Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The X-Files: The Summer Movie I'm Least Looking Forward To

It’s a given that there are certain movies opening this spring and summer that pretty much everyone is universally looking forward to. I usually end up seeing most films on DVD but I’m sure I’ll be catching a few in theaters as well. One of the biggest ones just opened on Thursday to unsurprisingly mixed reviews. I haven’t seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yet, but despite any misgivings and skepticism I may have (and there is some) my appreciation for the character and overall respect for the franchise does outweigh it and should allow me to go in with an open mind.

Similarly, no amount of media hype or exploitation of a certain tragedy could possibly dissuade me from wanting to see The Dark Knight. I have this sneaking suspicion that could be the one film in 2008 that will not only meet the hype, but also potentially exceed it if the trailer is indication at all. But what about those movies that aren’t such sure bets? You know, the ones that look like potential problems on paper. There are definitely more than a few, as there is every summer. Whether it be a completely unnecessary sequel, a bloated big-star action vehicle or a lame-brained remake it’ll be interesting to see what films will have us shaking out heads in disappointment and disbelief when the dust settles in the fall.

So, what am I dreading? It would seem there are a lot of candidates this year. M. Night Shyamalan’s killer plant movie The Happening could end up being less an environmental disaster than a box office one, but let’s be honest, even M. Night’s biggest failures are more intriguing then many other directors' successes. The Incredible Hulk franchise reboot has had bad buzz from the start and I’m one of the very few who thought Ang Lee’s 2003 version was just fine (even if I concede there were areas for improvement in it). The project is unnecessary for sure but the prospect of Ed Norton tackling the title role is interesting enough that I’m willing to give it a chance. Also picking up bad buzz is the action thriller Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie, but I can’t tell you what a welcome sight it is to see a heavily tattooed Jolie hanging out of a speeding car brandishing a firearm after boring me to tears with both her film choices and personal life for the past 4 years. The film’s R rating is a good sign and even if it bombs I’d far prefer her to fail like this. At worst it’ll at least be a nice respite until she starts torturing us with her “holier than thou” roles again later in the year when she stars in Clint Eastwood’s Changli….zzzzzzz. Oh sorry I dozed off for a second there.

All these are shaky propositions but only one film this summer is completely unnecessary and nothing but an attempt at a quick cash-in on nostalgia. It’s The X-Files: I Want To Believe. And believe me, as a (former) fan of the show nothing would make me happier than to be able to think this is a good idea and will be successful. But if history is any indication this is bound to be yet another disappointment dished out by the George Lucas of television, X-Files creator Chris Carter. I do realize others, in a fit of nostalgia, are so excited to just see special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully again that they’re willing to overlook the fact that they could be set up for a huge letdown. I can relate. I know if a favorite cancelled show from my youth were being given a big-screen resurrection I’d just be so happy to be reunited with the characters I probably wouldn’t care if it was any good just so long as it stayed generally faithful to the show. I have no doubt Chris Carter will at least attempt that and the movie may turn out to be okay. But I won’t care. In other words, Carter, you blew it and I really don’t feel like giving you a second chance.
To understand why we have to take a little trip back in time. You see at one point in high school and early in college I was a big fan of the show. I was one of those kids that unshamefully (okay shamefully) had a “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” poster hanging over my bed. I watched every week for years as the show’s central mythology unraveled anxiously awaiting the day it would all come together. I’ll be honest though in that I always felt like I was forcing myself to really like the show as much as everyone else. Despite all the years I watched it I didn’t exactly form the connection with that show as I did other sci-fi television of that ilk like Quantum Leap. I always thought The X-Files was good but was never among those who thought it was THAT GOOD. And the reasons why started to become painfully clear as the series continued to drag on well past the point of its expiration date. The term “Jump The Shark” has become very popular in describing the moment when a show starts to go downhill creatively. But how many shows have actually jumped the shark? I mean really jumped it, dragging on years after it should have signed off and failed to even give us a satisfying conclusion when the end finally came. It isn’t many.

