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by: Scott Renshaw

Two key questions surrounded the big screen incarnation of The X Files, one directed at each of the film's two potential audiences. For devoted fans of the television series - and "devoted" doesn't do justice to the fervor of X-Philes - the question was whether the film would reveal too much of the government/alien conspiracy Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have battled for five years, laying bare the "mythology" at the very heart of the show. For those unfamiliar with the series, the question was whether the uninitiated could follow a labyrinthine plot even die-hard fans don't entirely understand. Chris Carter, the series' creator and the film's writer/producer, faced a delicate situation: he stood to alienate absolutely everyone.

In retrospect, it's hard to believe that the first question was ever a question at all. After all, how many revelations could you expect in a film where even the title was a source of conflicting information - was it The X Files: Fight the Future? The X Files Movie? Just plain The X Files (for the record, the only title that appears on screen)? Yes, the story does launch from this year's season finale, planting Mulder and Scully on a relatively mundane detail after the FBI shut down the paranormal-focused "X-Files." Yes, it does reveal the nature of the mysterious "black cancer" featured in several episodes. Yes, it does expand on the involvement of the Well-Manicured Man (John Neville) and the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in some dark plan involving alien visitors. And yes, it does give Mulder and Scully a bit of quality personal time together. But does it throw open every door and tie up every loose end? Please…you'd be more likely to find the Cigarette-Smoking Man chomping away on Nicorette gum.

The X Files is not, repeat, not the Place Wherein All Things Shall Be Made Known Unto You. Essentially it's a two-hour long episode of the series with amped-up production values, taking our cell-phone wielding protagonists from North Texas to the Mexican border to Antarctica on a quest for the truth that is out there. Yet there's something strange about moving the series' moody claustrophobia onto the big screen. Cinematographer Ward Russell maintains the high quality which has long made the series one of the best-looking shows on television, but the problem is less one of style than it is of scale. Blown up larger than life, the conspirators seem less sinister, the situations less sublimely creepy. The atmosphere may leave some fans to wonder who took their Mulder and Scully and dropped them into a summer action blockbuster.

Which brings us around to question number two: how does The X Files play if you've never seen Mulder and Scully before in your life? Quite simply, it's a sharp suspense thriller which sets up the characters and situations with impressive effectiveness and economy. Director Rob Bowman complements the necessary exposition with well-paced, energetic set pieces, creating a visceral entertainment as satisfying as anything else you'll find in a multiplex. Though "X-Files" novices may shrug at references to the Lone Gunmen or Mulder's notoriously deadpan demeanor, it doesn't take familiarity with the series to get a charge out of a nasty alien attack, or a chuckle out of Mulder using a poster from a certain 1996 blockbuster as an impromptu urinal.

It's important for those viewers to understand that they can have a perfectly enjoyable time with The X Files and still not know exactly what's going on after the film has ended. In fact, The X Files may work best as a cunning lure, drawing potential new viewers into the fold with a final shot that might as well have included a "To Be Continued…" caption. Regular viewers, on the other hand, have seen better stories with these characters.


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