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Weekly Alibi Great X-Pectations

By Devin D. O'Leary

JUNE 29, 1998:  This should prove to be one of the more difficult film reviews I've written lately. On the one hand, everybody wants to know how this film is. Do the aliens land? Do Mulder and Scully get it on? What's the deal with the bees? On the other hand, nobody wants to spoil any of the secrets. Don't tell me what happens! I don't want to know! I want it to be a surprise! "X-Files," you see, is a TV show based on secrets. But the show's primary fans spend most of their time on Internet chat rooms, at science fiction conventions and in comic book stores across the country trying to decipher said secrets. For five seasons, creator Chris Carter has teased us with an ongoing mythology about space aliens, government cover-ups, cancerous oil slicks, shapeshifters, ice picks, clones and those damn bees. Now, Carter is poised on the brink of big-screen success with the new X-Files feature film and appears ready to spill the beans. ... So, is the film any good? Yes. ... So, does Carter spill the beans? Yes and no.

Taking off (theoretically) where last season's cliffhanger ending left off, The X-Files: Fight The Future finds Mulder and Scully bumped off the (now destroyed) X-Files and participating in a routine bomb threat investigation in sweaty summertime Dallas. From this seemingly simple beginning, a conspiracy of global proportions begins to grow. Who planted this bomb and what were they covering up? Working from a script by big daddy Carter, director Rob Bowman (the man behind the camera for some 25 "X-Files" episodes) turns in a fast-paced thriller--think All the President's Men with lots of explosions. Instead of "follow the money," it's "follow the mysterious white tanker full of alien goo." Unlike most shows that make the jump from TV to movies, X-Files doesn't feel like a stretched-out episode from the series. The budget is obviously much higher (a reported $60 million), the globe-hopping much more pronounced (not a single scene occurs in the woodsy Pacific Northwest for a change) and there's a good deal more gore (one particularly amusing credit lists an "Alien Blood Consultant"). Sadly, for most series fans, the PG-13 rating precludes any nudity on the stars' parts (or of the stars' parts for that matter).

Of course, the story concerns Mulder's obsessive search for the truth about alien invaders and Scully's dogged support of her often nutso-looking partner. Nearly all the series regulars are along for the ride. The Syndicate (including the Well-Manicured Man and the ever-popular Cigarette-Smoking Man) are around to obfuscate the truth. Assistant Director Walter Skinner is on hand to lend crusty support to our cell-phone slinging duo. Even The Lone Gunmen are lurking in the sallow glow of a computer screen, waiting to pitch in for a brief cameo. The only conspicuous absentee is mysterious double agent Alex Krychek. Actors David Duchovny (all slate face and dry humor) and Gillian Anderson (all lip gloss and furrowed brow) have grown quite comfortable in their roles, and Fight the Future gives them plenty of room to bond, without exactly bonding, if you know what I mean.

Although the plot does lay bare a number of the basic facts of the series, the story here is once removed from the show's ongoing mythology. It, in fact, has nothing to do with Mimi Rogers and the telepathic chess kid from season five's finale. It deals, instead, with an unexpected hitch in the Syndicate's plans--a hitch which could prove even worse for the human race than the Syndicate's original nasty extraterrestrial collusion. Over the course of the movie we learn the truth about the Syndicate's "colonization" plan (pretty much what we suspected), the real reason for the bees (a truth some have already guessed) and the real origin of the "Black Cancer" (a little different than we might have thought). The plot, particularly the ending, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to David Twohy's The Arrival, an alien conspiracy movie from 1996 that got little attention, but actually contained some clever "X-Files"-esque surprises.

In the end, though, a frustrating amount of the series is left unanswered. No mention is made, for example, of Mulder's sister, one of the series' most central mysteries. Those expecting an all-new direction for "X-Files," the TV series, aren't likely to find it here. By the time the credits roll, we're left pretty much at the same place we started. Fans are best served by taking the puzzle pieces they're given here, fitting them into the overall picture and waiting patiently for season six.

"Mythology" aside, the movie provides plenty of entertainment. Carter attempted to create a self-contained film, accessible to those who do not watch the show on a regular basis. For the most part, he has succeeded. X-Files is a tense, moody thriller, packed with many exciting sequences. Bowman is a fine craftsman with a real feel for the material. He has managed to lens some stunning images and some downright scary scenes. There are plenty of sci-fi in-jokes to be had as well, including an Independence Day dig that raised a hearty laugh. Still, the film is a pay-off mostly for rabid fans of the show, for whom the truth about bees and black oil actually means something.

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