Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe: You Had Me Big Time

Warning: Spoilers for The X-Files: I Want To Believe. Mae, don't read this until after we talk on Saturday!

For several reasons, including my very-demanding job and an almost-miss relationship, this summer is fast becoming a lesson in waiting too long for things that don’t turn out the way you thought they would.

Many of you may be sensing where I’m going with this.

It’s been six years since the finale of The X-Files, and very few people were as excited as I was for the recently-released movie. The previews would come on and I would just grab my hair and wiggle my legs and squee. It was about eight months of unbridled speculation, as I grasped for (largely unavailable) spoilers that might shed some light on the whereabouts of my first favorite couple.

As I hurried in to a screening of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, I couldn’t wait to find out the logistics of Mulder and Scully’s life.

Let me start by saying that I wasn’t expecting The Best Movie I’ve Ever Seen. I am a big proponent of appreciating things for what they are; all I wanted from this movie was what they promised me—a scary story accompanying a much-anticipated return for some much-beloved characters. In certain cases, I can overlook perceived mediocrity.

Unfortunately, I was just disappointed.

Because that, my friends, was a bad movie.

In discussing all of the things I disliked about it, it’s probably best to break it down into sections. I imagine we’ll be doing a podcast on this bullshit next month; hopefully one of my cobloggers will think it was in fact The Best Movie She’s Ever Seen, so that it’ll be an interesting discussion and not just one long gripe session.

So let’s talk about the actual plot first, shall we?

We see a young FBI agent get attacked outside of her home. The bureau is using a lot of manpower to find her, including the efforts of Special Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet, yuck) and Special Agent Drummy (Xzibit). Through a series of pretty confusing bureautastic investigative strategies—and with the help of a pedophile ex-priest—they trace the agent and another missing girl to some Russians who are doing some freaky shit with stem cells. It has something to do with full head transplants and the husband of this guy who was dying of cancer. And organ transplant teams.

When I first heard that the movie was going to be more Monster-of-the-Week than mytharc, I was disappointed. I mean, isn’t the mythology the reason why the show survived for as long as it did? America as a whole will always remember The X-Files for the aliens. I figured I could deal with a MOTW movie, especially when the producers promised that the show’s legacy wouldn’t be forgotten and that the monster in question would be really effing scary.

Y’all, I went to see this movie by myself and was not for a moment scared. I wasn’t even scared when I ventured into the parking lot afterwards by myself. It took me a good forty-five seconds to find my car, and the fleeting moment of Did Someone Steal My Vehicle was five times scarier than that movie.

A critical piece of a good horror or action movie is a well-conceived villain. Why do you think so many people are going to see The Dark Knight? Because Nestor Carbonell’s eyeliner is so expertly applied?

Over the years, The X-Files had some great bad guys, in both the mytharc and the MOTW episodes. Sure, you’ve got the Cigarette Smoking Man, but there’s also Tooms, Donnie Pfaster, Leonard Betts, and loads more.

But the bad guys in the movie were just useless. I still don’t really understand what it was that they were doing, why they were doing it, or what ended up happening to them. Was the girl who almost got her head cut off okay? Why were the bad guys going after women, especially if the fellow who “needed” the head transplant was a man? Obviously there are going to be some medical challenges involved in a whole head transplant, but it seems like you’d probably avoid a few of them by not confusing sexes.

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but the words “head transplant” were never once spoken, as far as I can remember. The only explanations we got from the movie were in the form of printouts from Scully’s computer and, you know, seeing disembodied heads.

As expected, the plot was weak. But I would have been more than okay with a less-than-amazing plot if the subplots were properly utilized and the X-Files format was recognized.

On that note, let’s touch on the inclusion of Deputy Director Skinner.

