The X-Files film

The X-Files film

No, not the new one but the 1998 production which I only recently got around to viewing for the first time. I should start by saying that I was a fan of the early X-Files TV series, enjoying the interplay between the two FBI agents who are the main characters: David Duchovny as the gullible Fox Mulder who believes that the presence of aliens is being covered up, and Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, the science-trained sceptic. They are tasked with investigating incidents which defy rational explanation, and the mix is partly FBI procedural, partly mystery and suspense, with elements of SF and horror plus a substantial dollop of paranoid conspiracy theory.

As a firm believer in the ****-up rather than conspiracy theory of why things go wrong, I never bought into this but I nevertheless enjoy a well-told story, which at first this was ('Capricorn One' is another conspiracy theory SF film which is also great viewing). I think I stopped watching the TV programmes at some point in the third or fourth series, partly because the scenarios became rather repetitive and partly because the horror elements became stronger, with the plots steadily ramping up the yuck factor – not my favourite kind of viewing.

Reading about the forthcoming second film, I decided that it was time for a stroll down memory lane and dusted off an old videotape of the first film from the back of a cupboard. The mix was pretty much as I recalled, with the yuck factor (horribly unnatural things happening to people, in graphic detail) coming in strong at the start and cropping up at intervals throughout the film. However, it was interesting enough to hold my attention, and in particular I had forgotten how good Duchovny and Anderson were together; an enjoyable pairing of opposites, spiced with that frisson of never-released sexual tension.

Having said that, I found the plot a confusing mess. The main threat was an alien virus in the form of a black goo which infected people and turned them into alien monsters, apparently in preparation for the return of the aliens to take over the planet. Since the virus was supposed to be the oldest living thing on Earth, which would put it at about 3.5 billion years old, this suggests an alien planning timescale which makes present-day major military procurement programmes look quite speedy.

Where I got lost was when the conspiracy bit kicked in. It seems that a powerful organised group was trying to help the alien takeover along (for reasons which were never explained) and were doing this by breeding bees to carry the virus (but being stung by a bee seemed to produce entirely different results from the black goo – the relationship between them was not explained); corn crops came into this as well, but I didn't understand why (other than that they provided a good place for our two heroes to hide from searching helicopters). There was a mass release of bees but as this happened in the middle of a desert it is hard to see what this was supposed to achieve, and this plot thread disappeared. There was also an Antarctic base on top of an alien labyrinth which turned out to be a space ship (3.5 billion years old?) with which the conspirators were tinkering, but to what end was never explained, except that they seemed to be providing human hosts for the virus. I was thoroughly confused by this point, but it did of course all end happily; no producer would dare kill off one of the heroes while they might be needed for sequels.

I'm old-fashioned enough to prefer plots which make sense (however improbable) by the end of the tale, which this one really didn't. The new film will have to garner some impressive reviews before I feel tempted to watch it; except, perhaps, as a nostalgia trip in another ten years.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)
The 'black goo' and dueling aliens were actually plot elements that started in the TV series. Most of the characters in that movie were also from the TV series.

... and that might be why the new movie is supposedly more of a stand-alone story instead of trying to tie up loose ends from the series. Too much time has passed and even the most die-hard of fans have likely forgotten a lot of the sub-plots that were taking place in the series.

Frankly, I am surprised that a new X-Files movie was even green lighted at all after all this time.