they don't belong or aren't wholly necessary. When the series was at its best, the characters' own personal conflicts - their fears and contradictions, their obsessions and their secrets - could be seen reflected in every case and were just as interesting as the cases themselves.

Their experiences on these cases - particularly the way they perceived and interpreted the unexplained events and people they encountered - reflected who they were and what they were going through.

This time, they're just there, re-iterating what we already know about them. Which is unfortunate, since they weaken the intriguing elements of the story - a deliciously extreme perversion of modern science used as sociological allegory.

Unfortunately, those elements alone can't save the movie from itself - and certainly can't save it from poor scheduling, mediocre marketing, bad word of mouth and even worse box-office returns. The paltry sum it brought in at the box office virtually assures that there will be no third X-Files movie, and that Mulder and Scully will unfortunately go out just like they did the last time - like lambs.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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