It’s impossible to watch everything. Every choice is a way of curating the massive amount of film and television available to us on a whim. So to stay with a TV show for many seasons, it has to have a lot to offer. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m currently on season 6 of the X-Files. I never caught the show during the original run, mostly because I wasn’t allowed to watch the early seasons (I was 7 when the series started), but I remember being very aware of it after a certain point, due to The Simpsons, Barenaked Ladies, and other cultural references.
My wife and I recently started watching the series a few months ago, and quickly became devoted fans. It’s been a great experience, seeing the show develop, seeing actors who were later famous in smaller roles, discovering the mythology, and being relatively unspoiled on the show as a whole. It’s a fun watching experience, and there are very few episodes that are outright bad, at least in the first five seasons. And being able to listen along to Kumail Nanjiani’s X-Files Files podcast was an extra treat.
ANYWAY, we finally got to the X-Files feature film, so I figure it would be a good time to think about my experience with the show so far as well. While I generally enjoyed much of the ‘mythos’ episodes in the series up to this point, I have also been frustrated by show’s deliberate attempts to derail and obscure what is happening. I realize that is part of the fun, but it makes those episodes less satisfying as the show goes on. My favorite episodes tend to be more from the ‘Monster of the Week’ variety, but I really like that there is also a larger mythos and conspiracy that is always lurking just around the next corner.
Not looking ahead to what is to come helps keep me in the mindset of a viewer at the time, and I am glad I haven’t had to wait months to see the second half of a two part episode. But I actually had no idea that the film would bookend much of the mythos that had been built up in the series to this point.
It’s a bold choice. Showrunner Chris Carter stated on numerous occasions that they wanted the movie to be accessible to new fans as well as series loyalists. The last episode of season five had around 19 million viewers, and with the average ticket price in 1998 was $5, so by those numbers, the film should have earned about $95 million. The domestic box office managed $84 million (it also made $105 million overseas, but I have no idea how to calculate worldwide viewership).
I’m not convinced that tying this film to the mythos was a smart choice if that was the goal. But I do think that the X-Files takes to the cinema more than any other procedural show because its themes are naturally aligned with the wider scope of film. The show itself has many cinematic influences, and each episode often contains an inspired blocking or other camera choice. The crew was really experimenting, and it’s no shock that many of them went on to work on Breaking Bad.
Story details aside, I was most impressed that the film was able to translate the visual fingerprint and tone of the series to a feature film. It helps that the film’s director, Rob Bowman, directed some of the show’s best episodes, and is at least partially responsible for the series signature use of lighting. But even the production design manages to feel like the show, without feeling like “television.” However, even watching the show without commercials, it was weird that the film didn’t fade to black every 8-12 minutes.
From this perspective, the X-Files has as much in common with the Harry Potter film franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it does with its television roots, telling a story that builds off of both the story and the visual sense of what has come before. For fans of the show, it is both satisfying and entertaining. As a film by itself, it isn’t anything particularly special, other than being a successful adaptation of an existing TV show, which is an accomplishment I don’t want to understate.
The themes explored in the X-Files are just as relevant as when the show was airing, if not more so. So the choice to do the revival as a miniseries feels like a better choice than attempting a series of films, which hopefully balances the show’s interest in one-off cases as well as the mythos (don’t spoil me, please!).
The truth is still out there.