Sunday, 28 July 2013

Fight the Future written by Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: The X-Files hits the big screen…

Trust No-One: Where they trying to whet our appetites for Mulder and Scully as long as possible? They don’t show up until at least ten minutes into the movie, long after the plot has kicked into high gear. Mulder is bored in his current assignment and Scully is trying to discourage him from thinking unconventionally, to try and salvage something from his career. There’s a glorious dig at Duchovny’s acting skill when Mulder suggests that his panic face is exactly the same as his normal one. You know when you have one of those days when you look at the work you have achieved and you are entirely satisfied? I’m almost willing to bet that Mulder Scully weren’t thinking that when they are left staring at a skyscraper half gutted by a bomb that they failed to find in time. Mulder sums up his character spec in a drunken rant to a bartender – it looks like they learnt nothing from the Doctor Who TV Movie about regurgitating lots of exposition about a shows past in one great lump. Mulder can sure say shit a lot more on the big screen but it is hardly a positive move. If anything it makes him sound more juvenile. Mulder discovers that his father allowed his sister to be abducted to turn her into a hybrid, so she would survive the holocaust. All these years we had thought that she was the victim and Mulder the one who was spared so it is fascinating to learn that actually it was the other way around. Mulder suggesting that they are going round in circles to be exposed to so much evidence only for it all to be tidied away before they can show the appropriate people in authority is accurate. There’s only so many times you can be disappointed like this before you would walk away. There is news that the X-Files has been re-opened at the conclusion so it looks like it is going to be business as usual for Mulder and Scully…how wrong is that assumption?

Brains’n’Beauty: Picking up directly where the fifth season left off, the agents have been reassigned to other areas since the closure of the X-Files (made somewhat permanent by the Smoking Man smoking out their basement office). We catch up with them helping out with the bomb threat unit in Dallas. Mulder and Scully always seem to perk up during moments of adversity like this and it is exactly what happened the last time the X-Files was closed down during the early stages of season two. Whilst they are not where they want to be, they still have each other and they are striving to get back to the work they both love. During season five I complained a fair amount that the chemistry between the two characters had waned somewhat as the writing had become predictable and complacent but Carter looks set to turn that around now and the movie is starting point for a spanking new, slightly comedic but always enjoyable, banter between the two of them that would continue long into season six. Carter manages to get some tension out of their interplay too, with Scully thinking that Mulder is playing a prank on her when he has found the bombs. Once they start proceedings to have Mulder and Scully split up, she considers quitting the FBI as her work on the X-Files has given her a taste for field work and she wouldn’t be satisfied confined to an autopsy bay or office all the time anymore. She really has broadened her horizons. As much as Scully might rant about being out in the sticks with Mulder when she should back in the city to attend her hearing we all know that she wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact this dog with a wagging tail routine that she does following him around from one crazy case to another will be examined comically in How the Ghosts Stole Christmas next season. How much extra did they have to pay Gillian Anderson to stand in that vat of gunk with a slimy tentacle stuffed down her throat? On the positive side it does look very nasty. Trust Scully to lose consciousness as soon as they pursued by an alien and for her to miss the spectacle of the ship breaking free of the ice and ascending to the heavens. This feels very season one in that respect. Scully refuses to walk away from Mulder even when he attempts to push her away, she admits that her work is with him now.

Ugh: It looks like Rob Bowman has been brushing up on the Ridley Scott art of making movies and the grisly opening sequence that features cavemen being dismembered by a particularly vicious alien lifeform could have stepped straight out of the Alien franchise. Torchlight exposes a slashed throat and black blood bursts from the aliens throat as a knife is plunged deep inside. The children infected with black oil still gives me the wiggins, horrid wormlike strands bulging from the flesh as they make their way to the eyes. An alien incubating inside a human host – it looks like Chris Carter has been cracking open his Alien DVDs too! Love the nasty corpse that Mulder and Scully find in the morgue, his gunky skin sticking to the shroud like string cheese. The alien seen in darkness, glistening with putrescent goo, is a genuinely frightening creation. Add some hideous screams and razor sharp claws and I was scrabbling for the light switch because suddenly aware of how dark it had become. I’ve read some mockery with regards to the bees and their persistent appearances in The X-Files. Speaking as somebody who has a phobia of buzzing insects (don’t mock, I adore spiders!), the situation that Mulder and Scully find themselves in here is just about the worst nightmare I can imagine.

