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

August 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Imagine a character with such relentless good luck even a hired assassin can’t put a dent in his day. Nobody understands why, he just seems to be at the epicentre of good luck somehow. The X-Files TV series had some great stand-alone episodes, probably stories that are among the best ones I’ve seen on television. At the same time, the series fumbled the romance between Scully and Mulder — it was as hesitant and slow-moving at the ongoing, increasingly convoluted conspiracy plot that seemed to devote entire episodes to Mulder and Scully poking around a warehouse with a flashlight. To complicate matters in the last few years of the show, David Duchovny became part-time on the series, and producers had to introduce two new agents, Doggett and Reyes (Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish) to carry the show. The new actors did an admirable job of being real, likeable and interesting, but took a backseat (and with all hell breaking loose, don’t even get a farewell scene) in a fairly muddled 2-hour finale that sees Duchovny return, and once again hammers away at the conspiracy story. After an entire TV series, it seemed as if the producers didn’t know how to properly resolve the conspiracy, or do anything other than take one step forward and two steps back, resolving a few things even as other questions are raised. Whatever happened to Doggett and Reyes, fellas? Hello?

Perhaps it’s better that The X-Files: I Want to Believe simply ignores all this, in favour of a film that’s also a stand-alone story, and could almost be about any retired agents coaxed back into service, not Mulder and Scully. The film begins with at least fifty agents marching in a straight line, all stabbing at the snow in search of a body part, though an priest — his long white hair loose in the wind — is capable of racing ahead to fall on the spot where the body part can be found, buried in the snow. Billy Connolly plays Father Joe Crissman, a priest who believes God sends him his visions. At the same time, he’s a priest defrocked for pedophilia. It’s an interesting quirk in the writing — give a character an appalling characteristic, and then challenge the viewer to believe he might also have visions from God. It isn’t the only examination of belief in the film — the central villain passionately believes in what he’s doing, and there’s a subplot with Scully deciding what to believe in an entirely different matter — a subplot that ends the film in an unexpectedly touching moment. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that in a way, the entire film builds up to her one word answer to a simple question before the credits roll.

The TV series had always handed Mulder evidence and took it away — Mulder sees an alien body, the viewer sees an alien body too, but government conspiracy lackeys take it away by the end of the episode (and they even get the videotape!). This film takes a different route, declining to present any absolute evidence about Father Joe either way. The conspiracy story in the TV series became tiresome because it didn’t amount to much more than a long game of hide and seek, but Frank Spotnitz and series creator Chris Carter have written a story where the viewer gets to decide, this time around. In an almost courageous move these days, chases and shootouts are kept to a minimum in favour of style, and story. And yes, this does mean the film is a little slow. Certainly, it could be a little shorter. Certainly, it didn’t need a scene where Mulder and Scully wait in a hallway to be admitted to a meeting, and there are a few scenes of awkward, expository dialogue. But I was pleasantly surprised with it by the time the credits rolled, accompanied by a new remix of the X-Files theme. My only complaint happens to be because I took time out to watch the TV series over last few years — couldn’t they have had two lines explaining what happened to Doggett and Reyes? Or even one line: “We’re running a restaurant now, we’re fine!”

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