The M0vie Blog has probably a lot on their plate and just like other bloggers **coughsmecoughs*, hasn’t yet had the time to review the new season of The X-Files. But thankfully there is still a review for, oh, every single other episode of the show AND both movies, so I think I’ll be OK for some time yet.
You see the thing is that the reviews featured on this site are so extensive and thorough that I would 1) much rather wait for a great six reviews of the new episodes, and 2) be more than happy to delve back into the other reviews. And realising that may of the feelings, emotions, and reactions to Season 10 paralleled those inspired by the second feature film based on the show, it made sense to feature the following review today.
The M0vie Blog’s Review of The X-Files: I Want to Believe
The plan was always to transition The X-Files from television to film, but fans change.
Following the success of The X-Files: Fight the Future, there had been some mumblings about the possibility of releasing a film in the summer of 2000. Given that The X-Files was a cultural property rooted in the nineties, it seemed like a big screen adventure would have been the perfect way to bring Mulder and Scully into the twenty-first century. After all, the original plan was that the show would retire in its seventh season. (The network even had a bespoke successor selected in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm.)
However, this was not to be. It turned out that Fight the Future represented the cultural peak of The X-Files, the moment of maximum pop culture saturation. Almost immediately upon the production team’s move to California at the start of the sixth season, the show’s rating began their slow (and then not so slow) decline. The seventh season was itself hampered by behind-the-scenes drama, with David Duchovny suing Chris Carter and Fox over syndication. At the same time, Fox’s “worst season ever” meant that the broadcast could not afford to cancel The X-Files.
So, understandably, the sequel to Fight the Future was postponed and put on the long-finger. As the show came to an end in its ninth season, the subject of a second X-Files feature film arose again. Still, there was a debate to be had about whether the world really wanted a second X-Files film. While the sixth and seventh seasons had slowly eroded the show’s popularity and appeal, the ninth completely collapsed it; through the combination of bad storytelling decisions and the broader shift in the political mood, The X-Files felt like a spent cultural force.
Ultimately, that was not to be either. The production history of The X-Files: I Want to Believe often recalls the mythology at the heart of The X-Files, with the project constantly shifting and changing as outside forces intervene. I Want to Believe arrived in cinemas in July 2008, a full decade after Fight the Future and more than six years after the broadcast of The Truth. The finished product is radically different from what anybody might have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Fight the Future, its design often surreal and awkward.
If I Want to Believe would have been a strange choice for an X-Files film release in July 2000, it seemed downright perverse in July 2008.
There are a lot of reasons why I Want to Believe arrived so late. Initially, Carter was simply enjoying a break. Factoring in the development of The X-Files before the first season was even broadcast, Carter had devoted a year of his his life to the project. As such, the cancellation represented a certain amount of freedom for the writer. Asked about the possible development of a second X-Files film in 2004, actor Dean Haglund remarked that Carter was “off surfing and climbing the mountains of the world.”
In fact, Carter openly acknowledges that he greatly enjoyed the free time afforded by the end of a hit network television series. Explaining what he did with all of that time off, Carter confessed, “I took three years of drum lessons. I have a kit set up right now. I love jazz and funk, because it’s hard. If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing.” Carter had certainly earned some time off; overseeing more than two hundred episodes of a weekly television series is exhausting. (And this discounts the work Carter did on other projects overlapping.)
At the same time, the show’s creative team had split up to work on a variety of different projects. The influence of The X-Files would be keenly felt on an entire generation of television, as the landscape was shaped and moulded by writers and directors who had honed their skill on the popular nineties supernatural drama. In particular, Carter’s regular mythology collaborator Frank Spotnitz had moved to work on shows like Robbery Homicide Division and Night Stalker.
As a result, it took a little time to get all the pieces moving. It was late 2004 before the plans were made public, with Fox acknowledging their interest in taking Mulder and Scully to the big screen again. Already, it appeared to be something of a logistical nightmare. “So now it’s just a matter of making sure everybody can get together at the same time and do it,” reflected David Duchovny of the planned sequel in 2004. However, other obstacles to the movie’s development would soon emerge.
