Fox // 1998 // 122 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // December 20th, 2008
Take your greatest fear and multiply it by X.
"Whatever happened to playing a hunch, Scully? The element of surprise? Random acts of unpredictability? If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized, or easily referenced.
"What are we doing up here, Scully? It's hotter than hell." -- Special Agent Fox Mulder
After a bomb threat, the FBI sweeps a federal building in Dallas. While playing a hunch, Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) discover a bomb in the high-rise across the street. It explodes, killing SAC Darius Michaud (Terry O'Quinn) (who was trying to disarm it), four firemen, and a young boy. The Bureau comes down hard on Mulder and Scully for the deaths. Meanwhile, Mulder meets Alvin Kurtzweil (Martin Landau, Ed Wood), a conspiracy theorist who tells him that the firemen and boy were dead before the explosion, the tragedy was a government cover-up, and plans are set for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to use a phony epidemic to suspend democratic government in preparation for a planned invasion by extraterrestrials. Kurtzweil's information launches Mulder and Scully on an investigation that involves a shadowy group called the Syndicate, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, transgenic crops, bees, and an extraterrestrial virus that looks like black oil.
Once upon a time in the '90s, there was a modest science fiction/horror/mystery television series called The X-Files. By its fifth season, the series had grown into a genuine pop culture phenomenon -- so much so that 20th Century Fox green-lit a big-budget summer blockbuster based on the show. Written by series creator Chris Carter and his writing partner Frank Spotnitz, and directed by series veteran Rob Bowman, The X-Files: Fight the Future (originally titled X-Files) landed in theaters in June of 1998. It did reasonable if unspectacular business, and garnered mostly positive reviews from critics. But it was not the sort of break-out hit capable of initiating a feature film franchise.
When I saw it in the theater a decade ago, I thoroughly enjoyed The X-Files: Fight the Future. But, then again, I was a faithful viewer of the television series at that time. Ten years down the line and with The X-Files growing foggier and foggier in our collective pop culture memory, the first big-screen adventure of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully doesn't hold up well at all. For one thing, the movie's story isn't self-contained. Rather, it's an epic bridge between the show's fifth and sixth seasons, which were mostly focused on Mulder's quest to find the truth about his sister, who he believed was abducted by aliens. Fight the Future plays like the grandest, most expensive episode of The X-Files ever made. That was fine in 1998. In 2008, it's weird and unsatisfying. The film does offer a few major revelations that shed light on events in the series, but it also leaves so many questions unanswered (in order to encourage filmgoers in 1998 to tune into the show's upcoming sixth season) that it's a mostly empty viewing experience. Imagine if the Star Wars franchise consisted solely of The Empire Strikes Back.
Fight the Future has problems beyond its convoluted plot and teasing withholding of narrative closure. A prologue set in north Texas in 35,000 B.C. is mildly creepy and action-packed, but also entirely superfluous. Included because it's the sort of thing that can't be pulled off on a television series budget, it comes off as bad homage to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. First act dialogue designed to introduce Mulder and Scully to filmgoers unfamiliar with the series is mostly overwritten, painfully expository, and just plain clunky (Mulder's demonstration of his panic face is pure X-Files, though). And the film's arctic finale is oddly incongruous. We're delivered to the location via a lame deus ex machina in the form of a chat in the backseat of a limo. The rationale for the location appears to be that it's just the sort of place they could never afford to send Mulder and Scully in the show. Fight the Future is weighed down with too much of this expansiveness (of both plot and location) for the sake of expansiveness. Carter, Bowman, and Spotnitz were so enamored with the big, expensive toys they'd been given that they lost sight of making a taut and thrilling X-Files adventure.
The X-Files: Fight the Future was originally released on DVD way back in 1999. The non-anamorphic transfer was decent in the early years of the format but is pitiful by today's standards. Since interest in all things X-Files disappeared as the TV series flamed out in bad plotting and unsatisfying replacements for Duchovny and Anderson (who'd grown bored with their roles), Fight the Future was never given a home video upgrade -- until now. In conjunction with the release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe on DVD and Blu-ray, we now have this spiffy new Blu-ray edition of Fight the Future (there's no DVD upgrade). The 1080p AVC transfer is impressive. Detail is sharp throughout. Colors are bold and accurate. Black levels are deep and rich without sacrificing detail in shadow areas. There are some minor density fluctuations during scenes set in snowy wastelands (particularly at the beginning of the movie). The flaws appear to have more to do with the source materials than the digital transfer. They're the only indicators of the movie's age. Everything else is nearly pristine.
All of the supplements from the original DVD release (with the exception of the eight-page insert booklet) have been ported over to the Blu-ray. They include a feature-length audio commentary by Rob Bowman and Chris Carter; an electronic press kit-style making-of documentary (26:53) narrated by Mitch Pileggi (who plays Mulder and Scully's boss, Walter Skinner); an alternate version of the scene in which Scully is stung by a bee that escaped the transgenic crop facility; and three theatrical trailers. The making-of documentary is presented in 480p, but the trailers and alternate scene have been upgraded to HD.
The DTS HD master audio track is punchy and vibrant. Dialogue and effects sit comfortably in the mix. The entire soundstage is used effectively, though directional panning is minimal. The track isn't as rich and showy as those for more modern action movies, but it doesn't sound aged either.
Though the original slate of extras was slim, there's a ton of new material exclusive to this Blu-ray release:
The disc contains the theatrical version of the film as well as the extended cut from the original DVD. The extended cut runs a little over a minute longer than the theatrical. It contains some minor scene extensions that increase the gore and provide information that ties the movie's plot more clearly into events from the series.
A brand new commentary by Rob Bowman, writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, and producer Daniel Sackheim is presented in both audio and picture-in-picture format. It's a better, more detailed track than the original commentary.
Blackwood: The Making of X-Files: Fight the Future (19:30) -- a 2008 feature assembled from interviews and behind-the-scenes footage shot in 1998. Carter, Bowman, Duchovny, Anderson, Landau, and others discuss the movie's characters, story, and production.
Visual Effects (8:49) -- visual effects supervisor Mat Beck discusses the mish-mash of CGI, opticals, miniatures, and other high- and low-tech approaches used to create the movie's convincing effects.
Scoring (5:03) -- composer Mark Snow talks about the differences between scoring the television series (with a synthesizer) and the feature film (with a full orchestra).
There's also a gag reel that runs just under three minutes; a collection of still galleries covering concept art, storyboards, and unit photography; and a theatrical trailer for The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
A set of in-movie features allow you to use the red, green, blue, and yellow buttons on your remote control to access the picture-in-picture commentary, making-of footage taken from the featurettes, and storyboards and concept art from the still gallery while you watch the movie.
The disc is also D-Box enabled.
If you're a die-hard fan of The X-Files who owns the entire series run on DVD, then this high definition upgrade of a key turning point in the show's over-arching mythology storyline is a must-own. If you're anyone else, you're likely to find the movie hopelessly convoluted and unsatisfying.
Maybe we should call in a bomb threat to Houston. I think it's free beer night at the Astrodome.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Version
* In-Movie Features
* Picture-in-Picture Commentary
* Alternate Bee Sting Scene
* Blackwood: The Making of X-Files: Fight the Future
* Visual Effects
* The Making of the X-Files Movie
* Gag Reel
* New Audio Commentary
* Original 1998 Commentary
* Still Galleries
* Theatrical Trailers
* The X-Files: I Want to Believe Trailer
* D-Box Motion Control