The Good: There is something terribly amusing about the film taking the piss out of the TV series’ conventions. Ever since the pilot we have been informed of our whereabouts from scene to scene with a documented location in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. All very contemporary and businesslike. I nearly pissed myself when North Texas - 35,000 BC appeared at the beginning of the movie. As if the heavy eyebrows, furs and general lack of technology wouldn’t have given it away. I realise that it has been hiding away an alien intelligence for thousands of years but how exciting would it be as a kid to fall down a hole like that and find an intricate working of caves? You would have never got me out of there! It’s nice to see Terry O’Quinn make an appearance, a stalwart actor who has appeared in many of Chris Carter’s television shows. Michaud sitting in front of the bomb and not even attempting to diffuse it is quietly haunting and suggests a much larger story for the character that the movie never explores further. It isn’t like Carter to give his one-minute characters great depth like this and it really impressed me. I was impressed at how interested Bowman managed to make me in the bomb threat sequence considering its only purpose is to drag the agents into the story. It plays out as typical action movie fare but with Bowman at the helm it is packed with tension and visually stimulating to boot. I especially like how we get to see children being given a tour of the building just before Mulder discovers the bomb in the vending machines – it makes the situation feel that bit more terrifying. The explosion itself is phenomenally executed and in these post 9/11 times really made my skip a little faster. It looks so authentic when you compare to the real life terrorist attack that claimed the Twin Towers that you have to question whether such an approach would have been taken had this been made a few years later. With the building destroyed to hide to murder of one little boy infected with the black oil, it goes to show the lengths the dark government forces will go to to cover their tracks. I remember an anecdote told by Robert O’Reilly (Gowron of the Star Trek franchise) where he learnt that the characters of Lursa and B’tor were going to make the leap from TNG on TV to the movies and he took great delight in telling the actresses the only reason that would happen was because they were going to be killed off. Add The X-Files to that fine tradition as the Well Manicured Man (they really should have found a better name for this guy) played exquisitely by John Neville (how this man managed to maintain his dignity being handed some of the more pretentious and ambiguous dialogue is a marvel) makes his curtain call. It is nice to catch up with him in England and see the sort of lifestyle he leads away from the Syndicate. It isn’t such a loss to the series because the conspiracy arc is about to come to a climax in the middle of the next season anyway so this was probably the most memorable way he could have exited the show. The location filming is as ambitious as you would imagine from an X-File movie – from stunning desert plains to the snowy wilderness of Antarctica, the scenery on offer is a feast for the eyes. I haven’t been this impressed by the design and atmosphere of an alien craft since the initial discovery of the Borg Cubes on TNG. The scale is incredible and it feels like Mulder is crawling about inside the bowels of a living creature, groaning with aches and pains, and yet there is a logic an functionality to the craft too. Mulder heads down the best theme park slide ever in the ship, climaxing in him hanging on for dear life over a vertiginous ravine. We’ve never seen spectacle quite like that of the alien ship breaking through the ice (and taken the scientific base with it) as Mulder tries to drag Scully clear of the ice quake in its wake. For a second there it really looks like they have been buried beneath the snow. For once we get to see the government mopping up their mistakes, cleaning up their mess before any kind of investigation can be kick started.

