Thursday, September 25, 2008

Movie Review - The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

I just returned from a showing of the newest X-Files movie. It says quite a bit about how my life has changed in that I waited this long to see it. It finally hit the local dollar cinema just this week and I made sure I saw it before it passed. The thing is - the economy is tight and neither Mrs. Zombie, nor myself can justify the cost of first run movies at the regular cinema. A movie needs to be something spectacular to make the cost worth it… and I find it saddens me that this movie falls into the category of wait-able.

By the way, this won’t be a usual movie review for me. I won’t be rating this film, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to write about it. I just wanted to articulate some of the feelings I have about it and at least get some thoughts down. It may very well be incoherent and not strictly adhere to accepted grammatical rules… but I wanted to write something while it was still fresh.

I guess I need to preface all of this with a confession of sorts. I saw this movie at the absolute worst time of the year. You see, it’s fall; and fall always, always, always fills me with an almost unbearable sense of nostalgia and melancholy. I think it’s the fact that it’s my favorite season, and it is so intimately tied to some of the best times of my life. Fall was the time I returned to school, and it’s the time of football games, and friends, and Halloween. I almost always struck with a weighty and stifling sense of longing for the past, but that longing is juxtaposed with a feeling that my life is in an uncontrollable, headlong dash forward. Every fall reminds me that I’m one year older and one year farther away from those times I so achingly remember.

And this movie has made that feeling overwhelming.

The X-Files was one of those things that so dominated my past life. And when I say past life, I refer to my life before marriage, and before kids. I wouldn’t change my life for anything, and I am so grateful and happy that I have such a good life, a great job, and such a beautiful family. But that doesn’t in any way mitigate the time-softened feeling of freedom I had after college and before I got married. And the X-Files was an essential part of that. The X-Files came out when I was in college and was there for me, EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT, until a year or two after I got married. Even through the dark years of no Mulder, through the inexplicable shark-jumping introduction of Doggett and Reyes, and even through the death of the Lone Gunmen… The X-Files was there. All parties, all weekend shenanigans, and all social events could not commence until after 10pm on Friday night. Like a house frau with her favorite soap opera, I was wrapped up in the twitching anticipation of when Mulder and Scully were going to realize that they were meant to be together.

And it is through this nostalgic rear view mirror that I find myself judging this movie. And I may be judging it too harshly because of it. I don’t know. I’m having trouble sorting out my personal feelings from any objective view of the film.

So – my impressions of the movie is that it left me wanting. It had been billed as a departure from the prior X-Files movie (Fight The Future). Whereas the prior film was very rooted in the conspiracy mythos of the series, this one was touted as a stand alone; or one of the ‘Monster of the week” episodes. Truthfully… those were my favorites. The weird investigative shit was so much cooler than the black oil, faceless alien bounty hunters, Smoking Man, and Alien/Human hybrid storylines. Not to say I didn’t love the conspiracy episodes; but it was the standalone episodes that showed the true brilliance of Chris Carter. They always had the right mix of horror, paranoia, and creepy chills to please even the most hardened horror and sci-fi fan. The episodes like Ice, and Flukeman, and the fucked up one with the inbred mutant living under the bed are the undeniable pleasures of the series.

The problem with the argument that it was a standalone, monster of the week-type story was that to say so is a complete lie. I Want to Believe is less a monster movie or a monster of the week and more of a return visit to some old friends. There was no monster, only a psychic for Mulder to obsess over and some Russian doctors doing experiments that are Frankenstienian, but not outside of the realm of believability. What I’m saying is it was less science fiction than even the tamest of series episodes. The gore was mild; a severed arm here, a couple poorly sculpted severed heads there. It was like checking in on some old friends you hadn’t seen in years… only to find that they’ve moved on and you haven’t.

Character-wise, it was a pastiche of all the established X-Files clich├ęs; but exaggerated and somehow made bittersweet. Scully and Mulder are still together, and very much in love (which pleases me), but their dynamic is changed. Mulder is the same Mulder and still looking for conspiracies and the paranormal almost slavishly. Scully’s character though, has changed and become what she once was – the disbeliever. She’s a doctor at a Catholic hospital now and she’s returned to the way she was before the series started. She’s skeptical, cold, and disbelieving. And she is struggling with her faith so much that it was the central theme of the movie. Which is hard to understand because, when the series ended, I liked how she had - given all she had seen and done - struck a balance between her faith and the paranormal world that she had come to accept. Now she’s gone completely the other way. And they are both still hurting and living with the pain of losing their son William.

That’s not to say it was a bad movie. I liked that it was like a reunion with old friends, and that they were still – at their core – the same people I’d come to love like my own family. And the movie did a wonderful job of being about their relationship, and their lives after the end of the series. But it wasn’t what made the X-Files great. There was so little X-Files in it, I might as well have been watching Without a Trace: The Movie.

So – what am I saying? I don’t really know. I liked it as one would a good movie. And there were times I was struck with the feeling one might have when they reconnect with an old flame. To see Duchovny and my beloved Gillian Anderson on screen together again was gratifying… but afterwards there’s a sense of regret.

To extend the metaphor - as you lie there besides your old lover, as the sweat cools on your body, and as the sad and poignant feelings of ennui and nostalgia descend - you know it can never be as good as it once was.

I still want to believe.


Randal Graves said...

I might like the movie a tiny bit more than you do - I'd like to see it again to find where I truly stand, and I'm more a conspiracy guy until after they nuked the Syndicate - Super Soldiers? Yikes! - but I agree completely with where you're coming from. There are those that are hardcore about the Sopranos or Sex in the City. It was the X-Files, that was the religious ceremony of the week.

There really wasn't an X-File here at all. I thought Connolly was excellent, but he was there as window dressing. Re: Scully, I'm guessing that she sort of returned to her faith as she realized she couldn't let William go like she had assumed she could. Mulder was exactly as I had pictured him: paranoid recluse.

Given that the movie tanked, I doubt we'll see another one, so I'm hoping they put it to bed. Unless they get Darin Morgan to write it. ;-)

Dr. Zombie said...

Randal - I was afraid that I would come across as hating the movie. I didn't. I would say I was disappointed that it wasn't more... well... X-File-y.

I will see it again, just to look at it a little more objectively, but I can't shake the feeling that - after 10 years (6 if you count from the end of the series) Chris Carter gave us a watered down, slow episode with a weak psychic and some creepy Russians.

Dammit! This show was one of the greatest shows ever. The writing, the stories, and the sheer awesomeness of the series was groundbreaking.

And - rather than make a movie that appealled to the core fans of the show... instead of making something so creepy, or so over the top Sci-fi it makes us squeal in geekish glee; instead of relying on our love for the show and our dorkish willingess to spend money at the theaters... he panders to those who've never seen it and don't understand the show, the mythos, or the wonder that was Scully and Mulder in their prime.