Shiny Shelf

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

By Jon de Burgh Miller on 06 August 2008

Ten years since ‘Fight The Future’ brought the alien conspiracy to a crescendo and gave us an X-Files that was bigger, badder and madder than the TV show, Chris Carter returns with a follow-up movie, ‘I Want To Believe’, a film about hope, faith and choosing an uncertain future.

This is clearly Carter trying to establish himself as a serious thriller director, using The X-Files brand as a way in. The film has much more in common with a PG version of ‘Hostel’ or ‘Saw’ than it does The X-Files, with a psychic priest that could have come out of Midsomer Murders being the only paranormal element in the whole deal. On those terms it works OK, a low budget ‘Silence of the Lambs’, a mediocre TV movie police investigation. It’s not bad, not a waste of 90 minutes, but not particularly cinematic.

Thematically the film has a lot to say. The plot strands resonate well with each other as Mulder and Scully face questions of how far they should take their various quests, what are they missing out on by doing so, how much personal control do they have over their lives, and is the course they take in the hands of a higher power? In this respect the script is solid and obviously a lot of thought has gone into it, even if it’s clearly structured like a TV script (complete with pre-credits teaser sequence), not a movie.

Instead of a story that would need 3 parts on TV and really could only be told in the cinema, they’ve gone for a single episode and padded it out until it’s slow, overlong and uninspiring. Admittedly the budget was low, but imagine a 30 million ‘Torchwood’ movie and you realise how unambitious ‘I Want To Believe’ is.

Carter’s direction is fairly lacklustre and uninspired. The action sequences are sedate yet confused, with attempts to do a lot of shaky camera work that’s probably advanced from 1999 but is still a few years behind the times in 2008. The actors seem a little lost and going by the numbers, with Duchovny on complete auto-pilot, Anderson looking uncomfortable throughout and Billy Connolly, as the sinister priest, doing his best with very thin material.

This film has a few good moments, especially for the fans, but more really cheesy moments that would only work in a more post-modern episode, but fall flat in the humour-free zone Carter is aiming for. The resolution to the movie comes from a completely stupid and unlikely co-incidence, and the final scene is just breathtakingly cringe-inducing and completely inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film.

While the themes of the film are drawn well, the plot is less well executed. The nature of Mulder and Scully’s relationship presented here is, while different from the TV series, a clever and dramatically satisfying one, and the way it is revealed gradually throughout the film avoids a lot of info-dumping. But the serial killer plot is bog standard predictable nonsense, with cheesy Eastern European villains and a psychic who’s sometimes wrong, sometimes right… the audience just isn’t given reason to care one jot, the only reason they’re in the cinema is for a reunion with Mulder and Scully.

And that’s the problem with this film. Fans want an X-Files movie with all the classic elements they remember. You want aliens, black oil, government denials, trenchcoats and torches, green forests in Vancouver. Without any of them, this film might as well not even carry the X-Files name. It’s really no surprise that it has bombed at the box office. Without those iconic elements, only the die-hard fans will give this a chance, and as everyone in the cinema I saw it in stayed for the end credits easter-egg – a pastime exclusively reserved for fanboys – the makeup of the audience was clear.

If you want people to pay good money to see a film up against something like ‘The Dark Knight’ then you need to give them stuff only the ‘The X-Files’ can, not 90 minutes of people strolling around in the snow looking for dead bodies. Billy Connolly’s character sums up the experience at one point when his eyes start to bleed. The audience can certainly relate to that one.

The whole sorry affair is frustrating, as there’s clearly an amazing X-Files alien invasion movie waiting to be made, but with the failure of ‘I Want To Believe’, the chances of ever seeing it are slim.

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By Jon de Burgh Miller

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