Highly unusual as one of the very few television-derived feature films to hit the big screen while the show is still on the air, “The X-Files” falls somewhere in between standing on its own feet as a real movie worth the price of a ticket and merely being a glorified TV episode refitted for theaters. On the plus side, action plays out on a big canvas and features the sort of major set pieces normally impossible on a weekly series. On the other hand, project gives off the unmistakable odor of a highly calculated marketing ploy designed both as a bridge between one TV season and the next, and as an attempt to morph a popular series into a feature film franchise. Every one of the show’s millions of fans is being counted upon to turn out to cover the $60 million budget and $25 million-plus marketing ticket, and enough of them no doubt will, over the first couple of weeks, to set this on a profitable trajectory, with foreign and down-the-line homevid representing very lucrative gravy. But non-“X”-philes without a vested interest in the characters and their quixotic investigation into the unknown are unlikely to climb on board in significant numbers, since the film lacks the excitement, scope and style expected from event movies.
An ever-increasing phenomenon over the course of its five-year run, series has also caught fire in such for-eign countries as Canada, Britain and Japan. Hardcore devotees will feel compelled to see the film to get the answers to some long-standing mysteries, a number of which are at least partially clarified herein. Simmering sexual tension between the leads is taken to the brink in a way that will titillate the show’s dedicated adherents, who in general can be expected to be satisfied by the film, even if it may not measure up to the most memorable episodes of the series.
The uninitiated, however, are likely to wonder what all the fuss is about. Made largely by hands with long experience on the program, pic begins in TV-teaser fashion with three startling suspense scenes, the first two running five minutes apiece, the third 10 minutes long. Accompanied by the absurdist tag of “North Texas, 15,000 B.C.,” initial sequence reveals a vaguely seen ferocious creature killing a caveman. Second hook shows a young boy at the same location falling into a pit, being attacked and infected by a sort of black goo that gets under his skin and darkens his eyes; event announces the arrival of an ominous “impossible scenario” for which arriving officials are woefully unprepared.
Third and most elaborate introductory scene deals with the discovery of a bomb at the Federal Building in Dallas. Despite the efforts of special FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Ande-son), the blast occurs, resulting in Oklahoma City-like damage.
Seeking scapegoats, the agency sees fit to blame Mulder and Scully, interrogating them at length and determining to break up their partnership. While Scully hems and haws about quitting altogether, Mulder is approached in a bar by a fringe conspiracy theorist, Kurtzweil (Martin Landau), who claims to have been a friend of Mulder’s father and provokes the younger man with his belief that the explosion was triggered by powerful interests desirous of covering up the actual causes of death of the black-eyed boy and four infected rescue workers, whose bodies were carted out of the wreckage. Later, he hints at the existence of a “secret government” poised to take over after it unleashes a plague of unprecedented dimensions upon the world.
Thus resumes Mulder and Scully’s ongoing probe into the presence of aliens on Earth, as well as into the ex-istence of a ring of unknown power brokers who may be pulling the strings of seemingly inexplicable occurrences from on high. Sheer mysteriousness of the film’s early drama serves to pique curiosity to a degree, and interest stirred up by thoughts of global conspiracies, aliens and the paranormal provide further inducements to be drawn into the intrigue and melodrama.
Unfortunately, the picture’s approach is, if anything, too conventional for the subject matter at hand, which serves to gradually reduce expectations as it lurches along. A first-rate film of this sort should be shot in a style that would accentuate the unsettling nature of the material, that would heighten its mysteriousness. Director Rob Bowman inarguably knows his way around “X-Files” territory after helming 25 episodes of the series, but he relies far too much on dark alleys and rain-slicked streets for atmospherics, and on shocks achieved by quick cutting, out-of-the-blue attacks and blasts of sound; a somewhat more off-center sensibility might have added some texture and a layer of depth that would have given it more stature and interest as a film.
As it is, pic serves up set-pieces and a measure of scope that are beyond TV size but remain rather underwhelming by feature standards. At one point, Mulder and Scully’s search leads them to two giant white domes in the middle of nowhere. Their initial search of one of the domes is intriguing enough, and the subsequent opening of giant vents and the release of thousands of bees is both puzzling and rather frightening. But a follow-up nocturnal chase through a cornfield by two helicopters fizzles, both as an outright suspense sequence and as a homage to “North by Northwest.”
Similarly, the climax, set in a vast chamber under the Antarctic ice, unfolds as a rather routine action finale with unfulfilled James Bondian aspirations. Sequence has Mulder attempting to rescue Scully from a grisly fate as a host body for an emerging alien, but even by sci-fi standards it is far-fetched, too arbitrary in the way the action plays out, too murky in some of its visual effects, and too familiar in its by-the-numbers triumphs over adversity. Pic ends in decided “To be continued” mode.
Duchovny and Anderson’s appeal carries over intact from small to big screen, and the real threat of the team’s separation, as well as their very near-miss in the bedroom, will provide apprehension and tingles, respectively, for their devoted fans. Such series supporting players as Mitch Pileggi, as an FBI higher-up, William B. Davis, as the sinister Cigarette-Smoking Man, John Neville as the commanding Well-Manicured Man, and Dean Ha-glund, Bruce Harwood and Tom Braidwood, as the so-called Lone Gunmen, turn up to good effect, as do newcomers Landau and Mueller-Stahl, the latter as the German ringleader of the big bosses.