The X-Files: Fight the Future
aka The X-Files
This was the line in the sand. The point of no return. More than it is a movie, Fight the Future is an announcement that this is where the show starts slouching forward, all the way to the 2016 return. While there’s much to enjoy in subsequent seasons – 6 in particular is a shot in the arm, and the best since the third – the series would diminish in popular consciousness from this point on, and it’s all down to Chris Carter screwing the pooch, pulling his punches, whether at the behest of Fox – demanding the series extend beyond the suggested five seasons – or his own inability to think out of his box and break new ground. There’s a lot of money thrown at Fight the Future, and director Rob Bowman graduates the show’s iconic elements to the big screen with flying colours, but it’s a resoundingly empty, hollow experience that satisfies no one. The movie did okay business, but far from the level bean counters dreamed of. Which should be no surprise, given its lacklustre content.
Carter and Frank Spotnitz go through the expected motions of rehashing the key notes of the Mulder-Scully dynamic (she rational, partial to statistics, he “Expect the unexpected”) in two slightly ungainly minutes, but the very notion this would attract any novices to the show (aside, perhaps, from critics dutifully taking in a TV offering they’ve hitherto studiously avoided) is marginal at best. Particularly so, when it’s so reliant on the kind of expository dollops that were the arc episodes’ stock in trade at their stodgiest (here courtesy of Mulder at a bar, being served by a cameoing Glenn Headley, special guest star Oscar Winner Martin Landau, and most particularly John Neville’s always-classy Well-Manicured Man).
And while this unfettered version of the show takes the opportunity to include a few oaths (a Scully “Jesus, Mulder” and a Mulder “Shit”), nudge up against the prospect of the duo kissing and have Dana accuse Fox of showing up during the early hours for some canoodling (“What exactly are you implying?”) – business that should have warned the makers that going any further would be asking for problems – they mostly rely on standard devices and scenarios. Scully soon sets to work doing autopsies on some bodies infected in Texas, and we’re off into very overfamiliar territory (quite why, having gone to the elaborate lengths of staging the terrorist bombing, the conspirators should then leave the actual bodies lying in a hospital morgue to be peeked at by anyone, leaving aside the possible “contagion” implications, is anyone’s guess. Outside of convenience of plotting, obviously).
The opening section – once we get past a canvas-expanding 35,000 BC prologue starring some less-than-impressive Neanderthals, also set in North Texas – is quite engaging, though. Lucas Black (American Gothic, more recently returning to the Fast and Furious fold) falls down a hole and gets black-gooed (okay, black-oiled in X-mythology speak). Before long, the area’s a quarantine zone. Mulder and Scully, meanwhile, off the X-Files, get involved in a terrorist bomb threat. Inevitably, this leads back to all things X (the bodies noted above), but it had me perversely wishing the movie had followed something approximating the course of the then-recent The Pine Bluff Variant, depositing our supernaturally inclined agents in a more standard procedural, thriller or terrestrial conspiracy yarn.
The show still has the ability to offer the incongruous or intriguing, even here. Touches like the freshly laid turf over the sealed-up Texas sink hole (surely this would have been a scenario ripe for a revisit), Mulder opting to go straight after both he and Scully, pursuing the virus train, are inclined to go left and right respectively. The investigation of the domes and pursuit through the cornfield (that this should lead to Scully in deadly peril as a third-act motor is the height of laziness, however; Anderson must have been thrilled when she read the screenplay).
Any impulse to offer a streamlined conspiracy is entirely discarded; indeed, the convolutions of machinations versus the rudimentary plot structure represent a dichotomy Fight the Future never gets over, particularly since it means disappointment on both counts. Black goo/oil is back. Bees are back. CSM (yawn) is back. Well-Manicured Man (for the last time) is back. Terry O’Quinn is back (but not as either his previous X character or his Millennium character; he’d play a fourth continuum character in the then-final season). There are no bounty hunters, and there’s a peculiar addition to boot: the gnashy alien. Okay, officially the long-clawed alien.
The inclusion of which is the height of cynical opportunism. Let’s have a vicious, xenomorph-clone Grey, one that also gestates inside human hosts. Let’s get the Alien guys in to make it for us. Let’s only use it once after this, at which point, we’ll hastily explain it away as an intermediate stage on the way to becoming a less vicious Grey (lest we’re inclined to think this was planned aforethought, in designing the critter, “it was decided the primitive alien has supposedly been around for a while by the time we see him fight the primitives. He has been living and hunting and killing in the harsh environment of the ice fields, so he would look more weathered and worn”).
Even the main show, never exactly finely honed, isn’t usually quite so flagrant with its fast-and -oose arc threads. And quite how and why aliens should be “lying dormant underground since the last ice age in the form of an evolved pathogen, waiting to be reconstituted by the alien race when it comes to colonize the planet — using us as hosts”, I don’t know. Are they naturally bipedal? Are they naturally goo? Does it matter? Not to Chris Carter. Indeed, the assertion “We know very little about it except that it was the original inhabitant of this planet” is to all intents and purposes nonsensical – it walked this planet long before the dinosaurs. Before amoebas and single-celled organisms, per evolutionary theory, too? – but it sounds impressive. (In terms of actual lore, the black goo is an alien parasite brought here by the Draco, and there’s nothing prehistorical to Earth about its presence).
