Dir. Chris Carter US. 2008. 104 mins.
Six years after the end of the long-running TV series - and ten after the first movie spin-off -- writer-director Chris Carter and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson re-open the X Files with a nicely dark and dense supernatural thriller which Fox hopes can tap into a new audience for the much-loved sci-fi/mystery/horror franchise. The X Files: I Want To Believe should satisfy fans of the original series and it may also work for younger devotees of recent X Files-influenced hits such as Lost. It could, though, prove a bit too mysterious for more casual summer moviegoers.
Opening in North America a week after the phenomenon that is The Dark Knight will not make it any easier for the PG-13-rated film to match or beat the $84m domestic take of its big-screen predecessor, summer 1998's The X Files: Fight The Future. But with the Batman blockbuster proving that dark isn't necessarily a liability in summer, and Sex And The City showing that TV fans can be mobilised years after a series' demise, Fox can still look forward to a decent showing.
Openings in most other markets follow quickly in July or August. The widespread popularity of the series - and perhaps Anderson's recently-raised profile in the UK - should boost the film's international prospects; the last X Files movie managed $105.3m outside the US.
Carter (who created the franchise but did not direct the first feature) and co-writer Frank Spotnitz pick things up with Duchovny's Fox Mulder and Anderson's Dana Scully six years after the events at the end of the series, with both characters having left the FBI. The film's self-contained story has Scully, now a doctor, persuading the embittered Mulder to help his old Bureau colleagues on a case involving a missing female agent.
The case unfolds slowly and the mysterious feel is heightened by the wintry setting (the production filmed on snowy locations around Vancouver, Canada) and moody cinematography by Bill Roe (who also shot the last few seasons of the series).
Unlike the first spin-off, which was tied into the then-ongoing series, the new film demands no more than a passing familiarity with the TV show, a fact that should help broaden the cinema audience.
Always a cause of fan speculation, the relationship between Mulder and Scully gives rise to a couple of early revelations that will stimulate first-weekend buzz. But while it does provide motivation and an emotional backdrop to the plot, their relationship doesn't develop much over the course of the narrative.
It hardly has time to, because Carter packs the film with incidental relationships and themes. Besides familiar franchise concerns such as religion and psychic phenomena the script also touches on organ harvesting, medical ethics and paedophilia. There are moments of dark humour and a dose of Saw-style gore. To get everything in, Carter frequently intercuts sequences, a technique that works well at first but becomes obvious later on.
Duchovny (most recently seen in TV series Californication) and Anderson (who made a mark in the BBC outing Bleak House) revisit their roles with real commitment, giving the film the same solid character base as the series. But the supporting characters - and performances - are not as strong. Amanda Peet plays an FBI agent who may have a thing for Mulder but disappears from the action prematurely; rapper-actor Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner appears as another agent; and British comedian-actor Billy Connolly is a former priest who claims to have psychic powers.
20th Century Fox
Ten Thirteen Productions
Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter
Alvin 'Xzibit' Joiner