Revisiting X-Files: Fight The Future

With a new X-Files movie on the horizon, what better excuse do we need to rewatch the first one again? Does it hold up, though?

Mulder and Scully, getting ready for their movie...

It’s been ten years since the first X-Files movie hit the big screen, with the extraordinary gap between film one and two attributed to various legal shenanigans that clearly found themselves resolved in the last year or two.

And, putting the film into the DVD player last night, it was interesting to watch it decontextualised from the hype that surrounded it first time round. For when Fight The Future first appeared, the popularity of the X-Files television show was still somewhere near its peak, and to call the film eagerly awaited would be a little bit of an understatement.

That said, it was a success: it got decent critical notices, and turned in a fair chunk of cash. Off a budget in the region of $65m, the US box office return was $84m, and overseas added nearly another $100m.

Looking back at the film now? Much of the criticism that was around at the time still stands. It plays, as many TV to big screen adaptations tend to do, as an extended episode of the show, albeit one that doesn’t introduce Mulder and Scully until a little way in. Even when we do meet them, they’re regular FBI agents investigating a potential terrorist bombing. One explosion later, and it seems all is done and dusted.

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Fortunately, it doesn’t take long for them to get back to business, albeit unofficially given that the X-Files had been closed down. Their senses are alerted when a tip-off from the brief-but-brilliant Martin Landau drops the subtle hint that the aforementioned explosion’s casualties were actually already dead, and before you can utter the words ‘cover-up’ or ‘conspiracy’, the investigations have begun.

The plot is surprisingly straightforward given the potential scope for a movie, with the focus being on aliens that have been on the planet since the beginning of time. Naturally, there’s a collection of old, crusty fellas who know all about it (including smoking man, of course), and they’re keen to keep it covered up. When Scully manages to sneak past ultra-tight security to perform an autopsy on one of the victims of the alien badness, their plans to keep things quiet soon go to pot. This, clearly, means dastardly plans to keep people quiet for good.

Where the bigger screen ambitions kick in is in some of the film’s larger sequences. The effects, for instance, while clearly showing ten years of age, still hold up quite well. In particular, the slivers of alien being creeping under the skin of a young boy is very well done, and the fact that the film is willing to claim such a young victim does give it a slightly harder edge than you’d expect. Furthermore, a major sequence heading towards the final act, that sees Mulder and Scully running from lots and lots of bees, is really very well done.

Where the movie budget also helps is in the scale of some of the work. A couple of shots of strange installations in the middle of nowhere can be enjoyed in widescreen glory, and there’s a breadth to the location work too that transcends what you’d ordinarily expect from the TV screen.

The film perhaps works the best though in the smaller moments, the things that The X-Files does especially well. Sinister figures in shadowy corners, talks of cover-ups and conspiracies, and the inevitable closing in of the authorities help to ratchet up the fun (although we could have happily had more screen time with Armin Mueller-Stahl and the aforementioned Landau), and by the time the credits rolled, you couldn’t help but think that it’d been a decent two hours in front of the box.

It also manages to tease us with the potential for a romantic entanglement for the two lead characters. Naturally, the will-they, won’t-they speculation between Mulder and Scully today isn’t what it was then, which paves the way for I Want To Believe to perhaps address it in a more convincing way. Personally, I was always a fan of the fact that the two were never romantically entwined, and the near-kiss they share in Fight The Future comes across either as a bottled attempt to do something about it, or a big tease to the audience. Taken either way, though, it doesn’t really convince.

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Also, we clearly wouldn’t be British if we didn’t acknowledge the typical English character. Well-manicured man, for that is his name, naturally lives in a big house in Somerset, with a butler and an upper lip so stiff you suspect it’s had a concentrated dose of Botox. I remember the screening I was at when I saw the film first time round that this elicited huge chuckles from the audience, and it was just as much fun first time round.

And that fun, to an extent, sums up the first film quite nicely to a degree. Because it’s not vintage X-Files, but given the cauldron of X-Files fanaticism it was made in the midst of, time shows it to be quite a good stab at transferring the show to the big screen. It also leaves things open for the second film quite nicely, the wait for which is finally nearing an end…

The X-Files: I Want To Believe hits UK cinemas on 1st August.