I’m also unclear why gestating lifeforms were shipped back to a spacecraft in Antarctica. At the behest of Grey overlords? Were the firemen and boy executed? If not, why did they not similarly transform/were shipped abroad? Is the mutated virus simply the one under Texas for years, or the black oil generally?
As usual, we’re trotted out the “we take the risk of turning one man’s quest could into a crusade” line as an excuse for avoiding killing Mulder, and as usual, it makes very little sense. Per Kurtzweil, Mulder and Scully were allowed to flee the desert facility (“And why do you think it is you’re standing here talking to me? These people don’t make mistakes”). And per the Well-Manicured Man, the Syndicate presumably wanted him to feed Mulder a load of exposition, give him the antidote and head to Antarctica where he would upend an alien spacecraft. Since otherwise, they could surely have blown up Well-Manicured Man’s limo BEFORE he met with Mulder.
Carter hated Independence Day, it seems, doubtless due to its almost complete dearth of endlessly constipated expository dialogue. Its computer virus makes the utmost sense when sat next to Carter’s baffling grasp of plot plausibility. In terms of the conspirasphere generally, Fight the Future further ingrains certain ideas and introduces others. Traditional virus theory is, of course, emphasised as valid (“AIDS, the Ebola virus: on an evolutionary scale, they are new-borns”). But it’s also established that standard government drills often masquerade as a virus threat (“No, I’m saying it wasn’t the Hanta Virus”), and Well-Manicured Man uses very loose speak to define HIS virus (“What is a virus, but a colonising force that cannot be defeated?” One might similarly suggest “What is a virus, but an artificially introduced toxic agent, administered by pharmaceutical means, expressly designed to debilitate the recipient?”)
This virus, like our modern vaccine, is designed to augment the victim. In the movie, transmission is via rather convoluted means, feeding into established series lore in a manner doubtless intended to be vaguely congruent: “Transgenetic crops that are polygenically altered to carry a virus” and “spread by the bees from pollen in transgenic crops”. Vaccines – often something to arouse suspicion in the show – are here a salvation, magical tools that can not only cure Scully of alien nasties in under a minute, but also destroy an entire alien spaceship (wait, not so different to ID4 then…)
If such devices underpin/rehearse the system’s paradigm, the show is inevitably also laced with indicators of how that system should be doubted/really works: The President will declare a State of Emergency, at which time all government, all federal agencies, will come under the power of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, the secret government”. Kurtz calling this version the secret government is a bit of a sop (it isn’t very secret, in that case), but it’s an indication of how structures are designed to pivot and switch (and why rumours of FEMA camps readying for imminent mass imprisonment/ incarceration/ detention have been circulating for decades).
We also see predictive programming, post-Oklahoma and pre-Twin Towers, helpfully explaining to us that any Big Exploding Buildings in cities are essentially detonated by government conspiracies (albeit, in this case, notresulting in nice, clean, controlled demolitions). Then there’s Antarctica. In pursuit of a big showdown in an icy scape – previously Ice, Colony, Talitha Cumi – The X-Files visits Antarctica for the first time. Obviously, the “continent” is a source of lore both fictional (The Thing, Lovecraft, er Alien v Predator) and factual/embellished (it’s the start of the ice wall separating us from the realm beyond, where heads of state gather periodically, and where alien craft are or aren’t buried beneath the ice). Amazingly, Mulder is allowed into Antarctica – and evidently during very seasonally mild weather, given his outfit – no questions asked by a military-controlled zone! With a vehicle to boot! Looks like Kurtzweil was right, rather negating any inherent tension that doesn’t come via gnashy aliens.
Mulder: That end of the world, apocalyptic garbage your write?
Kurtzweil: You know my work?
Less readily obvious as a series trope are the charges laid against Kurtzweil. Mulder shows up at his apartment where the police are already investigating the obstetrician – the appointment for a pelvic exam line is one of the movie’s few funnies – and writer of “apocalyptic garbage”. We learn he is being investigated for “selling naked pictures of little kids on his computer” and that this is a regular smear against him (“Kiddie porn again? Sexual battery of a patient?”) So obviously, he’s got a good defence lawyer or cast-iron alibis, if it’s happened in the past. This is very notable – as in, it is surely not coincidental –because paedophilia comes up again in the second The X-Files movie, much more centrally. Here, the charge is false; there, it’s about atonement of sorts.
Rob Shearman delivered a fairly devastating rebuke of the movie in wanting to believe, and the only part I’d disagree with is that his rating is a little too harsh. For all that Fight the Future is a failure, it’s still sporadically enjoyable to see the show stretched for a cinematic canvas. I’d like to think, had Carter the chance to do it again, he’d have held fast for the Lost option of sticking to a definite series end date. But the return, when he doubled down on all the arc’s problems with a massive retcon – admittedly in favour of some shamelessly unvarnished predictive programming regarding the plandemic – suggests hackiness would have held sway no matter what. And even if the series had extended into three or four movies, we’d have doubtless faced a similar problem of undiluted Carter penning them. At least the series would give us the break of standalones, even if always returned to the same sandy foundations for the mythology.