How’s this for unexplained phenomena: Someone actually liked this movie.
When it hit theaters in summer 2008, The X-Files: I Want to Believe was garroted by critics and ignored by audiences. The film was derided for allegedly not being up to the standard of the hit TV show, and many dismissed it as a failed, last-minute attempt to revive a forgotten, outdated franchise.
Well, folks, I’ve gone through the movie’s new three-disc DVD, and, honestly, I really liked it.
For nine years (and one movie), FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny, Californication) and Scully (Gillian Anderson, The Last King of Scotland) investigated unexplained phenomena, including but not limited to aliens and a secret conspiracy. These days, they’re still close, but no longer with the FBI. Scully is now a doctor at a Catholic hospital and Mulder has secluded himself in a room filled with conspiracy theory newspaper clippings. Then, the FBI comes calling. An agent is missing, and a psychic believes he can help find her. Because of Mulder’s experience, he’s asked for an opinion. Turns out the psychic in question is Father Joe (Billy Connelly, Head of the Class), a former priest turned convicted pedophile. As Mulder and Scully join the search, they not only try to unlock what’s going on in Father Joe’s mind, but they also uncover a murderous plot involving severed human limbs found frozen in the West Virginia snow.
The subtitle I Want to Believe is appropriate for this story, as both Mulder and Scully have their beliefs put to the test, and must go to great lengths to find the truth, not just about the case, but about themselves. For Scully, her test comes in the form of a young patient in need of experimental stem cell treatments to save his life. The church wants to deny the procedure, and Scully has to fight for it. Mulder, meanwhile, is given several chances to walk away from the investigation and let the FBI agents do their thing. Instead, he is driven, as always, to pursue the truth. Only this time, it means letting “the darkness” back into his life. Is he a slave to his old obsessions, or is he able to move on? This is some juicy stuff for the actors to take on, and both Anderson and Duchovny sell it nicely.
The two actors haven’t missed a beat when it comes to working together. Their back and forth scenes are a definite highlight. At first, their banter comes across like a good ol’ fashioned X-Files episode, but, as the movie progresses, we get a sense of just how deep their relationship has become. They can disagree and argue, but they’re still there for each other when needed. It’s a nice portrayal of a close, if unlikely, couple.
At the FBI, we get a look at another skeptic/believer combo, with agents Whitney (Amanda Peet, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and Drummy (singer Xzibit). In this case, though, the believer, Whitney, is the heart of the pair, and the skeptic, Drummy, is the stoic, analytical one. Peet has some great scenes with Duchovny, revealing that Whitney is an admirer of Mulder’s, and she even gets in on the action, joining Mulder in the big foot chase set piece. The character of Drummy is mainly here to be a tough guy, and yet Xzibit is surprisingly good at the role, showing some natural screen presence.
The other major player in the case is Father Joe. The concept of a pedophile priest turned psychic, believing his visions are a gift from God, is a ready-for-controversy concept, and yet, somehow, Billy Connelly makes the character sympathetic. Father Joe wants nothing more than forgiveness, and he thinks he has a chance at it by helping the feds find their missing agent. Also, there’s frustration evident in the character in that he can’t control how his abilities work, and he strains to find answers that sometimes don’t come to him. This, too, gives the character a lot of humanity, despite the gross crimes in his past, and it gives him some unpredictability as well.
At this point, you’re probably asking, “This is supposed to be The X-Files. Where’s all the gloominess and the ickiness?” I’m, uh, pleased to report that the gloom and the ick are here in appropriate quantities. Most of the movie takes place at night, in the snow, giving the whole movie a stark, cold atmosphere. As Mulder gets closer and closer to the truth, he finds himself in one “oh, s***!” moment after another. The film’s finale has its share of creepiness, once we get a good look at what the villains are up to. Plus, throughout the film, there are eerie stalkings, abductions (not the alien kind), and chases. There’s suspense all around.
For this review, DVD Verdict received an advance screener disc, which is presumably of differing picture and audio quality than the ones on store shelves. That being said, I was impressed by the transfer, with a lot of detail coming through in the snowy night scenes, and in the vast white winter plains in the day scenes. The sound is also great, especially when highlighting the lovely score by composer Mark Snow (Smallville).
On Disc One, the extras start off with a commentary by creator/co-writer/director Chris Carter (Millennium) and co-writer/producer Frank Spotnitz (Night Stalker). This is a great track, filled with X-Files trivia, as well as a guide to the various cameos in the movie, and its more subtle references to the series. This is followed by an interview with Carter in which he discusses how recycling and hybrid cars helped cut down on production costs, and then by an up-close look at some of the gorier makeup effects created for the movie. Rounding out disc one are deleted scenes, still galleries, trailers, an Xzibit music video, and “Bubbles,” an anti-smoking PSA—appropriate, considering the show’s history.
Then, on Disc Two, there’s a full-length, three-part documentary, “Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain a Secret?” This walks viewers through the making of the film, starting with Anderson, Duchovny and Carter all discussing what it’s like to return to the franchise after several years away. It then goes into detail about the cold night shoots, the complicated foot chase sequence, and a step-by-step walkthrough of the post-production process. The main thread running through all of this is the secrecy and misdirection employed by the filmmakers the whole time, in order to keep the story from leaking onto the Internet before the film opened. It’s the type of paranoia stuff that X-Files fans usually dig. Finally, disc three has a digital copy of the film, which you can transfer onto your laptop or “handheld device,” according to the PR.
I decided to look online and see what people have been saying about this movie, and, wow, not only does everyone hate it, everyone really, really hates it. And I don’t fully understand why.
Some fans are upset that there’s no continuation of the alien/conspiracy plotline. But aren’t these the same fans who always love to point out that the “standalone” episodes were usually more fun than the “mythology” episodes?
Others are whining about the science in the movie not being real science. Call me crazy, but I always thought that The X-Files was all about that which science cannot explain. Isn’t this why there’s so much talk about belief, not just in this movie but throughout the entire series?
Still others say that the movie isn’t “intense” or “hardcore,” often comparing it to the shock-value Saw series. First, The X-Files usually left the spookiest stuff up to viewers’ imaginations, relying more on atmosphere and mood for suspense. Second, isn’t it better that the movie’s creators are following their own path and telling the story they want to tell, rather than just take this series and force it into another grimy, mean-spirited Saw rip-off? I find it hard to believe that’s what people want, especially after seeing so much heartfelt drama between Mulder and Scully in I Want to Believe.
Whatever. There’s probably nothing I can say to convince the detractors. I’m a critic, and that means sometimes my opinion is different from the majority. I kind of feel like Mulder once was, as he sat in that cramped FBI basement office, surrounded by his X-files, hoping that somehow, someday, he’ll convince everyone to see the world as he sees it. If nothing else, I at least encourage you all to give this movie a second chance. Try to go in without preconceptions and enjoy The X-Files: I Want to Believe for what it is—a smart, well-made thriller.