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Review: 'The X-Files' combines smart FX, high IQ

Scenes from 'The X-Files' June 19, 1998
Web posted at: 8:50 a.m. EDT (1250 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- "The X-Files" and FBI special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are taking their search for extraterrestrial life to the big screen, and the big question isn't whether there is, or is not, intelligent life in the universe.

No, the really, really big question is whether "The X-Files" will make a successful transition from the tube to the big screen.

Well, the truth is now out there.

For the uninitiated, David Duchovny plays Mulder. He's in charge of the "X-Files," those FBI cases involving the paranormal, the supernatural and the inexplicable. Gillian Anderson plays Scully, a medical doctor-turned-FBI agent. To her, in general, everything has a medical or scientific solution; she was originally assigned to the X-Files to debunk any alien findings Mulder might uncover.

Of course, over the TV show's last five years, she's seen plenty that can't be explained, she's been kidnapped by aliens, and has had some kind of unidentifiable technological device implanted in her skull. But never mind all that -- she's still a skeptic.

A cult phenomenon

Since its inception, the television show "The X-Files," has grown into a cult phenomenon that stretches across the world. It's the most popular show in Canada, the highest-rated show on Britain's BBC2 Network, and the biggest TV hit in Japan since "Twin Peaks."

The series has been called "FX with an IQ" and the creators pride themselves on the pseudo-intellectual doubletalk the two main characters speak while chasing things that go bump in the night.

Therein lies the secret to the series. There are always multiple subtexts to every show and nothing is ever really explained, despite the nonstop dialogue spouted by either Scully or Mulder as they peel away another layer of conspiracy, week after week.

Ever since the show's premiere, loyal viewers have been given glimpes of, and hints about, a mysterious worldwide group that is involved in a huge coverup concerning ongoing contact with extraterrestials. Now, in the film, we find out for sure that these men are in cahoots with aliens secretly colonizing Earth.

They're hoping for special treatment after the takeover. But all is not as it seems, and, apparently, aliens are not a very reliable species when it comes to keeping a deal.

The only things between us and them are Mulder and Scully.

Movie true to TV show basics

Under the heading of full disclosure I have to admit I am an "X-Files" fan, so as far as I'm concerned, this film was preaching to the converted. All the basics are here from the television show. Of course the movie was written and produced by the series creator Chris Carter, and directed by "X-Files" veteran Rob Bowman, who has directed 25 episodes of the series.


Clip: Chase through the cornfield
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Theatrical trailer
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Paul Clinton reviews "The X-Files" in "Paul's Pix"
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Carter, and the show's coproducer Frank Spotnitz, came up with the idea for the film's script while on an eight-day vacation in Hawaii a year and a half ago.

Duchovny and Anderson also play their TV roles out on the big screen. Duchovny's laconic acting style remains in place, as does Anderson's dead-on stare in the face of anything inexplicable.

The dramatic lighting that conveys such tension and dread is used to great effect, and the somewhat murky plot line it there too. And, of course, Mulder and Scully are forced to work outside the system, because the system itself is so corrupt.

That distrust of the powers-that-be in government is at the heart and soul of the "X-Files" philosophy. Carter came of age during the Watergate years; his lack of faith in our government is shared by many people who have grown up in the shadow of that political scandal.

Special effects impressive

What's more, ever since the Roswell incident in the 1940s, many Americans have felt the government is hiding something regarding alien contact. "The X-Files" feeds directly into that paranoia. Or is it paranoia? See, I am a fan.

Carter admits he must walk thin line with this project. He can't alienate the loyal TV fans (the extreme fans call themselves X-philes), but he also must make the story accessible to the non-fans, or the film version will never fly at the box office.

But in all honesty, I'm not sure people are going to belly up to the box office and pay seven or eight bucks to watch the movie if they don't watch "The X-Files" for free on TV.

This is basically just one long -- maybe too long -- episode with great special effects. Let me say that again: Great special effects. The jump-in-your-seat, heart-in-your-mouth factor has been really cranked up for this $61 million feature-film version.

It's true that you don't have to be a fan of the TV show to understand the film's plot, but it helps.

Series' main characters land on big screen

All the series' main characters are on hand here: Cigarette-smoking man (or as some call him, Cancer man), played by William B. Davis, is as menacing and mysterious as ever. Scully and Mulder's boss, Walter Skinner, played by Mitch Pileggi, is still trying to protect his renegade X-File agents.

Martin Landau is wonderful as a "man who knows too much." He serves as the story's "deep throat" and guides Mulder to the truth. Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, has a small part as a hardcore FBI agent who goes by the book. She is what Scully would have become if she hadn't been recruited to the X-Files.

The team of conspiracy-buff computer nerds, played by Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood and Bruce Harwood, appear occasionally on the TV show. In the film, the uninitiated viewer will likely find that they come out of nowhere.

I'm sure this film will have a huge opening weekend. X-philes will go more than once, giving this film the kind of repeat viewing that studio heads pray for.

If you can't summon the desire to click your remote control to the TV show, I don't think there's any reason to race down to the multiplex. Yet if you do, I predict you'll be pleasantly surprised, and may even find yourself in front of the TV on Sunday nights with the rest of us "X-Files" groupies.

The X-Files" is rated "PG-13" with a running time of 121 minutes.

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