The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Movies Reviews David Duchovny
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The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Release Date: July 25
Director: Chris Carter
Writers: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz
Cinematographer: Bill Roe
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Studio/Run Time: 20th Century Fox, 104 mins.

Considered in the landscape of current television programming, The X-Files is an intensely interesting TV saga. The series, which followed FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they investigated paranormal occurrences around the world, made its debut in 1993. For the next nine years, viewers tuned in each week for a glimpse into the increasingly complex X-Files mythos, replete with alien abductions, government conspiracies and gruesome investigations.

This was during an era before TiVo or DVD box sets, so X-Files fans could do little more than program their VCR to record each weekly installment for posterity while hoping a power outage didn't disrupt the process. And for all the creativity series creator Chris Carter brought to the series, its important to remember the context: Lost, The Sopranos and The Wire hadn't yet come along to redefine our notions of engrossing, plot-driven television, so X-Files viewers were occasionally saddled with nigh-unwatchable episodes and banal story elements.

Still, the fan base grew. This is particularly notable because a good portion of the series didn't even involve the overarching X-Files metaplot. Rather, it was made up of these one-shot programs that saw Mulder and Scully pursuing a singular crime, typically involving a supernatural villain of some sort. Fans dubbed these the "monster of the week" episodes, and they remain some of most entertaining, accessible aspects of the original series.

Carter returns to this familiar formula for The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second full-length feature film in the show's dark, conspiratorial landscape. The movie's creators were nearly frenetic in their rush to shrug off the cumbersome trappings of the television series (which got its own treatment in 1998's X-Files film), but they may have gone too far. The new movie is a jumbled offering that grabs at a number of different, disconnected themes, including religious zeal, psychic power and weird science, then resolves everything without the series' hallmark blend of action and suspense.

The film opens in the present day, six years after the courtroom battle that brought the X-Files series to a close and effectively ended Mulder's career. A handful of unexplained murders in West Virginia convince both Mulder and Scully, the latter now a well-meaning physician at a Catholic charity hospital, to lend their expertise. Together with a psychic, Irish, pedophile priest (Billy Connolly), Mulder and Scully stalk the wintry landscape of Appalachia, following up on a series of seemingly unrelated clues. The climax, as expected, is a villainous cabal that must be dispatched in the name of good, but by this point in the film, it's clear that I Want to Believe is really about the two ex-agents and their fitful, misunderstood attempts at a relationship. Scully is quickly cast as the questioning skeptic, left to dawdle on the sidelines while Mulder pours himself wholeheartedly into the investigation. Sound familiar? It's the same formula for the very first episode of the original series. Some things never change, even if movie audiences do.

Carter made the right decision to return to the "monster of the week" format, and the film stands as an agreeable thriller flick. Mulder and Scully's chemistry is virtually unchanged from the series, which ought to please longtime fans. Similarly, the movie contains a spare collection of chewy plot points that make reference to the series' convoluted storyline—again, added for the fans. But if you stripped out Mulder and Scully and added in Somerset and Mills from Se7en, you'd still have a watchable summer crime thriller. This suggests that, unlike one of this summer's other much-anticipated saga installments (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), the new X-Files movie actually tries to do more with less, and is forced to jettison a measure of the original series' magic along the way.