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Still, you've got to hand it to screenwriter-creator Chris Carter, co-writer Frank Spotnitz, and director Rob Bowman. Transplanting an ongoing TV series to the big screen is fraught with dangers, most of which the film version successfully skirts. Three especially perilous potential problems exist. First: How do you satisfy obsessive fans without totally baffling neophytes? Second: What can the film offer that everybody isn't already getting for free every week at home? And finally, third: How do you deliver enough answers to the questions around which the TV show is constructed without scuttling the show itself?
The next two weeks of box office receipts and Internet chatter will likely answer the first two questions. For those of us who are neither obsessive fans nor neophytes (for the record, I've seen most but not all of the past two seasons' worth of TV episodes and a bunch of earlier ones via reruns) the film is a satisfying entertainment, diverting and frequently amusing. The filmmakers have wisely followed the Star Trek II (1982) strategy, giving us a two-hour X-Files episode with better-than-TV production values.
That third matter is the stickiest wicket, and it's tricky to discuss without giving away central plot surprises. The movie opens with a prologue that invokes memories of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): It's 35,000 years ago, before there was a Fox network, before there was a Fox Mulder, even -- let's face it -- before there was discernible human intelligence. After five minutes of spiffy if confusing action, we leap forward into the present, when at least two of those three developments have come to pass.
In a seemingly unrelated plot line -- it doesn't stay unrelated for long -- the protagonists, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), back to FBI fieldwork after the dismantling of the X-Files unit -- are scanning a government building in Dallas after a bomb threat was phoned in. This sequence allows the filmmakers to do one of those things that TV can never deliver as well as the big screen: blow stuff up good, real good. At the same time, there is something arguably distasteful about the way the film uses a deliberate simulacrum of the real-life Oklahoma City bombing.
As so often happens on the TV show, Mulder soon realizes that this "terrorist" bombing is Not What It Seems; rather, it is yet another manifestation of the jumbled UFO/shadow-government conspiracy he's been tracking on the small screen for the past five years. Soon he is getting info from the possibly unreliable Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) as well as running into series semiregulars such as the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis), the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville), and the Lone Gunmen (Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood). Also showing up for the fun are Blythe Danner as an FBI official, Glenne Headly in a cameo as a barmaid, Terry O'Quinn as mysterious FBI agent Darius Michaud, and the great German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl as one of the cabal of Old White Males who seem to have taken over control of the universe from the Masons. Disappointingly, the popular Mitch Pileggi, the third most important character on the TV show, doesn't get to do much but glower and issue warnings.
Most of The X-Files movie is good, clean, dopey fun. As has already been announced, the film does not consummate the potential Mulder-Scully romance, though the issue is touched on briefly and cleverly. There are several very droll moments, most notably Mulder's confession-exposition bit in a bar. And the character names are a hoot: Kurtzweil, Bronschweig, Darius Michaud.
But even by the standards of good, clean, dopey fun, this movie has some Godzilla-size plot holes. Why, for instance (and I'll try not to give away too much here) in the big climax does a security breach in a secret facility seem to trigger earthquakes? It's silly enough to stage a major catastrophe in order to destroy a roomful of evidence while disguising your intent. But to do it without succeeding at destroying the evidence, and then to not follow up and finish the job -- well, that's just dumb. The plot is hard enough to follow anyway, and some really dark cinematography doesn't help. This egregious disdain for logic may make newcomers in particular throw up their hands in confusion.
While the movie does unequivocally clear up one of the show's ongoing mysteries, it leaves plenty of questions unanswered. And a number of central issues are barely touched on: There's only a brief mention of Mulder's sister, and there are no shape shifters.
Certainly it would have been impossible -- and disastrous for Fox's cash cow -- to clear up everything. As it is, the situations have an overwhelming sense of familiarity to anyone who's watched even a few episodes of the show. The filmmakers even acknowledge this near the end: "How many times have we been here before, Scully?" Mulder asks. You almost expect her to reply, "Let's see. Five seasons so far, at 22 episodes per season. About 110!" But no such luck.
Directed by Rob Bowman. Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, and William B. Davis.
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