In a far away magical land we call the 1990s, The X-Files used to rule the world. Everyone watched it. Grandmas, babies, dogs, parakeets, Nilla wafers, even inanimate kitchen utensils crowded around the TV every Sunday (or Friday) to see what the the sexiest FBI agents in the world were going to point their flashlights at next. The show’s formula was simple enough, its delivery mysterious enough, and its cast strong enough to transform a once sleepy cult drama into a nerdy spiritual experience that captivated people all over the planet.
So, naturally, it had to be made into a movie. Because money. And glory. And fans. And awesomeness. (But money more than anything else.)
The X-Files: Fight the Future used to be my favorite film. I think I’ve seen it about, oh, 142 times. I kid; it’s been way more than that. I used to have the movie posters on my walls and the soundtrack CD and the trading cards and the….if there were to have been a video game tie-in of some sort for Nintendo 64, I definitely would have eaten it up.
Now that I’ve rewatched Fight the Future for the purpose of writing this article, I can’t say that it’s in my list of ride or die movies anymore. True, I’m seeing it through the greasy spectacles of a longtime jaded fan who witnessed the decline that came in its aftermath, so the missed opportunities stick out for me more than anything else when I watch it. However, as someone who grew up on a heavy diet of Mulder and Scully and the silly monsters and scary old men in suits that would bring them closer together, it’ll always have a special X shaped spot in my heart.
After doing a little bit of research and reading Jody Duncan’s book The Making of The X-Files Movie (available on Amazon) front to back, I’m passing on 25 different truths I’ve learned about the production and legacy of Fight the Future that you might not yet know. And if you do, I hope you’ll enjoy rediscovering them again.
1. The script was written in ten days.
Because Ten Thirteen Productions was producing forty-odd episodes of television between The X-Files and it’s “spinoff” Millennium in 1996, Chris Carter didn’t have a lot of time he could devote to writing the film, but he wanted to strike when the iron was hot. During his Christmas vacation in Hawaii, he set aside a few days to break the movie’s story with Frank Spotnitz on 3×5” index cards. That’s right; he took a break from vacation from work to work some more. There’s your inspiration for the day. You’re welcome.
By the time he got back home, he had a basic story outline for the movie and was eager to start writing it. Looking for gaps in his busy schedule, he found a whole week in February he could devote to writing his ambitious 124 page feature film script. When the time came, he flew back to Hawaii to focus on banging it out, committing to writing ten pages a day. After this intensive week was over, 90 pages were finished, which was just the right amount to gain 20th Century Fox’s interest in the project.
2. The pre-production period was only ten weeks.
Just so you know, the usual prep time for a movie is six months at the least. Carter and his production company still had yet to hire a crew, design sets, scout locations, make a shooting schedule, come up with the special effects…yeah. It was way past crunch time.
3. Filming was very nearly postponed.
Because of how overwhelmingly daunting the task of making a large scale blockbuster film in a small amount of time was, producer Daniel Sackheim personally asked Carter to put off the movie’s production for another year so they could have the much-needed time to prepare and not put together a rush job.
But since money had been already spent on development, and other behind the scenes gears were already turning, Carter insisted that they keep moving forward.
4. All sets were constructed at the same time.
The darkly industrial spaceship interior, the arctic ice field, the frozen cave and the underground desert cavern were each built simultaneously, immediately after after each had been designed and sketched out, because there simply just wasn’t enough time. This meant that production was required to pay rent for all stages they used sooner rather than later, which cost the studio more money overall. What else were they going to do with that cash, anyway? Make Speed 3?
5. Carter constantly haggled with 20th Century Fox about the budget.
Seeing as the TV series delivered effective thrills and chills every week on a modest budget, the major movie studio wanted to make its film adaptation as cheaply as possible. Carter fought to get more because he needed at least $60 million to handle all of the extra costs from rushing The X-Files movie into production. These negotiations went on for son long that Ten Thirteen had no idea whether or not Fox was greenlighting the movie until only a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin in June of 1997.
