“Oh my God. Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Toto!” — Fox Mulder
Welcome to the fourth part of our five-part look at The X-Files: Fight the Future. Today, we salute the film’s smaller players.
Radhika: If you’re going to have an X-Files movie, you better put the spotlight on Mulder and Scully. It’s something that was realized even after the series ended and a second movie was filmed, long after David Duchovny had moved on from playing a series regular. (I am sorry for referring to dark times, but it is true.) And so, Fight the Future rightly places a heavier emphasis on Mulder and Scully, giving both new and old audiences a chance to enjoy their charms. But that doesn’t mean the supporting players don’t have their time to shine.
From an uncredited Glenne Headley (think Mr. Holland’s Opus, amongst other TV and film roles) to appearances by Blythe Danner and Terry O’Quinn, and larger roles filled by Martin Landau, Fight the Future contained a little more star power than the average X-Files episode, which often featured actors before they got really big a few roles later. (It might be exciting now to realize that both Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black were in an episode together, but back then, no one really knew or cared about who they were.) Later seasons would go on to consciously feature some of Hollywood’s bigger players, but the shift is most obvious in this film. Thankfully, the roles these actors play here aren’t terribly distracting (and as great an actor Martin Landau was — that’s what he was, an actor, so he was capable of turning into the character he was playing instead of just being a “star”).
But we got to see some old familiar faces as well — actors that X-Philes considered “stars,” while others probably had no clue who they were. We’ve already talked at length about some of the film’s heavier players in our post about the film’s mythology, so I won’t go into that too much except to emphasize that out of all the Syndicate members seen on the TV series, it’s the Well Manicured Man who has the most crucial role before he’s extinguished. And interestingly, the Cigarette Smoking Man — the ultimate dark shadowy figure — is given a slightly smaller role, even though he appears throughout the film.
However, these aren’t the only old familiar faces we get to see: There’s a brief appearance by The Lone Gunmen after Mulder has been shot (resulting in The Wizard of Oz quip quoted above). Their appearance is artfully used — a fun callback to the series and a shoutout to the diehard fans, which also happens to be a perfect tiny dose of comic relief even for the casual moviegoer. Skinner also has his part in the film, which happens to be larger than that of The Lone Gunmen, which is probably a good thing, considering he’s one of Mulder and Scully’s superiors.
None of these characters require huge lengthy introductions and the filmmakers find a way to include them without making their appearances cumbersome, which is a huge plus. Because let’s face it: While it would have been fun to include Krycek, or perhaps even Marita Covarrubias, appearances of that sort might have made things even more over the top than a spaceship bursting out of Antarctica or a bee destroying a long-awaited kiss.
Max: Shading in the world that Fight the Future inhabited was a bit of a tricky proposition, given Chris Carter’s desire to not only please longtime fans of the show but to pique the interest of moviegoers who had never even heard of the names of Mulder and Scully (even though by 1998 the show’s mainstream exposure made that possibility less likely). Thus, the film needed to exist in this weird nether-region that we spoke of when commenting on how the film exists within the mythology, and the way it handled our supporting cast went a long way in grounding this experience for both groups. So here we get the one-and-done characters of Landau’s Syndicate informant and Danner’s OPR chairperson, credible figures in their own right whose ties into the larger story could be followed for those new to The X-Files to pursue.
Like Radhika said, it would’ve been fun for us to see Krycek’s traitorous mug (for example) on the big screen, but ultimately the inclusion of too many supporting characters would be unnecessary. The film already had enough on its plate, and populating the silver screen like that would feel forced. In our current age of hyper-literate pop culture junkies, a lot of ink has been spilled about the concept of “fanservice,” of giving the devoted acolytes tidbits and references that reward their fandom (particularly when it comes to the glut of superhero extravaganzas). Fight the Future then was perhaps one of the earliest motion pictures to have to deal with this, so we were given the always reliable Lone Gunmen for a bit of levity in a dire situation.
The film also gave us the imposing Syndicate leader Conrad Strughold in the very capable guise of renowned actor Armin Mueller-Stahl, who came from the exciting world of the New German Cinema that produced such luminaries as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders. It is this international cast, coupled with the globe trotting antics of Mulder and Scully that truly gave Fight the Future the unique scope that makes it such a pleasure to watch. Radhika also mentioned how the actors chosen were selected for their ability to blend and disappear into their role (which is why there was a dearth of stunt casting on the show, save for Jodie Foster’s voice performance in season four). Martin Landau is a personal favorite of mine, so it was great to see him take on the role of Dr. Kurtzweil, as he took the gruff manic energy of his Bela Lugosi portrayal in Ed Wood into darker, desperate territory. Not that Carter denied him the chance to sink his teeth into some great one-liners.
And by this point in the program’s history, The X-Files wouldn’t be anything without our Assistant Director, as Skinner backs up his agents despite their nebulous existence within the Bureau hierarchy since the closure of the X-Files. I’ve always thought that Mitch Pileggi would fit well in classic film noirs of the 40s or the films of New Hollywood in the late 60s/early 70s, so it is exciting to see him on the big screen, even if it is in the context of a television adaptation. Give this man some film work people!
In the end, the cast assembled around David and Gillian made Fight the Future into a massively rewarding experience, and a just plain fun time at the movies. You really can’t ask for anything more.