If you were an Alias fan, you might remember a season five episode in which, tipped off to a breach in Agency security, Jack authorizes the team to break into Langley. In a pretty so-so season (Yay Isabelle! Boo Rachel Gibson!), this op was a shining moment for APO. Of course, though, the mission doesn’t go according to plan. Tom breaks with the mission spec to go hunting down info on his wife’s killer, and Rachel gets locked into a server room.

All of this is relevant because to save everyone’s asses, Jack has to call in for an assist. From Eric Weiss. It’s awesome. Weiss left early in season five for a kick-ass promotion where he gets to brief the President on intelligence matters every day. We missed him and his metrosexual tendencies. He was barely in the episode, but he was charming, he was helpful, and he damn well saved the day. More than that, though, it was nice to know that Weiss was okay. He had a nice life in Washington, where he dressed nicely, was the boss of his office, and took Pilates.

Skinner’s return should have been like that.

I mean, we love Skinner, and it was just disappointing to have his hush-hush cameo so poorly executed.

It was as if his scenes were initially written for Xzibit, and then when Mitch Pileggi called Chris Carter late in shooting, they just decided to have Skinner do those pages instead. Rather than a triumphant moment for Mulder and Scully’s most trusted ally, it was a half-assed attempt at recalling the series.

In the six years since the finale, had Skinner been promoted? Does he have a girlfriend? It was a great opportunity to economically tell the audience what’s been going on at the bureau (and in the intelligence world) since Mulder and Scully got out of the business, but the chance was passed up, and how.

Okay, fine, now it’s time to talk about the ship.

I wanted to go into this movie and see the two of them kicking ass and taking names. I wanted car scenes and Mulder losing his gun and philosophical debates about belief and religion and trust. I wanted man of science, man of faith debates! And then, maybe, just maybe, I thought we’d see a really good kiss.

Knowing what I do about The X-Files, I really didn’t think that was too tall of an order.

I’m even more confused about the romantic subplot than I am about the Russian head swappers, because I don’t particularly care about the stem cell terrorists. Like I said, I would have happily sacrificed a good, scary story for adept Mulder/Scully interaction. I’ve been doing it since “Detour.” (In a perfect world, and you’d imagine with six years of prep time, you wouldn’t have to sacrifice anything, but whatever.)

I understand that Chris Carter wanted to bring in new viewers. He wanted to shy away from the mytharc so that people wouldn’t feel, ahem, alienated from the movie. He told us that over and over again. Except you know what? Tough shit. Your show is about aliens. America is always going to associate The X-Files with aliens. None of the people who you so desperately wanted to bring in were listening, because you said that at an X-Files retrospective panel, populated by fanboys and girls. They didn’t feel like reading an article the next day about your alien movie.

So I feel like Chris Carter didn’t want to burden the story with fifteen years of backstory. He wanted the audience to know that they used to work together and they don’t anymore. I felt cheated. In XFilesNews.com’s review of the movie, they stipulated that Scully lived in Mulder’s house. Did she? I went into the theater expecting them to have been cohabitating for the last six years, but looking back now, I don’t think they were. I guess at one point she said something about it being home, but I’m still not sure I understand.

After reading XFN’s review, I thought when she told Xzibit, “I don’t work with Fox Mulder any longer,” she meant just that. Exchange work for “speak” or “live” or “sleep,” and I would have expected a different statement. Now, though, I don’t think they were living together or even spending very much time together.

I think she knew where he was and stopped by occasionally to make sure he was still feeding himself.

So at some point in the timeline of the film, they started sleeping together again. I’m so frustrated by the ambiguity. Mulder and Scully’s relationship has always been pretty vague as far as UST becoming RST, but this movie at least established that, for at least a percentage of the film, they were together in a lot of senses of the word. So why the vagueness? During the series run, Chris Carter was attempting to appease the shippers and the noromos, but here? If I was a staunch noromo, I probably would have killed myself halfway through the movie.

