The X-Files

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Rob Bowman

REVIEWED: 07-13-98

How do you simultaneously please a rabid cult and a mainstream audience, neither of which wishes to acknowledge the other? Any TV show that leaps to the wide screen must finesse this dilemma, and it's not as easy as it sounds. Regular viewers want to be flattered with obscure references and plot lines, while first-timers want to skip the fanboy clutter and cut right to the action. Excepting films two and eight, the Star Trek series rarely managed to pull this off. The show's ponderous sci-fi themes and in-jokes left non-Trekkies scratching their heads, and whatever charisma the likes of William Shatner and DeForest Kelley had was lost on anyone but the faithful.

The movie version of The X-Files does a good job of distilling six seasons of loosey-goosey paranoia into accessible summer action fare, without shortchanging its obsessive fans. On TV, where it often indulges a penchant for technobabble and high-minded sermonizing, The X-Files can take itself awfully seriously for a show whose most memorable characters include a liver eater and a fat-sucking vampire. The movie, directed by Rob Bowman, plays more to the show's chief strengths: its macabre wit, its creepy-crawlie scares, and especially the tense, complex relationship at its center.

Over six seasons, David Duchovny's Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson's Dana Scully have developed one of the most interesting partnerships on TV, shaped as much by bias and spiritual belief (or lack thereof) as by reliance on their interlocking abilities. They're defined not so much as man and woman than as believer and skeptic, and part of the show's fun is how frequently they're forced to flip-flop those roles. The X-Files movie gives them plenty of opportunity, using a bomb threat in a Dallas federal building to connect long-running plot threads involving alien abduction, government cover-ups, a global cabal, and an oily substance that takes over anyone it touches.

Dallas? Cover-ups? A bomb in a federal building? X-Files creator/screenwriter Chris Carter may have the most tone-deaf ear for dialogue this side of James Cameron, but he's a whiz at assimilating urban legend and conspiracy obsessions into a sweeping crackpot mythology. (The show's most inventive plot lines hint at dark motives behind Social Security numbers, the smallpox vaccine, and of course TV signals.) The X-Files movie is never more fun than when Carter connects the dots between headline news and tabloid fodder. In a culture where conspiracy theory is becoming the dominant art form, it's still amazing how few associative leaps you need to get from Oklahoma City to killer bees.

The movie has the same hurry-up-and-wait pace as the show, commercial breaks included, and I wish Scully, as tough, intelligent, and capable a working woman as TV has ever permitted, didn't literally end up a slumbering princess in a glass coffin awaiting her prince's rescue. But the action scenes are crisp and well-mounted; a couple of alien attacks had me chewing my neighbor's fingernails; and David Duchovny and especially Gillian Anderson hold the big screen as confidently as the small one. And any fears the movie will choke under cinematic pressure are alleviated when a drunken Mulder stumbles into an alley to relieve himself--onto a poster for Independence Day. That's a multilayered joke you don't need six seasons of loyal viewing to appreciate.

--Jim Ridley

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