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'The X-Files': A non-believer's opinion

'The X-Files' June 19, 1998
Web posted at: 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Here's the deal. I know little if anything about the hit TV series "The X-Files," but that doesn't mean that I'm predisposed to disliking it or the series-inspired movie that's currently scaring up box office around the country. By the time dedicated viewers figured out a few years ago that there was this great, well-written science fiction show on The Fox Network (of all places), I was already far enough out of the loop to be discouraged from trying to catch up on the multiple creepy-gooey plot points that had everyone else on the edge of their seats.

I was a big "Twin Peaks" fan for its first season, so I understand that sometimes you have to start at the beginning, or don't bother starting at all. Anyway, I'm about to give you a relatively uninitiated person's take on whether or not the movie delivers, and whether or not you can discern what's going on if the past 5 years of your life haven't been preoccupied with wondering where all that goo is coming from. This means that thousands of too-fanatical types out there can refrain from getting self-righteous, indignant, or murderous if I misjudge, or completely miss, some revelatory moment or long-awaited alien puzzle piece that appears in the movie.

First of all, here's my working knowledge of the series, as I know it, after taking in maybe 2 complete episodes and 10 or 12 mini-segments while casually channel surfing:

  • Nothing ever gets fully explained, or, when it does, it's explained in the vaguest possible terms.

  • Mulder and Scully (played, of course, by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) never kiss, even though everyone else in America figures they should.

  • There are strange, enigmatic characters who pop up every now and then, but no one really knows exactly who they are or what the hell they're doing.

  • Nobody on the show can be bothered to move any facial muscles or speak above a whisper, unless there's a big explosion or they're being chased by something-or-someone that/who wants to kill them.

  • Duchovny is married to Tea Leoni. (This has nothing to do with the actual show. I'm just in awe of it.)

It turns out that that's about all I needed to know in order to ride along with the movie. There were occasional appearances by characters who did, basically, nothing at all, and still solicited gasps and applause from other audience members, but I finally realized that it didn't make much difference whether or not the characters and I have a long history together.

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The movie is no earth-shaking moment in American cinema, but it sets a pleasantly menacing tone (which I immediately pick up on whenever I come across the TV show), the lighting and production design are both marvelous, and there are some very nifty action sequences. That most of those sequences take place quite near the end is something of a problem, however, since there are rather lengthy interludes in which you're supposed to be getting more and more nervous, but I just found myself getting sorta sleepy.

You can't, however, help but marvel at a movie that opens with the superimposed words, "North Texas - 35,000 B.C." This leads to some extremely graphic nastiness in which a couple of cavemen (who are actually more physically demonstrative than Scully and Mulder) get gored by an extremely agitated alien, then we cut to the same spot in Texas, current day. More graphic nastiness, having to do with a young boy who's stumbled upon the site of the caveman slaughter, and, let me tell you, this kid gets mixed up in some big-time David Cronenberg-parasite action. This was legitimately scary. I developed a minor league case of the willies later in the movie, but, unfortunately, nothing else came within shouting (or whispering) distance of this opening salvo.

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The entire first act feels like a pretty darn good Steven Spielberg movie, circa 1980 or so, but, after a while, you can't help but notice that what's going on here (maybe not on the TV show, but during this big screen installment) is little more than a cross between "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Director Rob Bowman displays a real visual panache, though, and I eventually started to enjoy Duchovny and Anderson, regardless of their unwavering commitment to somnambulance or Anderson's inability to properly pronounce the letter "s." (She's forever saying things like, "I know you're bored in thish ashine-ment, Mulder.") This impediment is almost the verbal equivalent of George Clooney's distracting, spring-loaded head bobbing, but not quite.

I don't want to get too far into the plot for fear of ruining the game for people who've been anxiously awaiting the movie. I will say, though, that there's a cryptic conspiracy theorist (played by Martin Landau) who keeps feeding Mulder information whenever things bog down, sort of like Huggy Bear, but with an extraterrestrial bent. Scully and Mulder also spend a great deal of time doing things that they're not supposed to do, by strict government directive, but they never seem to get in any trouble for it, even when they're brought before a board of inquiry that may or may not be -- cue the ominous music -- involved. There's also a great moment in which thousands of diabolically engineered honey bees descend on our heroes, but I should probably leave it at that.

The whole thing looks positively groovy, and is geared toward a far more discerning fright fan than the kind who will be pouring into theaters in a few weeks to see the new "Halloween" sequel. I came close to getting very excited on several different occasions, and that's saying something when you consider that I thought the experience would be more like participating in a card game that's beyond my comprehension. If you're interested at all, dedicated fan or not, you should see it. Or, better yet, you could go see it in lieu of "Armageddon," if you want Hollywood to realize just how enticing a relatively subtle action movie can be.

"The X-Files" is pretty gory in spots, and there's some bad language. It could be too intense for younger kids, but they might also eat up that intensity and spit it out. I haven't been a kid for nearly two years now, so what do I know? Rated PG-13. 105 minutes.

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