Because when the show was on, their argument was largely that they didn’t want what was awesome about Mulder and Scully to be adulterated by relationship angst. Their close friendship as it stood—the rescuing of each other, the partnership—was the heart of the show and shouldn’t be watered down by will-they-or-won’t-they. I’m sure they’re sitting around saying “I told you so” at this point.

Because that was a lot of angst.

Leigh and I just thought it was ridiculous how much they argued about nonsense. She was the one who convinced him to go out into the field, and yet she was so quick to turn it around and be irritated that he wasn’t giving it up easily enough. When he agreed to take the case “on one condition,” I was stoked. First loves back together—this is why I couldn’t wait to see this movie. And yet really, all they did together was that first meeting with Father Joe. After she got apprehensive about Mulder being sucked into the darkness, she went back to being a doctor.

That is so not what I signed up for.

One thing that surprised both Leigh and me? Scully’s confession of “in love.” Not “love,” but “in love.” “This stubbornness of yours—it’s why I fell in love with you,” she says. “It’s like you said,” he counters, “It’s why we can’t be together.”

Um, wow. We finally get that declaration, and he just shoots her down like that? It’s cold and it’s unpleasant and just kind of mean.

Leigh wants to know what Scully expected when she brought Mulder onto the case. Did she really think he’d come out for one interview with Father Joe, write a memo, and say, “Hallelujah! The FBI isn’t mad anymore! Let’s move back to Washington!”

If she did, she’s stupid. Because we knew he wouldn’t do that.

Her passionate arguments about them being “two people” now, about wanting to be free of the darkness, made sense to me, but not in the context of everything that was happening. All Mulder was doing was following the case. He hadn’t been overwhelmingly consumed by it, and he wasn’t, like, neglecting her for work purposes. It wouldn’t have been difficult to establish that he was doing these things. Not to overly praise season five of Alias, but there’s a really great scene where Sydney is up in the middle of the night and Vaughn is concerned and wishes she would stop working so hard. That’s all it would have taken. Instead, though, it just seemed kind of random that Scully was so upset.

While we’re at it, what did the end of the movie mean?

I understand that the footage shown during the credits was symbolic, showing the ice melting and the sky brightening until finally revealing Mulder and Scully basking in the sunlight looking decidedly happy. I don’t think it was supposed to be them actually rowing toward a tropical island paradise, but it’s really hard for my brain not to think that the firsts (Mulder and Scully) and the favorites (Jack and Kate) are next-door neighbors. I mean, two of them are medical doctors and two of them are ex-fugitives. They have a lot in common.

Also, they’ve both stolen babies.

Oh. They haven’t? Just Jack and Kate?

Oh.

Yeah, it might have been difficult to cover the William backstory without getting knee-deep in supersoldiers, military abduction, and magnetite, but we think it would have been awesome if the kid in the hospital was William.

What I keep saying is that the stakes should have (and easily could have) been higher.

Force the pair to really face their feelings about Baby William. Sure, Mulder said their baby “left us both with an emptiness that can’t be filled,” but I would have appreciated more. Fact of the matter is, Christian in the hospital easily could have been William, for all Scully knows. That’s the thing about random adoption—she has no idea where her son is, who his parents are, or how he’s doing.

I think that could have the potential to really screw with your mind, especially if you gave your son up under the circumstances Scully did. She gave up William with the intention of protecting him, but she’ll never know ever again that he’s okay.

There’s such potential for drama there, and I don’t think Chris Carter even realizes it. These emotions deserve a whole lot more than one passing mention.

Personally, I think this movie could have had much higher stakes.

Two missing agents who we have no connection to? Mulder almost losing a limb? Do you not remember, Mr. Carter, that your last movie had at its crux (A) the end of the planet at the hands of angry aliens, (B) the closing of the X-Files, and (C) AGENT SCULLY BEING EXPLODED BY A BABY ALIEN GROWING INSIDE OF HER ABDOMINAL CAVITY?