The X-Files didn’t just jump the shark. It jumped AN ENTIRE AQUARIUM. Just how bad was it? I’d say to ask David Duchovny but he wouldn’t be able to tell you…since he was written out of the show! That’s right, when Duchovny opted out of his contract to pursue other endeavors (a wise move if you ask me) the show didn’t end. In either a massive display of ignorance or stupidity, Carter actually thought the series could continue without its star actor. Hey, while we’re at it let's continue Cheers without Ted Danson, Veronica Mars without Kristen Bell, Frasier without Kelsey Grammer and Seinfeld without…you get the picture. Inexplicably, fans always seemed to give Carter a pass on this one, which perplexes me. And continue the show did when Carter essentially replaced Duchovny with Robert Patrick as the crippled program painfully limped to the finish line. Duchovny would still appear very sporadically and of course returned to play a big role in the finale, which revealed… nothing. That’s all The X-Files ever revealed in its entire run. We knew as much at the end of the series’ conclusion as we did at the pilot episode.

That’s why I laugh whenever I hear people complain about Heroes’ second season or especially Lost’s third. Even at their worst moments those shows revealed SOMETHING and had a game plan. Carter should have taken a page out of the Lost producers' book and set a solid end date well in advance. Because of this, Lost, barring any unforeseen creative catastrophe, looks like it’s going out in a blaze of glory, thus securing its television legacy. Lost is often (insultingly) compared with The X-Files and I could never understand why. One has managed to tell a cohesive story over the course of a number of seasons, while the other was just winging it the whole time. A little ambiguity is always good. Total ambiguity is not. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if the show was completely awful but from an acting and directing standpoint it was actually very strong, which just made it that much more frustrating. That’s the story with The X-Files in general. When it was occasionally great there were few shows on television better, but when it was bad it was really, really bad. It was bad often.

So, you’re thinking what does this even have to do with the feature film? Just because a show ended in shambles doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a movie. After all, we wasted nearly nine years of our television watching lives, so what’s two more hours? I agree this should have no bearing on its merits for a big screen outing, just my excitement level for it, which is non-existent. Not helping any is that The X-Files: Fight the Future, the first feature length film of the show, released at the height of the series’ popularity in 1998, was just a decent, if completely forgettable outing directed by Carter. Now he’s back graveling for more and asking us to once again embrace this frustrating show that he buried with his own shovel. I suppose we should just consider ourselves lucky that at least Duchovny and Anderson are starring in it and Carter didn’t recast the roles. To their credit both actors have done a terrific job distancing themselves from their most famous characters since the show wrapped (especially Duchovny) and their performances and chemistry together onscreen would be among the only reasons I’d consider seeing film. I have no doubt they’ll slide back into their roles with ease. They’re not the problem.
I’d love to be wrong about all of this. I want the movie be incredible and do slamming box office since it would just increase the chances of a television series I’d actually want to see on the big screen getting green lit. I think at best The X-Files: I Want To Believe will be a reasonably entertaining summer popcorn movie, which, if looked at in context, is a completely pointless endeavor. Fans of the show will once again leave with more questions than answers and even if Carter does try to offer up any explanations it’s too late. That ship has sailed. Supposedly the film won’t be returning any of the show’s central mythology it botched so badly which is a relief, except would casual moviegoers who have never seen the show even be interested? Carter is stuck between a rock and a hard place here. The only purpose behind this film is just seeing Mulder and Scully again for a quick nostalgia fix.

Maybe this reflects a much bigger problem with adapting television shows into feature films that goes beyond just The X-Files. Even those who loved The Simpsons Movie admitted they didn’t take anything away from it that they couldn’t get from watching three great episodes of the show. In the film Homer Simpson even asked why anyone would pay $10.00 to watch something they can just see at home for free. It’s a great question and I think the answer is that the movie has to really give you something different and special. Can Chris Carter do that? I wouldn’t get my hopes up...again. You can call me in 2010 when the Arrested Development movie opens. That one I want to see.

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