Shortly after committing to the sequel, Carter became embroiled in a legal battle with Fox concerning the financial management of The X-Files. Ever diplomatic, Carter was keen to stress that the engagement was never hostile on either side, although it did affect the scheduling of the film:
Fox approached us in 2003 and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We were ready to go, but then there followed what I would call a contractual thing over the series’ profit, and what started out as a negotiation had to turn into a lawsuit – it’s complicated – in order for me to protect my right to negotiate. It took years to settle, and at that point I didn’t think there could ever be a second movie. Then, after everything was resolved, Fox called and said, ‘Remember that movie you had in mind? You’d better get ready to do it now or never, because there’s a Writers Guild strike looming.’ So it was years of stasis, and then a mad rush.
Somewhat ironically, Carter would be represented in this legal matter by Stanton L. Stein, who had represented Duchovny during his seventh season lawsuit against Carter. I Want to Believe already had a storied history before it even entered production.
The production of I Want to Believe was not entirely smooth. Although it seemed like the film had slowly lurched into production, the movie suddenly found itself in a mad dash towards the finish line. Although Carter and Spotnitz were allowed to develop the film, Fox imposed a number of serious constraints upon the team:
Five years out of sight is a long time even for a popular franchise, and when Fox gave the go-ahead to Mr. Carter and his co-writer and co-producer, Frank Spotnitz, the green light came with a low budget of $30 million, a strong expression of preference for a user-friendly PG-13 rating and a now-or-never timetable predicated on finishing the script before the writers’ strike last winter.
In many ways, I Want to Believe was fighting an up-hill battle even before those constraints were imposed upon it: a minuscule budget smaller than that of Fight the Future; a tight deadline on scripting, with no capacity for rewriting or reworking when that deadline elapsed; a preference for a rating that would undercut the movie’s ability to do horror.
Carter has acknowledged these factors as limitations upon the finished product. In many respects, I Want to Believe was tailored to the restrictions imposed upon the production team:
It’s funny, but on the series, we prided ourselves each week with making a little movie. Then, when it came time to do the second X-Files movie, we were given the money and the opportunity to make, literally, a little movie. That’s what we did. We realized we had no money for big special effects. We had to come up with a story that didn’t rely on those special effects, and hence wasn’t a summer blockbuster kind of movie.
There are certainly some respects in which these restrictions are obvious. Fight the Future opened with the demolition of a government building and built to a massive alien ship buried in the Arctic. The biggest set piece in I Want to Believe is a footchase through Vancouver.
At the same time, even allowing for the limitations imposed upon the film, some of the choices made by the production team were curious. The most obvious of these decisions was to structure I Want to Believe as a “monster of the week” story rather than a mythology adventure. Whereas Fight the Future was tied into the show’s tangled web of government conspiracies and alien visitation, I Want to Believe is a smaller story about psychic visions and body-swapping experiments.
To be fair, it had always been the plan for the second X-Files film to stand on its own. Chris Carter explained, “When we finished the first movie, we said the next movie we do will be a story that stands alone, what some people call a ‘monster of the week’ story. We wanted to do a story that didn’t require you to have any knowledge of that ongoing story arc.” It makes a certain amount of sense, particularly in the context of the show’s final years.It was easy to understand why Carter and Spotnitz thought that fans might want a “monster of the week.”
The mythology had been a huge draw in the show’s early years. Episodes like Colony and End Game had seen the show push the limits of what was possible on television, while the twist and turns kept audiences hooked as Mulder and Scully gradually unearthed a massive conspiracy against the American people. However, time took a lot of the luster off the mythology, as it became increasingly clear that the mythology was not going to offer viewers the answers that they wanted in the way that they wanted.
The final season had seen the mythology become an albatross around the show’s neck as it became bogged down in prophecy and “super soldiers.” Indeed, the show’s fixation upon its own mythology – and the desperate need to prove that the mythology all made sense – turning the two-hour season finalé into a slog. The Truth was less of an ending and more of a clip show. In many ways, it felt like the show was making a desperate attempt to salvage its legacy by arguing that the mythology did make sense.
(In a way, perhaps, this speaks to the gap between what fandom wanted from the show and what they thought they wanted. By and larger, the mythology of The X-Files does make a certain amount of sense; there are a few loose threads and narrative cul de sacs, but the show explains the “why” and the “how” quite clearly. However, the show’s mythology is not satisfying in any material sense, because none of these resolutions lead to fulfilling resolutions. The problem was never that the mythology didn’t make sense; the problem was it ceased to be told well.)
Read the rest of this review here.