It’s interesting looking back now from a world of ‘cinematic universe’ attempts and recognizing The X-Files’ accomplishment of criss-crossing to the big screen and back. Plotting-wise – carrying over from the show – and in terms of balancing potential satisfaction for new viewers and just-joiners, it’s quite successful. The growing pains it does experience make it an occasionally slow and bumpy two hours; however, this being something of a pioneering move in tv-to-film storytelling, just as the show was pioneering in widening the idea of an ongoing mythology (later informing Lost and plenty of shows thereafter), said growing pains are evident in the boob tube version as well. So at least its faults are consistent.
The film essentially condenses – and then adds to – the main alien invasion storyline that’d bobbed and weaved through the show’s (then) five seasons. It smartly leaves off some of the series’ more confusing additions to its mythology (clones, smallpox) and equally smartly uses some broader cinematic strokes to get across the main gist of aspects like the black oil and the bees. By also not worrying about front-loading the film with explanations about what the X-Files are and who Mulder and Scully are, the narrative can transition us from a buddy cop routine – our duo, currently not assigned to the X-Files, investigate what they think is a humdrum bunko bomb threat – into a cover-up plot regarding the not-so-bunko bomb. Hitchcockian suspense rules are in effect: The audience had been primed with knowledge from a cold open (that’s a pun once you’ve watched the film…) that there is a cover-up going on, regarding a hole in a desert and some dead bodies and a black, infectious goop. How it fits together creates a fun mystery for the audience to puzzle out, and for the film…
…To stumble over. The first half of the flick is a pretty fun and tight conspiracy thriller. This is the era on the cusp of giant CGI movie fest and bigger-budgeted TV, so the style has a particular feel to it appropriate to that era – still playing around with isolated sets against faked backgrounds – as well as cutely upgrading the style of the series with better makeup, better lighting, and some movie-esque editing and framing. So for about an hour, the condensing and established tone and camaraderie works pretty well. But we have to touch upon larger X-Files stuff, as well as add in some big-screen worthy stakes, so then we get to the bees. This is also a fun sequence overall, but I think its where the movie will start to divide new and old viewers, and to counter that the script throws some excess drama at us to motivate more excess for its final act. From here on out it’s a balancing act of info-dump exposition and explosions.
Watching in conjunction with the series, it’s impressive how well the film works with the mythology overall, but if you were only half-invested in the show (as I was at the time) or new to it, you’ll likely walk away feeling like a lot happened and yet nothing happened; mysteries half-heartedly explained. Director Rob Bowman maintained a good compromise between big screen visuals and the small screen tone, while Chris Carter’s and Frank Spotnitz’s script bridged the medium gap pretty well. But the show already suffered from confusing plotlines and, on occasion, thinking too big for its britches, and so the film couldn’t help but carry over those same issues, crawling through its second half to try to justify its screen presence.
Actually a lot more relevant to the series than I recalled, the criticism that it is essentially just a long episode is thus well earned.