The Bad: Whilst this movie is clearly making use of an expanded budget it highlights a massive strength of the television series and what would have been a huge problem had it continued on into a movie franchise – the production values on this show are already reaching cinematic proportions on a weekly basis so a blockbuster has to tell a much bigger story in order to prevent it feeling like an extended TV episode. Fight the Future manages to squeeze in more set pieces than a regular TV two parter, but that is the only difference I can tell between this and its television counterpart. Both Scully (‘because they wanted me to invalidate your investigations into the paranormal’) and Mulder (‘I’m the key figure in an ongoing government charade…’) have moments where they are bringing a new audience up to speed. I can’t think of any other point where they have had to re-iterate old information like this before. It’s not as intrusive as I have seen it done elsewhere (Star Trek was notorious for this sort of thing, just in case somebody had missed an important episode) but it still sounds unconvincing. Mulder pisses up an Independence Day poster, a dig at another film with similar themes but at least they had the chutzpah to actually stage their alien invasion. There is a bizarre moment when Scully seems to suggest that Mulder has decided to come and cop a feel in a drunken frenzy – it is awkwardly written and so it is awkwardly played. Brilliant, a sequence filmed on a London street manages to have both a Royal Mail van and a red double decker bus in shot in the five seconds of screen time. Was it worth having the Lone Gunmen in for their pointless little cameo. Surely they could have been given something more productive to do? The trouble with packaging so much information into one scene such as the info dump that the Well Manicured Man regurgitates before his death is that those who haven’t watched the series before must have been left scratching their heads wondering what the hell he is going on about. For those in the know it isn’t exactly a satisfying sequence either because the majority is information we’ve obtained from other episodes of the series and the only real fulfilment is having all those elements comprehensively spliced together into one explanation. We shouldn’t need massive gulps of exposition to reminds us how serious things have become, these events should be dramatised rather than being transposed into a long, descriptive lecture. Show, don’t tell. Having Mulder head off to bring down the Syndicate’s fifty year scheme and prevent the alien invasion of Earth should be feel far more climactic than this. It’s a personal mission to save Scully and if he succeeds nobody would be aware of his efforts and what he has done to save humanity. It would be the quietest alien invasion defeat in history. Mulder finds his way on board an enormous alien spacecraft packed full of pods containing human specimens and manages to find Scully’s in record time? Scully’s evidence of one bee made me chuckle, given what they have just witnessed that is the best that they managed to come away with? Why didn’t Mulder nab some alien technology whilst he was on their ship? What the hell happened to Gibson Praise? Introduced in The End and handed from the Smoking Man to the Well Manicured Man at its climax and yet never once mentioned here.

Title Sequence: I have often said that you can tell the quality of a movie by the amount of imagination and pizzazz that has been put into the title sequence. With light bouncing off copious amounts of black oil, fans are left with no doubt that this movie will be tied heavily into the series mythology and not a standalone adventure.

Moment to Watch Out For: In a moment that pays off the audiences patience, Mulder and Scully finally work up to that kiss we have been longing for. Not before he admits that she has kept him honest and that he owes her so much for her loyalty to him. Without her he probably would have given up long ago. Never mind the implausibility of the bee surviving until this long in Scully’s hair, the sting that cuts between their moment of intimacy is a real blow for the audience. I can remember the cinema erupting as soon the moment was broken.

Fashion Statement: ‘Don’t think! Just pick up the phone and make it happen!’ – you know, Scully is so commanding when she cries out this line she near as well gives me the horn. Gillian Anderson is doing proper movie acting in the early action sequences, pitching her performance at a hysterical level.

Orchestra: Note perfect, Mark Snow deserved the crack at the movie score and merely extends what he already achieves with the TV show. His work has always erred towards the cinematic so he is right at home writing the music for the film. As Mulder and Scully go driving through the desert, Snow provides an ambitious and sweeping re-imagining of the series’ theme tune. Listen as he bashed out his frustrations on a piano as Mulder and Scully are pursued through the corn field. I feel sad for him that he never got to score an actual alien invasion of Earth because I have a feeling he would have done an amazing job.

