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The UnPopular Opinion: The X-Files: I Want To Believe

01.14.2016

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

While I was right there in line with the rest of the world for the opening of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS last month, there is another series revival that I have been anticipating almost as much, maybe even more. In just a couple of weeks, seminal FOX series The X-Files will return to the airwaves after over thirteen years off the air. The excitement is tangible for me as my all-time favorite show is coming back, something I never thought would happen. After 202 episodes and a feature film, I thought the show was gone for good. That was until seven years ago when THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE hit theaters. At that point, the show had been off the air for six years and I had the same feeling now as I did then. Many were let down by THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE as it failed to address the mythology built over the show's nine season run which culminated with a massive hint of an impending alien invasion. Instead, series creator Chris Carter delivered a standalone mystery story devoid of aliens or the series' over-arching mythology. But, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE ranks as one of the better films of 2008 and an underappreciated thriller.

Television series that become feature films tend to take everything great about the small screen and boost up the volume and budget to produce a spectale on the big screen. The 1998 X-Files film was criticized as being nothing more than a bigger budget episode of the show. Reflecting on that film, it has not aged well in the last eighteen years, but THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE still works on all levels. From the new cast that features Amanda Peet, Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner, and Billy Connolly, this is a film that expands on aspects of the mythos of the show and where it left off with the series finale while allowing the characters of Mulder and Scully to develop. In fact, for as much as David Duchovny's Mulder is a central figure to the extraterrestrial story arcs of the show, this is really Gillian Anderson's showcase.

In a nutshell, the film is about a missing FBI agent which initiates Peet's character to call Mulder and Scully back into help with the case. The former X-Files investigators have been off the grid since the cataclysmic series finale with Mulder in hiding and Scully working as a doctor at a hospital. They are pulled back in due to the supernatural visions of Connolly's Father Joe, a defrocked Catholic priest and registered sex offender. This dichotomy clearly bothers Scully who has long had a religious bend to her skepticism. Mulder is intrigued by Joe's visions and bleeding eyes and dives deep into what the case could be about. In the end, it turns out the mystery involves human head transplants and an Eastern European organ smuggling ring. While not the same level of supernatural we have come to expect from The X-Files, this is still a powerful story of spirituality, faith, and morality.

Released just a week after Christopher Nolan's brilliant THE DARK KNIGHT, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE was trashed by critics and failed miserably at the box office. But, the film is a well executed thriller in the same vein as SEVEN and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS with some haunting visuals evocative of Nolan's INSOMNIA. What's more, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE functions as a true standalone film that requires no prior knowledge of the series or first film and serves as a good introduction for those trying to prepare for the upcoming mini-series. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson know these characters inside and out and are able to exist as Mulder and Scully in this film rather than spoon feed audiences who they are and what they believe. Anderson's crisis of faith dealing with a terminal patient echoes her own struggles having given up her and Mulder's son, William, during the series run.

Anderson has long been an incredibly talented actress and seeing her get to do more than spout medical jargon and play foil to Duchovny's Mulder is a breath of fresh air. Duchovny is no slouch in this film and is allowed to explore the emotional weight of his sister's abduction/death that has driven his character since childhood. The weighty subject matter involving pedophilia and mortality is not exactly what you would expect from a summer blockbuster, but THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE is the best story in the franchise that never became an episode. Because of the gruesome nature and touchy subjects, this story would never have made it to network television but works brilliantly as a feature film. Director Frank Spotnitz, a fixture from the small screen series, does an admirable job that holds even with some of the best thriller directors working today. He uses the show's trademark canvas of darkness and flashlight beams to evoke the mystery of the story while the snowy winter landscape of Vancouver (standing in for rural Virginia) adds more character to the setting.

While there are appearances and references to the series, including the return of fan favorite character Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), most of the film is free of the levity that made the show so great. Sure, there is a lame joke about George W. Bush that takes you out of the story, but this is a serious and dour film. That is not to say it is not a great film to watch, because it is, but it stands with the darker stories from The X-Files. By far the biggest strength to this story is the villainous character played by Callum Keith Rennie. His character, Janke Dacyshyn, is as creepy as any foe Mulder and Scully have gone against and is one of the more underrated killers in recent big screen history.

While I am excited to see the show return to it's roots as a television series, revisiting THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE reminds me of just how well done a feature film can be based on these characters. When given the resources of a studio production and a modest budget (THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE only cost $30 million), you can explore the pre-existing mythology of Chris Carter's show while delving into heavy subject matter and more complex special effects unlike anything seen. In the last decade, advancements have been made on television to rival feature film productions, so here's hoping the mini-series can achieve the levels of quality as in this 2008 gem.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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