-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
The X-Files Essentials|
cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, and William B. Davies
Creator: Chris Carter
346 minutes (15) 1993 - 2002
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Andrew Darlington
Sad geek that I am, I've watched more TV sci-fi than the medically recommended dose. I've
seen them all - all the way from Quatermass in the 1950s. And, although I retain
haunting affections for Babylon 5, some bits of Star Trek: The Next Generation,
and even Russell T. Davies-era
I guess - own up time, the best of The X-Files was just about as good as TV sci-fi ever
got: intelligent, thought-provoking, teetering on the threshold of docu-believability with high
movie-level production values, and wonderfully unsettling. Certainly, after Captain Kirk
carrying the unquestioned benefits of liberal democracy and free enterprise to the farthest
reaches of the galaxy, The X-Files was the product of a less confident, more cynically
inward-looking mind-set to match an uncertain pre-millennial angst.
Rationalism is called into question, nothing is absolute, authority is suspect, global
conspiracies abound, beneath the porous veneer of normality there's nothing but chaos,
and proof - according to Frank Spotnitz, "is always elusive." Twentieth-century Fox
Mulder and Scully form the immaculate equation. Duchovny, despite his Red Shoe Diaries
history and Californication follow-through is the perfect post-modern protagonist,
flawed and doubting, attractive to female sensitivity yet metro-sexually unthreatening in
a way that males can also relate to. (And with a furtive taste for 'adult videos' too.) While
Gillian Anderson is coolly post-feminist, intelligently in control, yet subtly sexy. Their
chemistry deliberately ghosts that of Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers, a flirty-wary
hands-off attraction. At least to begin with...
Like The Invaders before it, there is the continuity of a never-quite-resolved alien
threat. But unlike Roy Thinnes' weekly escapades - deliberately referenced by his guest appearance
in the first spin-off movie, The X-Files carries other thematic strands. There were
one-offs which legitimise forays into related genres of horror, crime procedural drama, comedy
or satire - covering a variety of paranormal encounters with genetic mutants, shape-shifters,
psychic phenomenon and not-quite-human life-forms, as well as alien abductions, all serving to
broaden its scope in ways that subsequent projects - NBC's Dark Skies, or Steven Spielberg's
mini-series Taken, never quite got the hang of.
"Knock knock! - Who is it?" asks Scully. "Steven Spielberg," quips Mulder.
While the supporting characters, from Deep Throat, the Smoking Man, Assistant Director Walter
Skinner, to the Lone Gunmen ("I had breakfast with the man who shot John F. Kennedy")
all carry their own authenticity, reinforcing the series' internal reality. Of course, it went
on too long. Nine seasons was too much. The plot-strands got so tangled and complex you no longer
cared about 'Spooky' Mulder's sister or Scully's pregnancy. And though there are still standout
episodes from the later series, with Robert Patrick (as John Doggett) that reward repeat viewing,
it's telling that this double-DVD of eight episodes personally selected by Chris Carter himself
samples only from the first six.
The 'pilot' sets up the premise as Mulder explains, "this thing exists. The government
knows about it. And I got to know what they're protecting. Nothing else matters to me," and
Scully reports back to the FBI that, "Agent Mulder believes we are not alone." Beyond
The Sea is a Silence Of The Lambs variant with death-row inmate Luther Boggs as the
psychic Hannibal Lector who, for the first time, shakes Scully out of her scepticism default
setting. With the X-Files programme suspended, The Host introduces the creepy parasitic
'flukeman' character lurking in the sewers. Then, in Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, an
insurance salesman with the gift of foretelling death assists the hunt for a killer called 'The
Puppet', incidentally revealing that Buddy Holly faked his death and is still alive.
Pushing the format still further, the black-and-white The Post-Modern Prometheus attempts
a Mary Shelley/ James Whale Frankenstein tribute featuring a Cher soundtrack, a Jerry
Springer cameo, and the 'Great Mutato'. It's matched to the comedic Bad Blood with its
double-narrative contrasting Mulder's version of vampiric events with Scully's. He contrives
modesty, and sees the buck-toothed Texas cop as a geek. In Scully's version the cop is a hunk.
There are knowing nudges to Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker, but when Mulder finds the vampire in
a coffin listening to a Sony Walkman, he sits on the coffin to read him his rights.
Milagro is another differently effective one-off, further blurring the overlap of
fiction and reality, with obsessive Philip Padgett writing a novel featuring Scully and
Padgett that begins to become eerily real. Finally, Memento Mori provides the DVD's
mythos story-arc content, as Scully is diagnosed with brain-cancer, and Mulder links it
to syndicate bio-engineering, the result of her being one of many similarly afflicted alien
abductees. Her voiced-over journal entries add pathos, giving sensitive glimpses into her
previously unsuspected inner fragility. Carter and producer Frank Spotnitz provide special
on-camera introductions, revealing why each of the tales were chosen, although all such
'greatest hits' selections are highly subjective, and there are other episodes as good,
Alternately titled The X-Files Revelations for its US version, this set is obviously
timed to coincide with the movie sequel, for which - as an added bonus, this DVD-package
features a theatrical teaser trailer. Sharp-eyed viewers will also spot the movie-title on
a wall-poster in Mulder's room during the duo's first meeting in the pilot episode. They're
obviously anticipating a reciprocal revenue-loop in which The X-Files: I Want To Believe
movie stimulates DVD catch-up sales, while DVD promo exposure ramps up box-office takings.
Sad geek that I am, I can only do my bit to contribute to that two-way process.
Bonus features: 2008 theatrical trailer, plus the February 2008 WonderCon talent panel
session with Carter and Spotnitz, as well as series stars Duchovny and Anderson, making
their first fan convention appearance together in several years and taking questions from
fans, in an interview spanning over 38 minutes.