The X-Files (1998)

Directed by Rob Bowman; Written by Chris Carter

A bigger budget and extended runtime doesn’t make for a better product, as The X-Files proves the constraints of a smaller screen forces an emphasis on what makes any piece of entertainment sing: character and story. Unfortunately, diluting it all to make room for spectacle never saved the day. 

The story is plucked straight from the show, as Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) work to stop an alien invasion by fighting an international cabal with only their hearts and minds. Series creator and writer Chris Carter simplifies it all to allow newcomers to follow along, but paraphrasing character motivations also diminishes their connection to what’s going on. 

It creates a weird in-between that probably won’t satisfy parties in either camp, as fans just get a glossier version of what they just spent five seasons watching, an exercise in the familiar, and tourists in the X-Files universe might feel it all to be generic action. 

The creative forces behind The X-Files also face a particular dilemma of having to tell a story of consequence that is also contained enough to not be necessary viewing for anyone tuning into the following season, as the film premiered in between seasons five and six. 

Like its inspiration, Twin Peaks, The X-Files weren’t afraid of open-ended non-conclusions and keeping the impasse. Government cover-ups may frustrate Mulder and Scully’s quest for the truth to be out, but, as its tagline goes, the truth is out there. It’s worth fighting another day, because no matter how Sisyphean the struggle may appear, it’s righteous and justified. 

With that creative philosophy in mind, it’s a letdown that storytellers Carter and collaborator Frank Spotnitz instead opt for simply adorning their usual pursuits with bigger explosions, secret bases, and Bond-like storylines of world peril that are resolved in a cacophony of noise. 

It’s still a story with Mulder and Scully at its core, thankfully, so everything’s not lost, and the film’s mediocrity is elevated by both actors’ complete control of their characters. They could do it in their sleep at this point, even dealing with some dialogue that’s strangely without the wit and charm of the usual show and instead a little heavy with lacklustre buddy-cop tenor that feels unlike them. 

If you tune in for Mulder and Scully, you’ll get what you came for. If it was a desire for a deepening of an already expansive mythology, greater narrative rewards from more storytelling acreage, and some of that fear and fright the show produces on its best days, the truth is elsewhere.   

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