Mythology: This is the first time we have ever seen the black blood leaking from an alien as though it is blood. I always thought it was a lifeform with an intelligence of it’s own. If the TV series is to be believed then the blood carries the consciousness of the alien and can transfer from person to person. ‘We have no context for what killed those men or any appreciation of the scale of what will be unleashed in the future. A plague to end all plagues. A silent weapon for a quiet war. The systematic release of an indiscriminate organism for which the men who will bring it on still have no cure. They’ve been working on this for fifty years. While the rest of the world has been fighting ghosts and commies, these men have secretly been negotiating a planned Armageddon. The timetable has been set.’ Once the emergency has begun, the secret government (the Syndicate) will claim power. ‘The virus is extraterrestrial. We know very little about it except that it was the original inhabitant of this planet. AIDS, the Ebola virus…on an evolutionary scale they are newborns. This virus walked the planet long before the dinosaurs. They’re aliens, Agent Mulder. Your Little Green Men arrived her millions of years ago. Those that didn’t leave have been 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 colonise the planet using us as hosts. Against this we have no defence, nothing but a weak vaccine. Until Dallas, we believed the virus would simply control us, that mass infection would make us a slave race. Imagine our surprise when they began to gestate. My group has been working co-operatively with the alien colonists, facilitating programmes like the one you saw to give us access to the virus in hope that we might be able to secretly develop a cure. Without a vaccination the only true survivors of the viral holocaust would be those immune to it – human/alien clones.’ 

Foreboding: Elements of the movie would be picked up in the next TV season – in particular this ability of the aliens to gestate inside people.

Result: Visually stunning, dynamic and full of memorable set pieces this might be, but Fight the Future for all it’s cinematic bluster is merely an extended TV episode with an increased budget. That’s fine, if you’re a fan of the show then what you want to see is more of the same but with (marginally) better production values. What a newcomer would make of this film defeats me as very few concessions are made for the fact that this takes place in the heart of a tangled and garbled arc story with a list of ingredients as long as my arm. The film doesn’t so much have a linear narrative but is instead constructed out of set pieces bolted together by elements of the shows mythology. It isn’t really a piece of storytelling because there is no clear progression of plot, which renders a conclusion moot. It’s not a film with a beginning, a middle and an end because it takes place near the conclusion of a convoluted story arc – it’s a movie with a middle, a middle and a middle. The beginning is the first five seasons of the X-Files and the end is the two part mythology story in the middle of the next season. When I saw Fight the Future in the cinema I was pissed as a fart so much of the story washed over me whilst I was whooping with joy at the more spectacular action pieces. What Carter has done here is actually pretty devious, he has managed to produce a film script with apparent revelations about the planned invasion of the Earth by using all the information that we have already gleamed from the five seasons that precede it. Looking at the bigger picture we learn nothing new about the conspiracy arc that we didn’t already know, it’s just that it is packaged in such a comprehensive way it is made to appear as if we are getting all the answers that we have sought since the show began. Whilst they had the money and time this was the perfect time to stage the apocalypse and it would have given Carter the chance to tie up the conspiracy plot and kick start a whole new era for the show with the sixth season. As a result the movie feels like it is on the cusp of something fantastic but is too afraid to deliver it. I don’t want to give you the impression that I didn’t enjoy Fight the Future because any five minute segment is gorgeously shot and acted and hugely entertaining to watch. I just feel that it was something of a missed opportunity, when the conspiracy arc was going to be concluded in the next season anyway why not use this opportunity to go out with a bang. I personally feel that Two Fathers/One Son outshines Fight the Future in practically every way, not least because it does have an ending. Other pluses include some fine Mulder and Scully interaction, a dramatic send off for John Neville’s character, some genuinely spine tingling moments featuring the scariest alien the franchise has ever presented and the breathtaking sequences on an alien ship that conclude the movie which are unlike anything we have ever seen before. Containing all the elements you would want from an X-File film and yet not everything it could have been, Fight the Future is sporadically brilliant and disappointing and as such serves as a good example of the two extremes of the TV series. Flawed but fun: 6/10


Ben Willans said...

I think Mark Snow's score at the end of This Is Not Happening is a pretty good indicator of how he would have scored an alien invasion.

Joe Ford said...

Hi Ben,

That is a fantastic point - and a fantastic piece of music too. I can't wait to reach season eight, it is one of my favourites :-)