1998, US, Directed by Rob Bowman
Colour, Running Time: 118 minutes
DVD, Region 2, Fox, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Taking an idea that was most recently mentioned in the finale to season 5, the movie begins with a couple of Neanderthals discovering in a cave what may be an extraterrestrial life form, a malevolent and putrid creature that destroys them. Jump forward several million years to the present day and some Dallas boys stumble across what is probably the same place underground, one of them (the lad who played Caleb so perceptively in American Gothic) becoming trapped with a strange black liquid that infiltrates his skin and takes over his body… Not only do the fire brigade turn up but a horde of militaristic vehicles arrive suggesting that something altogether more profound is going on than a mere threat to a child’s life. Some time later FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are involved in a terrorist situation that has them attempting to prevent the explosion of a building and consequential catastrophic loss of life. Thanks to Mulder’s innate ability to turn a seemingly illogical hunch into the catalyst for an unprecedented discovery, the agents end up searching what is initially suspected to be the wrong building. It actually turns out to be the ‘right’ building and they barely escape with their lives before the whole thing blows. It later transpires that what they thought was a cleared area just prior to the blast has actually become the death bed for a couple of firemen and a young boy. Not only that but the FBI are as good as blaming the two agents for the disaster - they really were in the wrong place at the wrong time it seems. After a hearing that places their careers somewhere in mid air Mulder is contacted by a rogue writer of conspiracy theories, a man who is constantly at odds with authorities that are pinning anything on him that might put him out of action (e.g. child pornography claims). The man suggests that the people who ‘died’ in the explosion were actually already dead and this puts Mulder (along with a reluctant Scully) on a trail that leads the agents to the realisation that the whole thing may have been designed to cover up evidence of the possibility that aliens once visited the Earth and now threaten to repopulate it.
The first theatrical outing (sometimes dubbed Fight The Future) for The X Files effectively bridges the gap between seasons 5 and 6: for the cracking final episode of the former the X Files department (read: basement) was not only shut down but burned down with Mulder and Scully being reassigned to more mundane cases (such as terrorist bomb threats and the like…). The irony is that the case they’re working on turns out to be inextricably linked to the very conspiracies that they’ve been ushered away from. The opening bomb scenario reminds me a little of that in Speed, but with a touch more realism (apart from Mulder’s discovery of the bomb’s location, one of those coincidences that underpins much of the series) - a pretty exciting and highly functional grip on the viewer for what’s to come. Woven into the dialogue are keenly inserted snippets of historical passages no doubt designed to familiarise viewers who may not be up to date with the show itself, but their incorporation manages to avoid contrivance just about. Familiar characters from the show are also peppered throughout - the smoking man, the lone gunmen, and Skinner of course - and these characters become mechanically relevant elements of the fairly intricate plot. In fact some viewers unaware of the show’s staples may find some of the dialogue heavy sections hard work, being articulate, complicated, and undeniably paranoid as they are. Hence all of the elements are there that made the show work in the first place and this would be amongst the best episodes if it were such. Surprisingly the movie doesn’t simply take on the appearance of just another episode - it looks and feels much bigger in scope from the outset; the famous 20th Century Fox ident at the beginning, an apparently much more generous budget, the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (up from the 1.78:1 of the preceding season and the 1.33:1 of earlier seasons), and the absence of the show’s opening sequence, which it has to be said just wouldn’t have worked for a convincing theatrical presentation. Some of Mark Snow’s distinctive theme has been implemented into the score generally, however, so it’s not entirely missed. Gillian Anderson and Dave Duchovny both translate their characters to the big screen well and are by this point very comfortable with the two people who simply couldn’t have been portrayed by anybody else. Their near onscreen kiss is a cool highlight too. It was really nice to see Lucas Black show up (Caleb from American Gothic) though the fact that they used Christopher Fennell too (one of Caleb’s friends in AG) makes me wonder whether this was an in-joke. The story itself, penned by the show’s creator Chris Carter along with regular collaborator Frank Spotnitz, reaches a huge and rousing climax that really tingles the flesh and proves that there was still life in the dog at that point.
The video transfer is by now dated but just manages to serve its purpose in an age that is gradually becoming hi-def. It’s soft and features a slightly artificial colour scheme that I suspect could be substantially improved nowadays. The 5.1 track is aggressive, loud, and enveloping; this suits the TV-cinema upgrade perfectly. A second disc of extras combines with an audio commentary to round out a pretty good package, however, a Blu-ray version is on its way and will make this set redundant almost certainly. Having not seen this film for ten years (which was at the cinema in fact) I thought it was a thoroughly good expansion to the show’s concepts and a carrot to entice people to continue watching into season 6.