6. Director Rob Bowman storyboarded the hell out of this movie.
As an experienced director of many pivotal X-Files episodes, Bowman wanted to be prepared in advance for what was going to be a quick and dirty shoot. That’s why he spent weeks meticulously storyboarding and re-storyboarding each frame in every shot of all scenes with artist Robb Bihun. Working on a feature film is much more detailed oriented than shooting an episode of television, as it has different visual storytelling standards, so every shot counts.
When they were done, he had a book of storyboards that was thicker than a dictionary.
7. Even so, Bowman still had to improvise during principal photography. A lot.
Seeing as none of the sets were built (and no locations had been scouted) while he was busy working on the detailed storyboards, it was hard for the Bowman to adhere to the visual blueprints he made for Fight the Future while shooting. This proved to be especially problematic when shooting on certain indoor sets, like the spaceship interior, as he wasn’t able to set up the camera or move around to get the kind of angles he had hoped for. Thus, the director had to spend extra time ad libbing solutions on location to make things work.
8. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were only available for 75% of the shooting time.
As if production on The X-Files film wasn’t rushed and complicated enough, both of its headlining stars were scheduled to begin production on Season 5 of the TV series in August. This made the filming all scenes involving Mulder and Scully the first unit crew’s top priority. To accommodate this, everyone worked sixteen hour days, six days a week for most of the summer. Sheesh. Friggin’ overachievers.
9. An obsessive fan snuck onto the set one night and nobody noticed.
Somehow, while the first unit crew was filming the iconic bee dome scene in a canyon outside of Bakersfield, CA, a diehard teenage fan crawled through a mile of cornfield in the middle of the night with a handheld camcorder. (Remember those?) Production was shocked to see his leaked footage on the local news stations the next day, and joked that the footage looked almost good enough to include in the movie.
10. Filming the chase scene in the cornfield was uncomfortable for Anderson.
In her words, it was her “least favorite experience of the whole shoot.”
Corn stalk leaves are pretty sharp, you know. Sprinting through a field of them left slices on our beloved goddess’s eyes and face, and all the dust and pollen was making her sneeze on top of that. Plus, she was getting whacked in the face by all of the stalks that Duchovny just ran through. What a gentleman.
11. So was that scene at the playground in “Texas.”
It was a scorching hot day in California City when the cast and crew were scheduled to film the scene in which Mulder and Scully check out the new playground the Syndicate left to cover up the subterranean cave in Texas. So hot, in fact, that Anderson kept ice on the back of her neck and in her hands just to remain a functioning human being. I don’t think wearing a wool suit helped much, either.
12. A snake wrangler was hired on for protection on set.
Filming in the California City desert also meant the crew was vulnerable to the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, one of the most deadliest, poisonous predators in that region. In order to keep everyone safe, they hired a young snake wrangler named Chris that hung around the set and caught random creatures of the serpentine kind in jars to show everyone.
After the sun went down, he made the snakes duel each other to death while everyone watched and ate Sun Chips and drank Zimas. (Okay, I made up that last part. But admit it: that would’ve been a badass way to blow off some steam.)
13. The glacier sequence was a production nightmare.
When the time came to shoot Mulder and Scully’s big scene in which they get to stumble around somewhere in Antarctica, the crew wasn’t happy to find out that the replica of the glacier they ordered didn’t match the real-life locale in Vancouver it was supposed to look like.
As a quick solution, huge ice chipping machines were brought in to constantly produce an authentic field of ice on a raised platform. Director of photography Ward Russel and production designer Chris Nowak argued over whether or not the set should be refrigerated. Russel wanted to simulate daylight using big heat lamps in order to match the location footage. Nowak just wanted to stop their manmade glacier from melting. But because of the large amount of exhaust those puppies cranked out during only one day of filming, the air inside the soundstage was reaching lethal CO levels. Since nobody likes carbon monoxide poisoning, they devised a better ventilation system for the set for safety purposes.