Says a commenter on XFilesNews.com, “Save the world or at least a townful of people, it's movie time! Blow some shit up! Fire a gun! I'm not a fan of overblown action scenes, but come on! Guns were always a huge part of the show.”

(In sixth grade, the girls in my class were instructed to make a list of ten women who we admire. I picked Dana Scully over my own mom because she carried a weapon. I’m usually a pacifist, but I missed the gun-wielding, too.)

If this were my movie, I would have made the deal between the FBI and Mulder a little more explicit and a little more than “you come to a meeting, we forget you killed a guy.” How’s this for a deal: you solve this case, we reopen the X-Files for you.

Because, really, it’s interesting that this movie involved no unexplained phenomenon. It was strictly science-based. If this was back in the day, Father Joe’s involvement wouldn’t have forced this case to be classified an X-File. There was no paranormal activity going on here. Which is fine, it’s just another example of Chris Carter straying from the established canon.

By incorporating the actual, physical X-Files, the basement office, this case could have easily been tied to all of its predecessors. I feel like this move would have made the stakes a little more concrete. Mulder, who’s bored, disgruntled, and generally aimless, would initially jump at the chance to take back the X-Files. Scully’s fears would have been much more legitimate, as she perhaps would start to see just how much her life, home, and relationship would change if she went back to work at the FBI. It’s not just about this one case, it’s about giving up the ghost, accepting your retirement, and appreciating that this person is more important to you than a paranormal caseload.

All of that couldn’t be conveyed in this storyline.

So we’re maybe a little intrigued by the discussion of yet another movie waiting to be produced. After the train wreck that was I Want To Believe, we’re pretty sure that’s never going to happen. We’re kind of glad that they won’t have the opportunity to further butcher our people, but, then again, Chris Carter has said he wants it to be a mytharc movie about the 2012 apocalypse.

Frankly, I could have waited for a mytharc movie.

Because, ultimately, Chris Carter made a movie that not that many people went to go see. I think he could have been much more successful making a movie that people like Leigh and me wanted to go see three times.

An XFN.com poster says, “Here's to hoping that even with this setback, we somehow get a third and the aliens make it more interesting. You simply can't go wrong with aliens.”

And please don’t ever use Mark Snow’s score for a lame George W. Bush joke ever again.

Leigh says, “Jokes about George W. Bush are no longer funny. It doesn't matter what side of the debate you're on or if you do/don't like him. I think we all can agree that the topic has been beaten to such a fine pulp that not even the squintiest of the squints could identify that poor horse. And yes, let's have some respect for the genius that is Mr. Mark Snow and not use his music to show that you are yet another Hollywood filmmaker who is upset with Bush.”

Tonight, in an effort to fill time while doing my exercises, I turned on Fight the Future for old time’s sake. Now, I understand that FTF had a MUCH larger budget, but it is being known to me now as The Only X-Files Movie Posterity Will Remember.

I was texting with Leigh while watching, and I could only say, sadly, “[FTF] is vastly superior.” Leigh’s response: “You don’t know how many times I have said that.”

When you’re making an actiony scary movie, I can excuse a lot of things because of money. Unfortunately, I will not excuse poor writing on account of money.

The dialogue in FTF is just so much better. It’s so quotable! Leigh and I swapped a dozen texts just quoting the first movie.

“I owe you everything. Scully, you owe me nothing.”

“I had you big time.”

“Next time, you’re buying.”

“Five years together, Scully, when have I ever been wrong? Never! Not about driving, anyway.”

Mind you, Chris Carter wrote the screenplay for FTF while the series was still on. The movie was filmed during the pre-season five hiatus, though it canonically fits (admittedly not seamlessly) between seasons five and six. They had a hella long time for IWTB and it was not quotable. It was, in some places, kind of trite and out of character, I thought. Yeah, it was great to see them “back together,” but it was unfortunate that they weren’t written like classic Mulder and Scully.

Scully doesn’t make penis jokes.

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