Sunday, July 27, 2008

The second X Files film

The new film, X-Files: I Want To Believe, arrived with little fanfare, and I only just noticed it at the local cinema (the Ritz). I was happier to have a look in than go for the latest in the Batman franchise, which no doubt is more cartoonish than X-Files.

Given the first X-Files film, I was surprised by what I saw this time around - as will be a lot of people. But it makes sense in context.

The tv series had always been dichotomous in several ways. One aspect was the storyline. I was drawn into on the recommendation of friends who were avid fansWhen I first watched it, the episodes were fairly self-contained, focused on paranormal stories that could have been drawn from the outlandish end of the Weekly World News spectrum. Except that the writing added a plausibility to the tabloid stories.

There's only so much of that stuff you can run, and a story arc that at first seemed peripheral built up to take over from the 'spooky' episodes. That arc revolved around alien conspiracies, but subject matter aside it was more engaging than the single-episode tales.
Even so, that arc got rather convoluted. If you want to avoid wading through it all, the episode 'The Truth' summarises it well and succinctly.

Thus, whereas the first X-Files movie built on the alien conspiracy arc, this second one was a more hermetic story at the 'spooky' end. The first was loaded with science fiction and special effects; this second was more down-to-earth, gritty realism.

Another set of dichotomies lay in the plot mechanics. At one end, plots could be fairly straightforwardly working towards resolution of a mystery. At the other end was the relationship-driven, humanistic (not in the sense of humanism per se) writing. This latter film contained elements of both, but weighed far more heavily on characters and relationships than the first. There was a lot of talkiness around belief (hence the film's subtitle) - which borders on the religious at times. 'Never give up' was watchword, but the writing's focus on relatively blind belief bordered on the clunky at times. Without a specific ethical framework to work off, the concept was adrift and shallow more times than it needed to be. This was, ultimately, an abiding weakness of the tv series.

In mitigation, the dirty, unkempt groundedness of this film was a pleasant contrast to the usual hollywood fare. The actors are fifteen years older than when they started out, which the director took full advantage of: the characters are shown as aged, and so more haggard, worn - and human.

That in itself is something fans can appreciate. Characters that move on, not necessarily bigger and better. Wiser? Perhaps a little, but in keeping with the original characterisations they're still grappling with similar issues, in a different context. As happens in life.


Anonymous said...

Could be interesting. Seems to be aiming for a more sophisticated audience than just alien/conspiracy geeks. Genuine acting and script. Wonder what David and Marg will say about it.

Anonymous said...

Oh btw, the new Batman is apparently very NON catoonish indeed. Dark and bleak, with modern updating and little in the way of camp Batman bullshit humour. Will be interesting to see it too.

S Simmonds said...

Margaret and David gave it 3 and 2.5 stars respectively - and they didn't actually have anything useful to say, which is rare. See

Often enough I later revise my estimation of a film. I don't think I gave much direct indication here, but there's a fair bit to recommend. As often happens in the series itself, the writing wavers between the ham-fisted and the intriguing. At the very least, it raises a confronting moral dilemma with a paedophile priest who is crucial to resolving the case.

And the mise-en-scene is particularly good, as befits the big screen.

There remains ambivalence in my reaction, but it definitely has aspects to recommend.

S Simmonds said...

Re Batman: yes, I have heard similar. Still, I have surprisingly regularly disappointed by the batman films. I always hated the camp aspects (blame that on the 60s tv series), which were never present in the comics.

In fact, I have the Dark Knight comic mini-series on which I believe this film was based. Haven't read it for at least ten years though, so I'll see the film for its own merits, then re-read the comic.