Retrospecticus: On The X-Files: Fight the Future

When does a movie matter simply by existing? For many of us, there are films that mean something profound to us for reasons completely unrelated to the actual work. They’re about being there, about who we were when we saw them. Maybe the movie was good and maybe it was dreck but what matters is we have it.

That’s how I feel about The X-Files: Fight The Future. Whatever I think about the film is almost irrelevant to how I feel about getting to see it. This movie was an event for me at a critical moment in my childhood. If I’m going to write about this, it’s as much a celebration of reaching 20 years past that specific moment as it is about the film.

And that’s the real challenge. How do I separate the two? Is my review of the film even remotely one you can take seriously once I lay out my feelings? I wrestle with this and ultimately concede it’ll be impossible. Thus this is as much about me as the film and in a way just as much about what I consider fandom to mean.

And fan is a key word. I have been a fan of The X-Files since February of 1996 when I first bought a couple of novelizations of episodes. From that point on I watched the show feverishly. I was hooked on this world and especially the characters. I bought all the books. I even devoured the fan fiction.

So you’re damn right a movie excited me. But even though I knew one was coming and had even read a supposed description of the trailer, it didn’t seem real to me until I saw the teaser on The Rainmaker. When I saw Mulder and Scully on the big screen for the first time, my brain broke. I needed to see it now. It got even worse with each successive teaser poster released. It reached an apex with the final trailer. This was an event.

This is where that glaze of fandom sets in. From a perspective of 20 years later, the first trailer is a solidly effective action movie teaser though weirdly light on shots of its two main characters. That second trailer I watched on a loop? It’s laughably bad and barely looks like it’s selling a real movie. But to a 14 year old fan? Man it looked incredible.

Why did it look incredible? The X-Files was one of three major fandoms along with Star Wars and the freshly added in early 1998 Marvel Comics that got me through severely depressing times. It didn’t matter that the show itself could get silly and had some clunky episodes. It was there every single Sunday. The movie was going to be there in June. So following every detail I could about it? That gave me a reason to keep fighting.

And then it hit. On a bright, sunny June morning I was dropped off at the Towne Centre theater for a sparsely attended showing of the film. I watched it. Then I watched it again two weeks later. Bought the novelization of course. And as quickly as it was an epoch defining event, it became just another movie I could watch on video.

That’s the weird thing about event films. No matter how hard they’re hyped, they become just another film that you can watch. Just the other day I noticed The Last Jedi, the 8th Star Wars film, was freely available at the library. Movies don’t actually change your life much less the world. The second you finish watching even the most anticipated film of your life is the second the magic is gone. This was extra true in the case of this film. It was in theaters in June. On video in October. The story continued onward in November as the film was a bridge between the 5th and 6th seasons.

I’ve had 20 years to sit with this movie and form a genuine opinion of it. I’ve rewatched it numerous times over the years, either on its own or during a series rewatch. And after all this time, I’ll say this: it’s fine.

It’s funny how anticlimactic that opinion is. I’m not angry that the film didn’t rip open the continuity of the show as was promised in the wildly misleading ads. I also wouldn’t call it one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Hell I wouldn’t score it more than a 7/10. I think it’s a perfectly fine film.

The movie really is essentially a mythology arc for newcomers. It his the standard beats. There’s a conspiracy. It has something to do with aliens. Mulder and Scully have to stop it. They achieve a minor victory but the conspiracy essentially remains in place. As epic films go, it’s not one.

But what it is is a perfect distillation of why the show worked. As ordinary 90s action movies go, it’s an attractively shot, well made film. It’s intense in places. It’s funny in others. It’s very well paced. This was largely a TV team working on the film but they didn’t strain to go theatrical.

And of course it has a weapon that can’t be denied: the cast. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are the greatest 1-2 punch in TV history for my money. Two solid actors who gave the show an electrifying center. On the big screen they own the room and their characters utterly hum throughout it. Supporting players are, as always, first rate.

It’s definitely a minor film all things considered. So minor I struggle to say much more about it. It’s really just a series of very good setpieces, none of which would make the top 1000 in film history. It’s not a film that had any purpose except trying to draw in new fans. Oh and sidelining Scully in the third act was a bad move. Very bad.

With that in mind, was I mad that the movie didn’t change my life? No, not at all. As I said I even saw it a second time. What I wanted out of it was to see the characters I loved in a theater. I got that simple joy. I got a memory so happy I was thrilled to notice this date coming on the calendar.

When does a movie matter simply by existing? When we have a good time. It’s not much. It’s enough.

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