Monday, March 2, 2009

X-files: The UST is still out there

I'm sure by now you all realize that I started this blog just so I could post pretty pictures like this one.

The year was 1993. I was a senior in college and I lived with three to five other girls in a two-bedroom apartment with no television. We heard rumors about this amazing new TV show that was part science fiction and part cop drama. It revolved around an FBI agent, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), who we quickly dubbed a HOBL (hunk of burning love). For some reason it was on Friday night, but we didn't care. Every week-end began with locating a TV, usually in a dorm lounge or maybe at a laundromat, where we could follow the exploits of our HOBL and his red-haired, bad-ass female partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Every episode, whether it was a monster of the week or an alien conspiracy plot, seemed as good as the best movie we'd seen in a long time: scary, smart, funny, sexy and occasionally moving. As the years went by and my access to television and the internet improved, I became more obsessed with the show and especially the relationship or "ship" as it was known, between Mulder and Scully. Some of the first hours I ever spent online were posting to message boards about the Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) between Mulder and Scully and by season three, I no longer cared about that aliens were colonizing the earth as long as Mulder and Scully could have a real kiss on screen.

By the time the show ended it had spawned a host of copy-cats. I don't think the CSI franchise would even exist if it were not for the X-files systematically desensitizing the public to decomposed bodies week after week. For that matter the entire Whedon-verse would be different since it was the the success of the X-Files that surely gave Buffy a chance to break through. An empire was built on flashlights bursting through foggy gloom, heroes in pant suits fighting evil and the unspoken rule that men and women who fight crime together could never sleep together. Duchovny left the show and new agents were brought in and though I didn't stop watching the show, it lost much of its magic for me. There were only so many times that Scully could caress Mulder's desk nameplate to keep this shipper's appetite fed.

When I saw in the kiss in the trailer for the new film, The X-Files: I want to Believe, I went mental. I couldn't believe that after all these years, after last minute bee attacks, alternate universe kisses, forehead pecks and making a baby off-screen between seasons we were finally going to get the kiss. I was finally going to get some closure on this ridiculous obsession that I'd held for years. And then something weird happened. The movie came to the theaters and I didn't go. At first it was because I couldn't get a sitter, and then it was because so many of my online friends said it was bad. But really I think that it was just that I didn't really want the UST to end. Eventually it came up in my Netflix queue and I bit the bullet. So here is my review. It is possibly the single nerdiest thing I've ever written with the exception of the eleven page review/recap I wrote on the Phantom Menace in 1999.

As the X-Files: I want to Believe begins, Mulder and Scully have left the FBI. She has returned to medicine, working in a Catholic hospital and he seems to sit in his home office throwing pencils at the ceiling all day while clipping items from the newspaper. The FBI wants them both back to help them solve a case where their main lead has been provided by a pedophile priest with ESP abilities. Scully is grossed out by the priest, so want no part of it, but Mulder after a bit of cajoling from Scully, makes his way back to bureau. There is a tedious sub-plot about a case Scully has at the hospital, which touches on more religious issues. If feels tacked on to try give some fullness to the characters who've been floating in the ether since we left them. Either that or it was a deliberate attempt to get Gillian Anderson a guest spot on Grey's Anatomy. Even with the medical drama padding, the plot is a bit thin to support a feature length film and I would say if it were aired as an hour-long episode of the show it would have merely been an average or better than average installment. Early in the film they mention Mulder's work with Leonard Boggs and Clive Bruckman and it's kind of painful because this script isn't half as good as Clive Bruckman's Final Repose. Even so, it is still pretty darn good. Living up to an average episode of this great show is actually an acceptable standard for a film. I want to Believe is as moody and tightly-wound as the best constructed episodes of the series. As a stand alone story, I think it worked pretty well because you don't need to have a lot of background on the characters or situations of the series to follow the plot.

The movie is almost better if you don't know the back story. You won't be worrying, How is William's adoption affecting their relationship? Are they married now or what? Where's Skinner? What about the aliens? Aren't aliens taking over the Earth? Shouldn't Mulder's beard be bigger after seven years of living like the Unabomber? What about the lone gunmen? What about Dogget and Reyes? If you are able to disconnect from all those things and just enjoy it as you would an episode from an early part of the series, it works just fine.

Mulder and Scully still interact with each other in more or less the same manner, even though they are now living together as a couple. They still call each other by their last names. They still don't have sex, although now that seems down mainly to the fact that Mulder has dropped out of life, as evidenced by his bushy survivalist beard. The best scenes in the movie are those in which they interact just like they always did: a female FBI agent flirts with Mulder a tiny bit and Scully looks jealous (of course she winds up dead, since that's the fate of every minor character who ever flirts with Mulder or Scully); Mulder grazes Scully's hand with his and gives her a soulful sidelong glance when things are going badly with the case. So yay! The UST is still out there.

One of the really enjoyable moments for me as a True Fan came when Skinner finally turned up. He has a totally romantic/slashy scene saving Mulder from shock by giving him his top coat. A million fanfics were born with that 90 seconds of celluloid.

It is also nice to see the old Mulder/Scully scepticism dynamic. Mulder and Scully argue, as they always did, about the case when one of them believes in the priest's psychic powers and the other doesn't. This is of some interest, since I couldn't remember where we were on the whole Scully believes in God/has lost her faith question. It turns out she still believes in God, but she's having trouble with the "judge not lest ye be judged" portion of the homework. Mulder as usual refuses to believe in God, but buys into every supernatural phenomon in the world.

The supporting actors are a mixed bag. Who knew Billy Connoly was this good? He is just terrific and spooky. This movie wouldn't work half as well without him. Exhibitz as the skeptical FBI agent was a bit distracting (I couldn't stop making pimp my ride jokes) and not that convincing. His part was also completely under-written. It is fun to see Battlestar Galactica regulars Rennie Callum and Lorena Gale in small parts. Again, a million crossover slashfics were born when Leoben was dragging Mulder around in the body part graveyard. Sometimes I had to pinch myself that I was actually watching cannon, and not dreaming it up out of my fevered fangirl imagination.

For a summer popcorn movie, I want to Believe has a snowy, wintry atmosphere, that fits with the dark material. One of the strengths of the series was its location scouting. They always managed to make Vancouver look like a lot of different places and gave every episode a unique terrain and tone. My husband and I were both annoyed that Mulder went through the whole thing with his coat unzipped and I can't help but think that if the film were just a bit better we wouldn't worry about stuff like that. In the end, the case is solved and spring arrives. Mulder shaves off his beard and finally, finally, FINALLY kisses Scully properly. Then they go on a much-needed vacation.

2 comments:

SteveQ said...

Still no kisses for the Lone Gunmen, alas.

Jennythenipper said...

I miss the Lone Gunmen. 13 episodes was not enough!