X-Files, The (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There are two kinds of viewers for The X-Files movie: those have seen at least a few episodes of the TV series and those who have never watched it. I am a member of the latter group, so that's the perspective from which this review is written. As a result, I cannot assess how the film will appeal to a die-hard follower of the program. But, for the "uneducated" movie-goer, The X-Files offers two hours of solid entertainment. (Of course, one unanswered question is how many non-X Files aficionados will exhibit sufficient interest to venture into a theater showing this picture.)

Transferring a television program to the big screen has become a routine procedure for a film industry starved for ideas, but this is a rare occasion when the movies continue the adventures begun on the small screen, with no re-casting involved. To date, the only TV-to-motion picture series to successfully make the transfer is Star Trek, which brought the tales of Captain Kirk and his crew to the theaters, then eventually transferred command to Captain Picard after Star Trek: The Next Generation went off the air. Twentieth Century Fox is hoping The X-Files will approach the same level of success, and there's a new wrinkle: the television series is still going strong.

In interviews, writer/producer/series creator Chris Carter has stated that his goal with The X-Files was to make a movie that could stand on its own. There's no question that he has succeeded. The script can be followed by someone with literally no previous knowledge of the characters or situations. FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are introduced as any motion protagonists might be, and we're presented with bits and pieces of information about their background through cleverly constructed dialogue. (By "cleverly," I mean that these passages don't cry out, "Character exposition!") Although I'm told that the storyline picks up where the last season of the TV program left off, there's no sense that new viewers are entering in the middle of things. The only obvious concession to the ongoing series is the ending, which includes several hooks that can be used to launch stories in the upcoming season.

As the film opens, the X-Files special unit of the FBI has been disbanded. Mulder and Scully have exchanged their investigations of things paranormal and extraterrestrial for more mundane matters such as terrorism. But, when an Oklahoma City-like bomb explosion destroys a $45 million building in Dallas, Mulder and Scully appear to be the FBI's first choice for fall guys. Their research to clear their names reveals what could be the tip of a massive cover-up of alien activity on Earth. And, as their search stretches from Texas to Washington D.C. to Antarctica, they come face-to-face with the dark secret that endangers the future of the human species.

Plot-wise, The X-Files bears more than a passing resemblance to 1996's alien invasion/conspiracy movie, The Arrival. (In fairness to The X-Files, the TV program preceded The Arrival by several years, and the latter probably owes more to the former than the other way around.) Although things get sloppy near the end, when several story holes are ignored or ineffectively plugged, the script as a whole exhibits an uncommon intelligence for this type of movie. In addition, director Rob Bowman (who has helmed a number of the TV episodes) maintains a fairly high level of tension as the complexities of the multi-layered plot mount. The movie is perhaps a little too long; cutting ten or fifteen minutes would have made for a better focused adventure.

It's not hard to understand the appeal of Mulder and Scully. Both are competent, intelligent, and resourceful, and their different approaches to their jobs (he's a believer; she's a skeptic) enable them to complement one another. It also doesn't hurt that they're both likable and neither is hard on the eyes. Actors David Duchovny (who's no stranger to movies; his most recent foray being Playing God) and Gillian Anderson (who is more familiar to viewers of the small screen than the large one) are both accomplished and entirely believable in these roles. Of course, we would expect no less of them, since they have been inhabiting these fictitious shells for five years. The chemistry between them is palpable, blending camaraderie and respect with a little subtle romance.

The supporting cast is comprised of faces from the TV show, such as William B. Davis' mysterious cigarette-smoking figure and John Neville's "Well Manicured Man", and movie actors who are around for one-off appearances. These include Blythe Danner as the by-the-book FBI assistant director who is looking into the Dallas bombing, Martin Landau as a conspiracy theorist who occasionally feeds hints to Mulder about what's going on, Armin Mueller-Stahl as the leader of the cartel behind the global betrayal, and Terry O'Quinn as Mulder and Scully's (temporary) boss.

Having seen the movie, it's easy for me to comprehend why so many people are enamored with the series. Although a lot of the material explored in The X-Files isn't new or revolutionary, the style of presentation and the quality of the writing set this above most other conspiracy theory/alien invasion pictures. I won't claim that the experience of having watched this film will suddenly convert me into a weekly viewer of the TV show, but at least now I'm aware of what awaits if I choose to catch an episode. In a summer that has been characterized by over-hyped and largely pointless big-budget films, The X-Files represents one of the season's more lightly enjoyable mainstream offerings.

X-Files, The (United States, 1998)

Director: Rob Bowman
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, William B. Davis, Armin Mueller-Stahl, John Neville, Terry O'Quinn
Screenplay: Chris Carter
Cinematography: Ward Russell
Music: Mark Snow
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 1998-06-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Mature Themes)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1