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The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998)

by on 2012/05/27

“So much for little green men.”

* * * *

I had a dream-come-true time in university. Part of my finals for a broadcasting degree involved studying then-current shows, including The Outer Limits, The Simpsons, and — wait for it — The X-Files. Given all I learned, I have great appreciation for the efforts of Fight the Future.

A seemingly unimportant building containing already-dead bodies is bombed by anonymous “terrorists” in northern Dallas, Texas. Why? And why is the attack being blamed on two disgraced FBI agents?

Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are determined to know the truth, especially since they happen to be the two agents in question. I realize this next little spoiler may shock the series’ followers . . . their rogue investigation turns up a wider conspiracy. An extra-terrestrial conspiracy.

Although their trek doesn’t quite take them off-world, it does shunt them through Washington D.C., Maryland, Texas, and Antarctica, with a subplot offshoot into England. By the end, a conventional thriller has morphed into something else: The Thing (1951) cross-bred with Forbidden Planet and Alien Resurrection.

Its genetic material features an infusion of new blood, with cameos by Blythe Danner, Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Eastern Promises), Terry O’Quinn (Tombstone), and our guest of honour, the late great John Neville. Other more familiar faces return from television: Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner, William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man, and Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood as the Lone Gunmen.

Of course, the real stars are Anderson and Duchovny, whose most underrated accomplishment might be making their dialogue flow. (I doubt they have to work hard at charisma, so it doesn’t really count.) Mulder’s condescension and dry black wit are simply priceless. Scully’s hectoring challenges are less frustrating than enticing. If they don’t make any more X-Files together, then someone should find them another new vehicle, stat.

But even the script as a scapegoat for “clumsy” is a difficult thing to sell. How else to bring newcomers up to speed, or to keep one-time viewers in the know? To his credit, creator and writer Chris Carter uses many tricks of the trade: explaining to the ignorant, arguing, and drunken babbling. The information is force-fed quick and early so we can get on with the chase.

In fact, my single true complaint is a technical one at the end. For all the special effects we are shown, an old standard lets us down; compositing in the Antarctic scenes is astonishingly poor. Ironically, given the series’ Canadian roots, the filmmakers apparently couldn’t locate any snow against which to place the actors. Instead we are subject to extreme close-ups and too-obvious mismatched lighting.

Still, all in all, Fight the Future succeeds in managing a nearly thankless task. Not only does it hit many of the usual X-Files marks, but its compromises are sound, balancing a representative-yet-accessible standalone story with a place in the show’s myth-arc. It speaks compellingly to fan and layperson alike. And while it wanders into near-fantasy by tipping its hand at times, even when it tests credulity, it’s never less than fun. Touching, terrifying, paranoiac fun.

* * * *

Rated 14A

122 minutes

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