Meanwhile, Gillian Anderson’s face went numb from having to do countless takes where she lies face down on frozen tundra. Man, she had a rough shoot. #ThatsShowbiz
14. The human host props took forever to get right.
Having just completed their work on Alien Resurrection, Amalgamated Dynamics, INC. (ADI) handled most of the practical special effects for Fight the Future. Yet creating the corpses of the infected fireman proved to be more of a challenge than they intitially anticipated.
Apparently, Chris Carter had a specifically transparent look for the infected corpses in mind, while the prop developers were aiming for a more translucent appearance instead. This misunderstanding over nuance resulted in a dummy prop that was ready on time but not suitable for filming at all.
Because ADI was overwhelmed with their workload of creating effects for the rest of the film, the production of a revamped contaminated body was outsourced to KNB EFX so it would be ready in time for reshoots two weeks later. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
15. The SFX crew spent most of their time designing the newborn alien creature.
Since most of the scenes featuring the vicious alien creature didn’t have Mulder and Scully in them, ADI took their sweet time conceptualizing and creating an unforgettable design. Artist Tom Woodruff worked to make it as evocative of the classic “grey” aliens as possible, but sought to take that familiar look in a newer direction. Extra attention was paid to the eyes, as the designers wanted them to display both vulnerability and ferocity in equal measures. Chris Carter specifically requested that the alien have an air wisdom to its appearance, also.
Two different costumes were produced: a rougher, more primitive take for the opening scenes in the prehistoric era and a more evolved form used in the modern day sequences. But to save time (and money too), both were made from the same sculpture. Too bad we didn’t get to see more of either version during the movie. Just sayin’.
16. It took a whole night of filming to get Mulder’s big scene with Kurtzweil in the can.
It had all the exposition in the world, didn’t it? It’s astonishing how Martin Landau was able to memorize it all.
Strangely enough, this crucial exchange was filmed on the night of the final day Landau was scheduled for shooting. This raised the stakes for the whole first unit. Because both actors had to tackle four very long pages of dialogue, it wasn’t until after 8 AM the next morning that they finished. Everyone finally got to go home and sleep after that. But probably only for an hour or two, because, again, they had no time to waste.
17. That bee is more amazing than you ever knew.
In this particular scene, an Africanized honeybee hidden inside the the collar of Scully’s blazer walks out, wanders across the back of shoulder, then goes back into hiding. Professional bee wrangler Dr. Norman Gary thought it wasn’t going to happen. Bees are hard enough to control when they’re outdoors, but when they’re inside, under bright, hot studio lighting? Forget about it.
Nevertheless, he lived up to the unspoken higher code of bee wranglers everywhere and rose to the challenge anyway.
It took Dr. Gary several days of deep contemplation to figure out a way to get a bee to carry out a specific set of behaviors numerous times in an unnatural setting. He handpicked a test group of bees that tended to walk more than fly, brought them into an indoor setting with conditions similar to the set’s, and maneuvered them into consistently following a pheromone trail he traced the back of Scully’s coat with. The bee performers that passed this experiment/audition were chosen for use in the movie.
On set, using a little fan to blow the pheromone from left to right across the back of Gillian Anderson’s shoulders, Dr. Gary got one bee in particular to do the same movement perfectly, over twelve times – without fail – to everyone’s amazement. From that day forward, that little bee was the bee expert’s top favorite bee ever.
18. The hallway kiss between Mulder and Scully did happen. Multiple times.
19. Despite having a huge role to play in the events of the film, the mysterious character of Conrad Strughold was never seen in The X-Files again.
Was it just me, or did it seem like Strughold was intended to be an overarching villain of sorts, an extra-shadowy Syndicate member on the same level as CSM (maybe even a little bit higher)? He was in the final scene of the movie for god’s sake. Why did he never show up in the mythology again?
Rumor has it that Chris Carter couldn’t coordinate with Armin Mueller Stahl to make an appearance on the show. Could have been a money thing. Who knows? Maybe Strughold’s still sitting around somewhere in Tunisia, counting all the benjamins he makes from his mining company. Or maybe he was killed off along with the rest of the Syndicate at the end of Season 6’s “One Son”, we just didn’t see happen it on screen.
