X-Files: I Want to Believe, The (UK - DVD R2)
Reviewer Leigh Riding looks at the long awaited re-opening of the X-Files...
In this spoiler-free synopsis section, six years after the X- Files are closed, agent Dana Scully persuades Fox Mulder to come back to duty with the FBI when a former priest claims to be receiving psychic visions linked to a kidnapped agent.
Although I enjoy the X-files as a franchise a great deal, I am what football supporters would call a 'fairweather fan'. Only now will I come out and confess that I was indeed one of those people who deserted the show during the Dogget years, never to return until I saw Duchovny's sizeable beak loom into view, and therefore hold the early years dear to my heart. I am also a fan of the first feature, X-Files: Fight the Future, which was admittedly a middle ground venture. Although unmistakably X-Files, there was a definite mainstream angle, with a far larger scale than the series and a stronger emphasis on action than we saw on the show (the opening bombing sequence is still one hell of an opener). Although highly successful theatrically, there is a sense that the true fanbase were slightly unhappy with the betrayal of the series' tone. The X-Files: I Want to Believe moves back to those early roots, but forgets to take the casual viewer with them.
Unlike the first feature, The X-Files: Want to Believe really feels as though it is a lost episode from the first or second series. Moving away from what the series eventually became, the story is not bogged down with the shadowy government conspiracies and alien abductions that eventually swallowed the franchise whole, instead it resembles one of those standalone episodes that dropped the continuity to tell a simple story and acts as more of a companion piece to the X-Files canon. The feature also runs with the belief versus science theme that made the series interesting in the first place. However, in a nice spin on the concept, this time it's Scully who is the one siding with faith and being ruled by the gut.
The problem with going back to basics is that the film lost a lot of its impact on the big screen. Having seen this in the cinema, the film felt too small and low key, and it's no wonder that the film never made it outside the fanbase and subsequently died at the box office. While the original film's director Rob Bowman gave the TV episodes he helmed a big look, he stepped his game up a notch for the big feature, showing a flair for cinematics (he went on to helm the hollow but slick Reign of Fire). However, series creator Chris Carter sticks a little too close to the TV feel. On DVD, the film works far better.
While the mystery is a little more grim than the usual series fare (being closer in tone to Carter's much-missed Millennium), it's still quite engrossing and befitting of the franchise, and Carter goes right to the fanbase by giving equal time to both plot and character. Although there is a Scully side-plot that is rather dull, the all-important relationship between Mulder and Scully is nicely played out, and well played by Duchovny and Anderson. In fact, there are some meaty roles in the film, and the cast play them strongly. Billy Connoly is particularly strong, and brings pathos to a character it would otherwise be impossible to like. A recurring character from the franchise makes a final reel return and is welcomed like an old friend, and even sketchpad characters are brought to life by Amanda Peet and a surprisingly good Xzibit.
Although fairly impenetrable to the casual viewer, there is solid entertainment to be gleaned from the film by the old school X-Philes. Stripped back to the original tone, The X-Files: Want to Believe resembles a big budget fan film, and feels more like a present to the dedicated.
As I sit between the two camps, I would say it's a strong fan pleaser, but would suggest a balance between the two films' approach for the next entry.
The 2.35:1 image presented here is pretty strong. There is little grain and the black levels are strong in the night scenes, with those trademark torch beams piercing the darkness pleasingly. The daytime sequences are also well handled, although the picture is a little soft, with the night sequences coming across as a little sharper. Overall a nice transfer with no glaring deficiencies.
Fox offer a solid 5.1 track, that suits the muted tone well. The all important dialogue sits well in the mix, being nice and clear without swamping everything else. The score is well served too, swelling nicely as the scene payoffs approach. Ambient effects are well handled, and sell the crucial creep factor suitably. Although there are few action sequences, they are all well presented and jump out at the appropriate scare points. This is a very effective track.
As befits a film that appears to have been made purely for the initiated, the extras on this two disc set feel like such a gift to the long-time fans, I'm surprised Fox aren't selling each copy with its own little bow. While not as exhaustive a set as, say, Iron Man's comprehensive content, and truncated from the BD version of X-Files: Want to Believe, the extras are still welcoming to the long standing fans. The commentary from Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz is very dry and uninvolving, but plenty of production information is given. The main feature is the three part ‘Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain A Secret?’ documentary, a ninety-minute feature split into three segments.
The doc is the antithesis of the EPK feaure, focusing on the cast and crew as opposed to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. Apparently the majority of the crew is the same company that worked throughout the show's run. Quite a few of them talk about coming back as a family for this film, and the doc feels just that little bit warmer as a result. Any doc that spends quite a bit of time interviewing the film's gaffer is alright by me. There is little time spent explaining the mythology of the franchise, but then again anybody watching the film knows the information anyway.
‘Body Parts: Special Make-Up Effects’ is a solid little feature, which is quite detailed and, if nothing else, contains hundreds of dismembered body parts. ‘Chris Carter: Statements on Green Production’ is an odd little feature, with Carter banging on about the carbon footprint a film production leaves. Although a little preachy, there is also interesting stuff from Carter (who is obviously an avid environmentalist), who states that his disillusionment and subsequent absence from Hollywood was due to waste issues. Again, interesting stuff for the die hards, even here.
The deleted scenes are fine on their own merits, but add little of interest that hasn't already been reinserted into this Director's Cut. The nine minute gag reel is for once amusing, and there is also a music 'video' from Xzibit, which is simply played over production stills. A decent track, although I can't say I heard it in the film at all. Rounding everything off is a mammoth photo gallery with literally hundreds of stills, and both US and International trailers. Although not the largest set of features in the world, there is enough here to make the fans smile.
The X-Files: Want to Believe works far better on DVD than it did theatrically. Although the pace is fairly languid, the film still hits all the buttons one expects an X-Files story to hit. As faithful as it is to the tone of the source material, the film can seem uninvolving to a non-fan, and as such shall remain a film embraced mostly by the franchise's core audience. On that level the film works very well, and slots into the X-Files canon comfortably. Having said that, it would be nice if the next instalment was a slightly more aggressively paced production. Highly recommended to the fanbase, suggested viewing for the uninitiated.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 24th November 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Audio Descriptive English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Audio Commentary by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain A Secret? Documentary, Body Parts: Special Make-Up Effects Featurette, Chris Carter: Statements on Green Production Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, 'Dying 2 Live' by Xzbit, Photo Gallery, Digital Copy of the Film
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Xzibit, Mitch Pileggi
Length: 104 minutes
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