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The X-Files: I Want to Believe

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson stand dramatically in the snow in The X-Files: I Want to Believe

by Gary Sundt

I occasionally watched The X-Files during its nine season run on FOX, and was a fan of the 1998 feature film effort Fight for the Future. It was an intriguing show, and it opened the door for other television programs to tell better and more-complex stories, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and more recently Lost. Growing up in a time when television was finally finding its story-telling ways was needless to say very exciting, and looking back, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the cultural influence that a little show about martian-and-monster hunters would have.

That being said, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is not a really great movie, and won’t be influencing film history any time soon. Yes, Fox Mulder (David Duckovny) and Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are back to solve another mysterious mystery, and its a doozy of a case. An FBI agent has been kidnapped, and the psychic, convicted pedophiliac ex-priest Father Joe (Billy Connolly) is apparently getting visions that could lead to the answers. Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) doesn’t quite know what to make of this, and Agent Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) thinks he full alien excrement, so they call in the retired Mulder and Scully to help find the truth.

Scully has moved on from her X-Files work, and is making a living as the very-skilled surgeon that she is. However, Mulder is right at home with Father Joe and the manhunt. But, see, Scully and Mulder now live together and have this… thing… going on between them, so there is a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, another woman is kidnapped, peoples body parts are being found in the snow, and there is a two headed dog somewhere in the mix. Was that a spoiler? Maybe, but it was worth mentioning.

Co-writer/director and X-Files creator Chris Carter has not been overly busy since the show wrapped production 6 years ago, so it was a reasonable expectation that I Want to Believe would come with a great story.  More importantly, it should come with some good X-Files moments. Truthfully, and while I won’t mention them here, I can think of three. That may cut it for an episode of the show, but not for a movie. But perhaps Carter was trying to step beyond the lore and hit a wider audience with this film.

But who is he trying to please? For “X-Philes” (loyal and avid watchers of the show), there isn’t much in the way of X-Files mythology to go on. But for those non-fans, there are too many brief and obscure references to things that happened in the show (Scully and Mulder’s baby, their complex relationship, a surprise visit from a beloved character in the film’s finale) to keep any real momentum going. And then there are those bizarre moments that are just plain out of character for The X-Files (e.g. the musical theme playing randomly over a picture of a well-known political figure). Those are the greatest crimes of all, because they are simply disjointing for the audience, pulling us right out of the film.

The good news is that Duchovny and Anderson have returned to the roles that made them household names. For some viewers, they are like the half-brother and sister we haven’t seen for a while. For others, they are more like distant cousins. Regardless, we know them all too well, and it is nice to see them back to their old ways.

However, something is amiss with their relationship. Perhaps we expect more than we should, but the spark is very much missing in I Want to Believe. The characters and the actors have both moved on to other projects, and the fact that they remain chained to one another, both in this film and the rest of time, is showing its wear and tear on Mulder and Scully. There are several points where they go through the old motions, feeding lines about Mulder’s dead sister and Scully’s infamous stubbornness, and I found myself thinking back and wondering how the show kept these droll conversations interesting for 9 years. 

The truth: they didn’t. They kept it good for 6 years, and then it was downhill from there. Television was growing up, and a new generation of writers and producers were improving on the progress made by The X-Files and like-programming. Also, The Sopranos came out, once again redefining what television was allowed to do. While I Want to Believe has a theme of not giving up, but perhaps its time. There but for the grace of Pop Culture go The X-Files, and maybe Mulder and Scully have said and done all they have to say and do.

Running time: 104 minutes. Directed by Chris Carter. Produced by Chris Carter, Brent O’Connor and Frank Spotnitz. Screenplay by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly and Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner. A Twentieth Century Fox release. Rated PG-13