Oh, who cares. As villains go, he wasn’t that threatening anyway. Moving on.
20. Fight the Future was given a promotional budget of $60 million.
Um…why didn’t they allocate that to fund the film again? Nevermind.
Anyway, this media push resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still around to this day. See that lunchbox up there? I used to have that. I didn’t use it often since it was too pretty to put food in. Ooh, but look! You can see the alien in there somewhere. Y’know, he does look sort of wise from this angle. doesn’t he? I get what you were doing, Chris Carter.
Oh, and if stop and think about it, the movie finally gave us what we had been waiting half a decade for: X-Files action figures! Thanks, Todd MacFarlane (and, by extension, Spawn.) But nobody thank Matell, because the world did not need X-Files Barbies.
21. Its “comic adaptation” is one of the worst ever.
I wish I was joking. The artwork is fantastic looking and everything, but my main complaint is that it’s more of an illustrated novel than anything else. Apparently Carter’s dialogue heavy script wouldn’t translate well to the panel format. (Go figure.)
22. Fight the Future owes a lot to Hammer’s Quatermass films.
To be fair, so does the TV series.
Disclaimer: I’ve never actually seen the Quatermass films in their entirety. I know they’re based on old-time BBC serials about a professor that investigates weird stuff, particularly weird alien stuff. This sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
In The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), an astronaut brings back an extraterrestrial organism that must use human hosts as incubators to replicate. In Quatermass 2 (1957), the British government creates secret dome structures to house alien creatures as part of a larger conspiracy. And in Quatermass and the Pit (1967), when construction workers unearth the skeletal remains of neanderthals from over five millions years ago, the remnants of an ancient Martian invasion that influenced the evolution of mankind is reawakened. (Oh, and there’s a big UFO buried underground, too.)
23. The film’s climax was shamelessly recycled in an X-Files video game released a few years later.
The X-Files: Resist or Serve is arguably the best tie-in game the franchise ever produced, probably because it was like Resident Evil but with better voice acting.
If you ever got to the end of the game (using cheats count, because it’s that damn hard), you’ll remember that it ends the same exact way Fight the Future does: with Mulder and Scully being knocked over by a spaceship rising up towards the sky. Except this time it’s an ocean, and they’re in a raft, and a bigger spaceship comes down to pick up the smaller spaceship. Yeah. It’s pretty ridiculous. And guess what? Scully sleeps through the whole damn thing again. Yes, again! Dana, what the hell girl?!
24. There’s a hidden track on the movie’s soundtrack album that tells you everything you need to know about The X-Files main conspiracy.
If you haven’t heard this yet, it’s a must listen for any self-respecting X-Phile.
This creepy narration by Chris Carter comes in at 10:13 (get it) on the last track after a long period of silence. It’s a haunting summary of the Syndicate’s history and plans, as well as a cold look at how massive the colinization conspiracy actually was. I consider these few minutes to be “The Truth.” This scared the crap out of me when I first heard it, so if you want the full effect, wait until it’s between three and four in the morning, turn the lights off and push play.
25. Basically, this movie is a greatest hits package for the TV show.
Think about it. Fight the Future mirrors the most iconic plot beats from the first four seasons of the TV series and wraps them up in nicer, glossier, more expensive packaging. For example: The X-Files division is shut down, a strain of the Black Oil is discovered underground and let loose upon the world, Scully gets abducted by the Syndicate again, Mulder has an epic adventure alone in the arctic wilderness, etc.
Although hardcore fans like you and I were certainly aware of these parallels, we gave it a pass because it was a big screen celebration of a pop culture phenomenon that mystified us at the time. And yet, its microwaved nature is most certainly one of the reasons why Fight the Future has become a triumphant footnote in the history of the TV series than a centerpiece of the franchise.
Stephen Harber has been ranking all 202 Classic X-Files Episodes (plus both movies) on his personal blog this past year. Check out the first installment here. Follow him on twitter @onlywriterever, too. Pretty please.
For a retrospective on The X-Files and a preview of the revival, check out our Sci Fi Fidelity Podcast!