Monday, September 21, 2009

You can’t go home again – X-files: I Want to Believe

I have an odd relationship with the X-files. When it first started out on TV I resisted it’s siren song. A co-worker was a huge fan and she kept trying to get me to watch it, but the commercials I saw just didn’t pull me in. My wife (girlfriend at the time) watched it infrequently and enjoyed what she saw, but I still didn’t care to see it.

I actually saw about half of one episode, (early season 3 episode with a young man who can control electricity). Coming in halfway and not getting set up, the whole thing seemed silly. I wrote off the show. And then a about halfway into the same season I caught the episode “Pusher”. The story was simple, a man has the power to persuade others just about anything he wants to. It’s not mind control per se, but it was a tool he could use very effectively – even convincing someone to take their own life. He ends up facing down Mulder and the episode was very effective. It was tense, the acting was good and the script was solid. I was hooked and continued to watch the series and pick up the VHS episodes.

I watched up until the movie, “Fight the Future” came out. I was seriously pumped for the film and found it disappointing. I picked up the show when it came back the next season, but missed a few key episodes. When I was able to watch again, I was lost in regards to the overarching story. I stopped watching and never really got back into it.

Eventually I revisited the series on DVD and found it just as entertaining as I remember, but with some elements that were so 90’s it hurt. Most of it had to do with the general feeling of paranoia and grimness that seemed to permeate the episodes (helped in great measure by the Vancouver locations). While the 80’s always seemed to be colorful and loud, the 90’s were dark, dirty and aggressive. Something the “X-files” seemed very much in tune with. Seen out of that light, it comes across a bit trendy at times. The core stories and acting are still very good, but some of the trappings are less appealing.

So I was surprised that the long rumored second X-files film was green lighted. In most cases nostalgia takes about 20 years to kick in completely. This means that X-files still had a few years to go before it could really jump on that bandwagon. The problem is that the stars and crew aren’t getting any younger and I suppose the idea was to strike while everyone was still willing and around to do it (and not make it look too silly with senior citizens chasing down UFOs).

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a bad idea. The first X-files movie, while entertaining and part of the over-arching story never really captured my imagination (even on repeat viewings) as a solid film. It still felt like a television episode blown up for the big screen, but not quite measuring up. Star Trek had similar issues with it’s Next Generation films, especially “Generations” and “Insurrection”. The extra something needed to make them feel big screen worthy is missing.

I was afraid a second X-files film would fall into the same trap. And in a way it did. I know everyone was hoping for a success and possibly a string of movies with this being the genesis, but it ended up being something that disappointed the hardcore fans and didn’t generate enough interest for new comers. The plot does not revolve around some of the more sci-fi or monster elements. Instead it seems to be a simple serial killer investigation. Supernatural elements appear, but they don’t’ drive the case the way they would in the television series. It’s an interesting new direction, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like the X-files.

It’s been a few weeks since I saw the movie and I’ve had some time to think about it. What I think we ended up with was an epilogue of sorts. It was a summation of two people’s lives (and the acting is still solid with plenty of good moments for Mulder and Scully). They seem different from how I remember them (but I never saw the last few seasons), but it seems fitting in a way. They’ve evolved just as I have and this case brings up some pain for both of them. In a way it was interesting to see that dynamic work.

As I mentioned in my blog about the first season of the show, one of the reasons it works so well is that the characters of Mulder and Scully are well thought out and well matched. They create their own tension and support and to see it at work in a new story was the highlight of the film. But in the end I couldn’t help but feel that it was a bit hollow and a too late (or too early) to really capture what it needed to. There is a sadness to the film, but I think it also reflects on how I felt when it was over. Sometimes, you just can’t go back.

What did you think of the new X-files film? What did you think of the first film? Have you had the experience of a revisit to something you enjoyed in the past and were disappointed?

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