Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe (***1/2)

Starring Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Billy Connolly
Directed by Chris Carter
Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material
106 minutes

Like The Happening this summer, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is receiving fatal reviews, and although it is neither as cerebral nor as chilling as the earlier film, it is as underrated a movie in nearly every aspect. Its source material, the 90s television phenomenon of the same name, remains to be one of the smartest and most thought-provoking TV shows ever made, as well as the creepiest.

Following the adventures of F.B.I. agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully was a pastime of many people for nine years, from the pilot episode in 1993 to the equally effective first feature film in 1998 to the cathartic final episode in 2002.

It’s been six years since the trial that forced Mulder and Scully to go into hiding. They’re living together, but their relationship is uneasy. Neither wants to live the old life of solving paranormal crimes.

But the situation that soon develops prevents them from hiding anymore. An F.B.I. agent has gone missing under highly unusual circumstances: A convicted pedophile and former priest claims a psychic connection to the remains of one or more bodies. The Bureau offers Mulder and Scully a deal—they will forgive Mulder for his “crime” and drop all charges, if they help find the missing agent. This leads to a conclusion that may shock some with its bizarre twists and turns, even by The X-Files standards.

Even if you’ve never watched the TV show, you will still be drawn into the involving story and believable characters. If you are familiar with the show and its characters or (like me) have seen nearly every episode, it’ll be like old times.

The movie builds suspense not unlike a Hitchcock film and is wonderfully written by the show’s creators, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz. Returning composer Mark Snow revamped the original musical score, enhancing the material without being overbearing. Cinematographer Bill Roe perfectly captured the snow-covered hills of West Virginia for the haunting first act.

Then there is Mulder and Scully’s chemistry, which worked so well in the show. This is where the movie sometimes falters. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are better than ever, but their attempts at sad reminiscence fall short.

Despite this quibble, The X-Files: I Want to Believe is effectively involving, much like a very good “standalone” episode of the long-running series. And I believe that is all that fans are asking for.

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