04 July, 2011

"Not in My Cinema"

For the second time in my life I have finished watching The X-Files film and I gotta say twenty-four year-old James enjoyed this film far less than his ten year-old counterpart, which is a damn shame because I just recently rediscovered the original show.

I remember having very fond memories of that film. In fact, I remember the theater where I saw it and that I saw it with my uncle and one of my cousins. Considering one the theater got torn down and one of those people died there is literally no way I can recreate that occasion, so I guess it's only appropriate that Fight the Future is depressingly messy.

It's not that's it's awful or anything, it's just that the critics at the time were right. Fight the Future doesn't seem to be anything more than a two hour long episode. If you love The X-Files, then you'll be happy at having a two hour episode to watch. If you don't, TS, better luck with X-Files 2: Black Oil Harder*. Now, I do love the show beyond recognizing character actors from Deadwood and stuff, I really truly love The X-Files to death. Even as a kind of creaky, sometimes incredibly boring show, it still amazes me just how radical it still is. A lot of movies fail to do this and it's even rarer that a TV show can pull this off.

The problem isn't my lack of love for the source material, my problem is that I love movies far more than I do every other Fox TV show (the notable exception being The Simpsons seasons three to eleven). There is no amount of fanaticism that can get me to ignore that Fight the Future is almost entirely uncinematic. Not only are its actors and subject televisual, but the whole damn thing is, from writing to cinematography, soup to nuts. It's all things we've seen before on the small screen and in that case, it's often slightly better than what is on the big screen. Fight the Future is a movie without an argument for being a movie.

Other than the occasional flourish of visual effects (like the federal building bombing and the core of the alien space craft), there's nothing to tell you that this isn't a very long episode of the Fox TV show (in fact, if you cobbled together one of the longer story arcs-- "Nisei" arc, for example-- you'd end up with something roughly as long as this movie).

And those handful of scenes aren't enough as the visual effects have lost a certain amount of their impact over the past ten to fifteen years. The Black Oil, as cool of a concept as it is, looks like something that might have gotten lost from a bad episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Federal building explosion not only looks like a touched up matte painting (with a few practical effects sprinkled over the whole of the thing), but even as an off-screen presence or a plot point it feels small and underwhelming.

I know it's a rarity to compare something favorably to 9/11. While watching the movie though, I couldn't help but think, "Jeese. September 11th was way more impressive than this thing." Watching this building get blown up I didn't feel anything-- maybe because I've been desensitized by the acts or real world mad men-- due to the fact that I knew that the bomb only killed Locke from Lost (I mean, maybe if it was Bishop from Aliens I might have cared a little bit more). Where's the weight? Where's the consequences? I guess the writers and the director assumed that the emotions would be filled in by the audience who were likely still worked up about the Oklahoma City Bombing. How lazy is that, though? That makes sense, but it isn't good film making. This is all speculation, though. I guess what I wanted was to feel the appropriate reaction to an act of terrorist, which would be something fleeing disinterest and running towards, you know, actual terror.

If you're going to invoke the Oklahoma City Bombings you have to have the teeth to exploit what people think and feel. Half-assing it isn't enough. To do otherwise-- have an explosion that only costs people taxes and a guy with a mustache-- is a many things, dull being the most obvious.

In the movie's defense, how the fuck is something this piddly supposed to compare with 9/11? Back when this movie was made Osama bin Laden was just some jerk with a van packed with fireworks. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to those days for just a little bit?

There's a tick in my brain that I discovered. It's probably true in general, but when it comes to watching and enjoying movies, it's especially true. What I know is that whenever I'm watching a film (or a TV show, even) and I think "I could do better than that," it is universally a bad sign for the movie. There's plenty of reasons why I might think this. One reason is that the movie is so sparse or so uninteresting that my brain defends itself against the film by coming up with a more interesting scenario. It's basically my version of people paying attention to the set dressing, because if you're paying attention to the background, it means that whatever is in the foreground just isn't doing it for you.

The second reason is that it might actually be true that I can write or director (or sometimes even act) better than whatever is on the screen. This isn't an attempt for me to brag about my talents, it's just that something very bad might be on screen and it might not take much to make it slightly better than it is. In a way that's even more frustrating than just being bored. Knowing that even you in your limited time with this film can come up with something better has to make you wonder why no one who was getting paid could accomplish this.

If there's a third reason for this it's that my expectations have not been met. In the case of Fight the Future, it is probably more guilty of this than it is of the other two reasons. There are a million reasons why an X-Files movie should be the biggest sci-fi film of the era, after all it was the biggest sci-fi TV show of the era, TV, movies, books, and comics are still trying to copy its success almost twenty years after it first premiered.

It's funny that it doesn't wind up as good as some of the other movies of the era (there's a swipe at Independence Day after Mulder gets good and drunk) and it's funny that it probably isn't even as good as some of the great episodes that Fight the Future is based off of.

Despite all of this, I still love the X-Files. In fact, if I could, I would buy one of those gimlets (but I can't. Fuck this earth). Like the show, the movie is basically better than the sum of it's flaws. There's some great stuff in there and the whole of the piece shines through. It's worth it. Plus, the concept of a sentient alien virus being the villain-- despite being supremely underwhelming of a presence-- is a pretty crazy and frightening concept. I mean, a virus? How the fuck do you kill that?

All in all, I'd like to see a third X-Files movie (if the rumors are true, this desire might change when I watch I Want to Believe), this time with a one-hundred million dollar budget and somebody like JJ Abrams or Guillermo del Toro** helming the picture. And with Doggett returning and maybe a villain that's worth a damn instead of "Old White Guy #447." Oh, and somebody with a cellphone that actually fucking works. Now there's be a movie I'd pay to see***.

(That's not The X-Files, damnit!)

SIDE NOTE: I think one of the reasons no one has ever been able to emulate what The X-Files did in the early 90's is because cellphones and the internet have basically ruined everything mysterious for us. Think about this, how could the government keep aliens a secret when celebrities can't even keep their genitals a secret? In 2011 the grand extraterrestrial conspiracy would last about five seconds because once Mulder runs into a database of DNA punch cards or a pile of alien mummies in Navajo country, it'd be twittered and flickred and Facebooked all the way around the world twice. Then again, if the show came out today, I'm sure those geniuses in Hollywood would find a great way to knock Mulder's iPhone into a puddle or a toilet every episode****.

SIDE SIDE NOTE: And, another thing, how many times can Scully be out of the room or unconscious every single time something supernatural happens? Or when something supernatural happens, she just casts it off as. . . what? A trick of the brain? How many times over six years can this happen before she's just an idiot? And, again, a camera-phone might help the case along.

THIRD SIDE NOTE: Hey, that's the Arboretum. Rad.

FINAL NOTE: I took the title from a sentiment that Dr. Mark Kermode expresses whenever he encounters something in the movies that isn't very cinematic. I also borrowed the word "televisual" from him.

*I'm not happy with myself about that joke. And the saddest thing is, this was the one I chose over X-Files 2: The Filening.

**Could I have chosen more obvious nerd directors for a nerd picture? No. No, I could not have.

***That or a Harsh Realm reboot. Somebody call the Battlestar Galactica guys.

****Jesus Christ, as I'm writing this Mulder literally dropped his fucking gun down a hole. I can't believe someone isn't paying me for this.