Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Special Edition DVD
Fox, THX, widescreen 2.35:1, languages: English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, subtitles: Spanish, single side-dual layer, 18 chapters, rated PG-13, 122 min., $34.98, street date 5/4/99.
Directed by Rob Bowman. Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Blythe Danner, William B. Davis.
Thirty-seven thousand years ago, a deadly secret was buried in a cave in Texas. Now the secret has been unleashed. And its discovery may mean the end of all humanity. "The plague to end all plagues."
When a terrorist bomb destroys a building in Dallas, Texas, FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy surpassing anything they've ever encountered. With the dubious assistance of a paranoid doctor (Academy Award-winner Martin Landau), Mulder and Scully risk their careers and their lives to hunt down a deadly virus which may be extraterrestrial in origin - and could destroy all life on earth. Their pursuit of truth pits them against the mysterious Syndicate, powerful men who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets safe, leading the agents from a cave in Texas, to the halls of the FBI, and finally to a secret installation in Antarctica which holds the greatest secret of all.
Prior to its release last summer, one of the many hot topics that surrounded X-Files: fight the Future concerned how much time the film would devote to explaining the story's history. To be certain, few movies contained as detailed a back-story as X-Files, an issue that was compounded by the fact that the film would largely function as a continuation of the series; that is, instead of the movie functioning as a stand-alone "episode", it was supposed to offer additional information about the show's various subplots.
Basically, the creators of the film wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted to make the movie an integral part of the series but they also wanted it to be readily accessible to folks ignorant of the show. So how did they do? Well, coming from someone who mainly fits into that second category, I think they succeeded very well.
Actually, in that regard, X-Files is a strange beast. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back. Both films offered little set-up about their characters; they both just jump into events without really introducing the characters. Also, both movies feature very open-ended conclusions; by the time X-Files closes, you feel like the events of the film simply offer a prologue to a later, larger battle.
Still, even though it clearly was the middle part of the story, TESB worked very well on its own, and so does X-Files. Before I saw the movie, I had watched the show maybe three or four times, and I knew a little more about it just as someone who pays a fair amount of attention to popular culture. While I feel I missed out on some of the larger significance of characters such as the Cigarette-Smoking Man and the Well-Manicured Man, I don't think my lack of knowledge hindered my enjoyment of the film.
Overall, X-Files: Fight the Future did a very good job of providing enough information to satisfy newcomers but not offering so much back-story so that the old-timers get bored. Of course, I can only interpret this as a member of the newbie camp. Nonetheless, I have a hard time believing that any die-hard fans thought the filmmakers spent too much time explaining events; this film features very, very few explicitly expository sequences, and those that do occur seem more related to detailing parts of the movie, not going over old episodes of the show.
X-Files: Fight the Future also is a movie that endures additional viewings rather well. In fact, I liked it better the second time around. When I first saw it, I thought it was okay but nothing special. After watching it again, I've upgraded my opinion to find it pretty good. It's not the smartest or the most exciting movie I've seen, but it's a good deal more exciting and intelligent than most sci-fi/action films.
The main fault I find in X-Files: Fight the Future is that it falters during its third act. Not coincidentally, half of our team of heroes (composed of Scully [Gillian Anderson] and Mulder [David Duchovny]) misses most of the last third of the film; Scully's incapacitated during that time, so the movie relies on Mulder to move events along. Through no fault of Duchovny, he does not strongly accomplish this goal. The problem lies in the fact that much of the pleasure of X-Files seems to come from the interplay between the two leads; if either character goes missing, the story seems to lack balance as too much responsibility falls on the shoulders of the remaining person.
Nonetheless, X-Files: Fight the Future is good enough to withstand that miscalculation. The story is nothing terribly new; in fact, much of it reminded me a great deal of Outbreak. However, all facets of the production, from direction and acting to effects and editing, are well-executed; while nothing in the film seems tremendously spectacular, it still deserves a lot of credit for offering such a consistently strong piece of work.
Fox also deserve some credit for their DVD release of the film. From their late entry into the DVD market to their relatively overpriced and underfeatured DVDs, I don't think any major studio has endured the wrath of DVD fans as strongly as Fox. Nonetheless, they are starting to show some strong signs of life. The quality of the highly-anticipated Alien series (due to come out about four weeks after this is being written) should mark them as more serious players in the DVD market, but in the meantime, X-Files: Fight the Future offers a positive indication of the direction that hopefully will come.
The X-Files DVD features a pretty good but not great picture. Most of the time it seems very crisp and clear and boasts strong contrast and color; the majority of the film appears to be very high quality. Unfortunately, enough of the movie looks relatively bad to make me drop my rating to a "B+." Some scenes appear oversaturated, and apparent artifacts creep into some parts of the movie, particularly those that features either bright sky or light-colored walls. Thankfully, these problems are fleeting and most of the film looks quite nice.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix of X-Files: Fight the Future is even better. It's an excellent mix, one that features very strong use of the rear surrounds to create a terrific surround environment. Music, dialogue, and effects almost always sound clear and natural. The only significant flaw I found was that at times dialogue did not seem prominent enough; I occasionally had trouble hearing what the characters were saying even when there were no loud sonic effects to overwhelm the speech. That fault notwithstanding, this DVD offers some very nice sound.
X-Files: Fight the Future includes probably the strongest array of supplemental materials yet seen in a DVD-exclusive package from Fox (Young Frankenstein had more, but it was simply an adaptation of a pre-existing laserdisc set). Unfortunately, that's more of a slam toward the piss-poor supplements of other Fox DVDs than it is a compliment toward X-Files.
Even so, the X-Files DVD offers a few nice "extras." Foremost is the informative and entertaining audio commentary from director Rob Bowman and producer/writer/series creator Chris Carter. This track does a very nice job of balancing anecdotal details about the production (usually from Bowman) and general comments about the series (usually from Carter) and it ties the two together neatly. The main problem I had with the commentary was that Carter and Bowman both sound quite a lot alike, so that it's very often hard to know who's speaking. To be honest, it usually doesn't really matter, but the confusion can be a little disorienting at times.
The DVD's most significant other addition is the 27-minute documentary, The Making of X-Files. The quality of this show falls somewhere between the brief puff pieces featured between movies on cable and the usually detailed and in-depth offerings included on Universal's Collector's Editions. Overall, it's pretty entertaining and mildly illuminating, although I don't feel like I gained any particularly strong knowledge about the film. My favorite part? The interview when Anderson almost calls Duchovny "Mulder"; she just gets out "Mu-" before she catches herself. See if you can find it - fun for the whole family!
The X-Files: Fight the Future DVD contains a few other extras. We get three pretty good trailers, a booklet inserted into the case (which simply offers cast and crew biographies but no production information), and - yippee! - a tremendously lame "collector's card." The latter is a 3"X5" color card with the movie logo on one side and a creepy painting of Scully and Mulder on the other. I'd be happy to trade mine for some magic beans.
According to the DVD's case, X-Files is supposed to contain "extra footage." To a casual fan like me, this additional material was not at first glance apparent; I thought it would take the form of added scenes either in the film or as a supplement. My initial review of this DVD said that there was no extra footage on the DVD, but a reader corrected me and reported that the scene between Mulder and the Well-Manicured Man has been extended. It ain't much, but it's there!
Nonetheless, X-Files: Fight the Future succeeds pretty well as both a movie and as a DVD. Although it's somewhat overpriced at $35 MSRP, you should have no trouble tracking it down for much less over the internet. This DVD should provide a great deal of entertainment for both fans of the series and newcomers alike.