“We have always said that we were making a little movie each week, and that was really the spirit in which the show was done on an episodic basis. And so I think the natural sort-of extension of that idea popped up, ‘Well why don’t we do a movie?’ It was tossed around but we realized after five years it would be a great time to do a big event, something that would celebrate and would reward the hardcore viewers who were watching the show since the beginning. The trick though was to a movie not just for X-Files fans but appeal to the casual viewer or non-watcher.” – Chris Carter
Welcome to our third entry in our five part look at The X-Files: Fight The Future. We spend this part analyzing the cinematic qualities of the film.
Max: The above quote is quite apt. For years, The X-Files‘ cast and crew commented on the shows cinematic qualities, which they believed differentiated the program from other fare on television at the time. Programs like Twin Peaks and Miami Vice were long off the air, and we were still in the era before the ascendance of HBO and the “prestige drama” made a cinematic experience de rigueur on the small screen. This past season, we noted that The X-Files shifted to a widescreen format, which allowed the show to take on even more qualities of its big screen brethren. In Fight the Future, veteran show director Rob Bowman lensed the film on an even wider canvas, opting for a 2.35:1 aspect ratio that put the spectacle of the alien virus on par with Lawrence of Arabia and the films of Stanley Kubrick.
After the paleolithic prologue, the film makes its ambitions abundantly clear with the massive explosion of the building in Dallas meant to cover up evidence from the cave the little boy fell into. There have been displays of pyrotechnic prowess on the show (“Terma” and “Kill Switch” come to mind), but never on this scale, which required a unique combination of practical live action effects and cutting edge CGI wizardry. In a way, films like this were some of the last to truly take advantage of the old school practical effects like scale models, which were used to film the initial bomb blasts coming out of the structure. In about a year, films like The Matrix and the first of the Star Wars prequels would push pervasive CGI into the effects mainstream, making some of the work done on this film seem quaint by comparison.
Another fantastic sequence is Mulder and Scully being chased from the Texas cornfield by black helicopters after stumbling upon a facility that housed colonies of the mythology’s infamous bees. The location shooting for this scene was a great undertaking, which involved setting up the domed bee facilities as well as the expansive cornfield our heroes would be chased through. For the most part, David and Gillian were “attacked” by actual bees, hundreds of them. Yes, CGI was used to increase their numbers, but on set the threat of bee stings was very real, with Gillian concerned during one take when David grabbed her wrist too hard, afraid the bees would take that as a sign of aggression and defend themselves. All of this was prelude though to the helicopter chase, which is basically the classic scene from North By Northwest on steroids. It’s probably the closest The X-Files ever came to a high adrenaline action sequence typical of your summer blockbusters.
Aside from these big set-pieces, what I think the film allowed the series to do was really open up the canvas on which the kind of stories being cranked out could be told on. There are plenty of outstanding moments where you get this scope and freedom that the budgetary and time restrictions of a weekly television series didn’t allow: Mulder and Scully bantering on the Dallas rooftop, shooting scenes in a desert, etc. During smaller moments, in an instance of circularity, the film showed off noir elements (present throughout the series) that it aped from films shown on the exact same screens.
If the climactic scenes of “End Game,” with Mulder pursuing the Alien Bounty Hunter in the Arctic announced the series cinematic ambitions, then it is apropos that these ambitions would be fulfilled in the very Antarctic final act of Fight the Future.
Radhika: Nothing says, “Go big or go home” like having your movie’s big climactic scene feature a spaceship in Antarctica. This part of Fight the Future is a far cry from the dancing lights in early episodes like “Deep Throat,” but it is also consistent with the imagery of UFOs in episodes like “Paper Clip” — just on a grander scale. For the spaceship to actually mean something in Fight the Future, it couldn’t be in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it type of moment. After all, this is a vessel that Mulder and Scully actually spend some time in before returning to Antarctica’s surface and realizing a spacecraft is flying out from underneath them. The reveal had to be different from what we’d see on our TV screens most Sunday nights.
The filmmakers did have to rely on CGI, using a green screen, a combination of perfectly chosen shots and models to create the final product. According to the DVD commentary, the close-up shots of the actors were done months after the principal photography — a ton of work for mere minutes seen on film. But that’s exactly the kind of attention to detail needed for a sequence like this, and another sign that The X-Files was willing to play in the big leagues. The final reveal is epic — the quivering ground, the emergence of the spaceship from snow and Mulder and Scully trying to run away provides us with a memorable action sequence, which actually manages to hold up somewhat and remain convincing even today.
In fact, this movie is all about buildup. Aside from the big budget, obvious action sequences, you can tell that the filmmakers had fun shooting and pacing certain sequences in a different manner. While the series always employed suspense, Fight the Future takes things to a new level. We’re treated to practically two teasers, the prehistoric sequence and the modern-day Texas sequence with the boy, before we see our leads about 12 minutes into the film. Mulder and Scully’s big rooftop reveal is framed in a way that makes the viewer realize, “These guys are movie stars now.” (The sleeker wardrobes and better hairstyles also help create this feeling.) The film’s opening sequence is pitch black before we are shown some figures walking against the stark contrast of white snow. Even an obvious callback to the series’ roots — the flashlight in Antarctica — feels epic, thanks to the way it fills the frame.
But this movie doesn’t feel grandiose just because of visuals — the music plays a part, too. For years, Mark Snow’s oboe-laden scores penetrated The X-Files — and we all came to know and love certain motifs. But Snow changes things up in Fight the Future, starting with the opening sequence’s “Threnody in X,” which contains just a hint of The X-Files theme before moving on to more grandiose sounds. This music is not as synthesizer heavy and like many other film scores, it relies more on orchestral elements.
Ultimately, I do believe that Snow’s scores for the TV show are more memorable, but his transition to movie composer for Fight the Future is still commendable. There are moments, such as when the Cigarette Smoking Man finally makes his entrance, where the score almost (not quite, but almost) makes you feel as though you’re in the middle of a sequence out of Indiana Jones. The music swells at appropriate moments, encouraging you to enjoy the movie in front of you, instead of just hiding in the back, creeping along like a monster of the week. It was clear that everyone involved with the film wanted it to feel special — and whether you are one of the detractors or supporters of the storyline in Fight the Future, it is hard to deny that The X-Files graduated to a new cinematic level with this film’s release.