The X-Files: I Want to Believe

(2008) ** 1/2 Pg-13
105 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Director: Chris C. Carter. Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Xzibit, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly.

/content/films/3149/7.jpgI confess: though not a rabid X-Phile, I went in to the second big-screen outing of The X-Files hoping for not only a good movie, but a good X-Files movie. The X-Files: I Want to Believe carries the promise of a "standalone" film that doesn't muck about with the series' elaborate alien-related government-conspiracy mythology, but gets down to a one-off creepy thriller with personal implications for its heroes. Critics are already beginning to refer to the film, mostly derisively, as a plus-sized episode, but the problem isn't that creator Chris Carter and his co-writer Frank Spotnitz repeat the TV experience; it's that they don't do so enough.

As a movie apart from the X-Files mythos, The X-Files: I Want to Believe doesn't cut it. As an added chapter in a book X-Files watchers have been reading for years, the film is considerably more satisfying, due to the dramatic entanglements of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). As for the top-secret genre plot that should be the film's spine, it's a mess. It's as if Carter and Spotnitz were so consumed with keeping the film's secrets that they withhold them in the movie itself, till so late in the game that it's too late to investigate them with any coherence. In fact, the plot—involving a mysterious Russian baddie (a wasted Callum Keith Rennie of Battlestar Galactica)—is easily one of the wackiest in recent memory, roping in gay marriage, Catholic Church pedophilia, and stem cell research to mask what might otherwise be mistaken for a Z-grade horror plot.

What can be said about the story is that it reunites ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully for one more X-File ("Like old times," Mulder says from behind a mountain-man beard). Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) has been reading their files, and sees the value in hauling in Mulder to evaluate a priest (Billy Connolly) who claims to be psychic (Whitney's Scully is the brusquely skeptical Drummy, played by Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner). Mulder resists the idea at first, until he gets that old feeling, while Scully decides she's had enough: "I'm done chasing monsters in the dark." As for their romance, it's both on-again and off-again at various times in the movie, leaving unacknowledged that the pair, who have been intimate with each other, still call each other by their last names.

/content/films/3149/5.jpgThe issues on which the characters were predicated get dredged up again, with fruitful results. Mulder wants to believe in the supernatural, in the hopes that he can one day reconcile the alien abduction of his sister. It's who he is, and no amount of desire to normalize can remove his obsession; only answers can. The Catholic Scully, on the other hand, wrestles with her faith and her practical skepticism. Her obsession is a boy, not-so-subtly named Christian (Marco Niccoli), in her care at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital; unwilling to accept the fatal diagnosis of Sandhoff Disease, Scully Googles "stem cell therapy." But is the painful and prolonged treatment against the better interest of the patient or, heaven forbid, God's wishes?

This is all interesting enough as a symbolic drama of conflicting and conflicted beliefs. But this is also supposed to be a spooky movie, right? Part of what always made the series' delightful supernatural hooey work was a depth of mood. It's something that first-time director Carter is clearly working hard to achieve here. The opening scene succeeds in this regard, intercutting a violent kidnapping with the sight of a line of FBI agents searching a vast ice field for evidence of the crime. Carter also makes atmospheric use of good ol' British Columbia, the series' longtime home base. But non-X-Files fans are sure to scratch their heads over this supposed thriller's infrequency and ineptness in the action department, leading up to a "that's it?" payoff.

Perhaps the film's biggest problem is that it lacks the snappy pace required of TV's forty minutes of storytelling time. A measured pace would be fine if Carter was actually measuring, but these slack proceedings suggest an overconfidence about the elementary mystery's level of interest and the tone set by Bill Roe's cinematography and Mark Snow's signature music. Despite the film's doggedly sedate tone, Duchovny gets a handful of amusing moments that emerge from his well-established character (and a winking joke that finally brings to the foreground those ubiquitous portraits in government buildings). If Carter and Spotnitz could reclaim their creepshow mojo, The X-Files could make a welcome series of films, but this film likely puts the franchise out to pasture, a perhaps immediate eventuality that the ending scene seemingly embraces.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

Street date: 12/2/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox's "Ultimate X-Phile Edition" of The X-Files: I Want to Believe lives up to its name with a terrific array of bonus features to delight fans. Viewers can choose between the theatrical cut and an extended version that adds about three minutes. The AV transfer offers a satisfyingly detailed and strikingly colorful image: the warms are warm and the cools are cool. A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track gives definitive aural wraparound sound to rachet up the creep factor.

The BonusVIEW Picture-in-Picture commentary with Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz (also available as an audio-only bonus) serves up the equivalent of a production diary, with location and set information, identification of special effects shots, set secrets (like how Amanda Peet injured herself digging in snow and the difficulties with Mulder's fake beard), and plenty of X-Files trivia. The duo also points out the added footage in the extended cut. An In-Movie Features option on the menu also allows viewers to see at any given moment what special video is available at any given moment in the film and then select it on the fly by pressing one of the color buttons on the remote.

Deleted Scenes (HD) include "Cunningham Begs Scientist to Let Her Go" (1:31), "Father Joe Visits Scully at Hospital" (1:13) and "Mulder Escapes from Car Wreck" (3:07), and the Gag Reel (9:49, HD) is a particular treat for X-Philes.

The feature-length three-part documentary "Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain a Secret?" (1:26:01 with "Play All" option, SD) is the jewel in the crown, a comprehensive look at the origin of the film, its development, the reunion of cast and crew after several years, the guest cast, behind the scenes of the shoot, promotion of the film (including the appearance at WonderCon by Carter, Spotnitz, Duchovny and Anderson), the secrecy around the plot, and the sprint through post-production. Among the many, many participants are Carter, Spotnitz, Duchovny, Anderson, sound mixer Michael Williamson, Billy Connolly, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner, Amanda Peet, Callum Keith Rennie, DP Bill Roe, costume designer Lisa Tomczeszyn, and numerous other members of the crew.

"Chris Carter: Statements on Green Production" (6:16, SD) finds the director sitting to explain the production's efforts to be environmentally sound. "Body Parts: Special Makeup Effects" (8:12, SD) is a tour, led by special makeup effects designer Bill Terezakis, of the prosthetic odds and ends used in the film. "Dying 2 Live by Xzibit" (4:03, HD) is a photo montage synched to the song.

The X-Files Complete Timeline is an interactive feature that's an amazingly detailed look at the complete fictional history of The X-Files, every adventure and backstory from prehistory to the current film. Trust me when I say this encyclopedic reference is very impressive and a way to while away plenty of time reliving past stories. Agent Dakota Whitney's Files offer further interactive depth, with dossiers on some familiar faces.

Still Galleries of Collectibles, Concept Art, Storyboards, and Unit Photography are here, as well as the domestic and international Trailers. There's a BD Live hoookup for more content and, last but not least, the second disc offers a Digital Copy of the film fror portable playback. The rumor goes that an X-Files 3 depends on video sales, so X-Philes, open those wallets.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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