Judge Dan Mancini wishes his first name was Fox.
Our review of The X-Files: I Want To Believe Ultimate X-Phile Edition, published December 2nd, 2008, is also available.
To find the truth, you must believe.
Six years after the end of the television series, the X-Files returned with a new feature film. Few cared. A majority of those who did care hated it. The movie bombed at the box office. Now, 20th Century Fox serves up The X-Files: I Want to Believe on Blu-ray, giving those who missed it (or avoided it) in theaters a chance to check it out, and the haters an opportunity to give it a second chance. Let's investigate.
Facts of the Case
An FBI agent has gone missing and Agents Whitney (Amanda Peet, Identity) and Drummy (Xzibit, Gridiron Gang) are on the case. Their only credible leads come from Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown), a disgraced Catholic priest who claims to have visions about the missing agent. Not knowing what to make of the startling accuracy of the information supplied by Father Joe, Whitney turns to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny, Californication) a former agent with a long history of handling bizarre cases. Still wanted by the FBI for a murder he didn't commit, Mulder is offered total immunity if he comes out of hiding and assists in the investigation. He has one condition: His former partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson, The Last King of Scotland) must be allowed to help him.
Scully has taken a job at a Catholic hospital, where she butts heads with an administrator over using painful stem cell therapy as a long-shot cure for a young patient with a terminal brain disease. For a variety of reasons, Scully distrusts Father Joe's claims of visions from God, not least of which is that she's repulsed by his having been defrocked for molesting dozens of young boys. She's shaken, though, when Father Joe, without knowledge of the challenges she faces at the hospital, tells her, "Don't give up."
As mass grave of severed limbs found in West Virginia leads Mulder and Scully to Janke Dacyshyn (Callum Keith Rennie, Battlestar Galactica), a man who transports organs used for transplant. As they go on the hunt for Dacyshyn, their lives are threatened, as is Scully's faith in God and Mulder's personal conviction not to let his hunger for the truth about the paranormal devour his humanity.
A confession: I quit watching The X-Files somewhere in the middle of its sixth season. When The X-Files: Fight the Future—the first feature film based on the series—failed to put the mythology plotline to bed once and for all, the show rapidly plummeted into absurdity. The X-Files began as a Night Stalker-style monster-of-the-week show fueled by the amiably adversarial relationship between its two leads. Agent Mulder was desperate to believe in the potentially paranormal aspects of the cases he investigated; Agent Scully's scientific skepticism kept him honest. By Season Six, the plotlines were so littered with aliens, monsters, mutants, and government conspiracies that Scully's reasonable doubt was no longer reasonable. And the show's charm disappeared into the vapor, replaced by a labyrinthine continuity that appealed to hardcore fans and alienated everyone else (myself included).
With The X-Files: I Want to Believe, writer-director Chris Carter and his co-writer and producer Frank Spotnitz do their best to take Mulder and Scully back to their roots. The movie quickly and tidily dispenses with the last couple seasons of the show (without pretending they never happened) and places the old X-Files team in the middle of an investigation that may or may not involve the supernatural. Critics and fans almost universally despised the results. Count me among the dissenters—for the most part, anyway. In many ways, I Want to Believe is a pleasant trip back in time to the best years of the show, before it became a bloated pop culture phenomenon that had little hope of resolving its tangled mythology to the satisfaction of its many fans. Most of all, I just enjoyed seeing Duchovny and Anderson share the screen together, delivering exactly the sort of potent chemistry that made The X-Files so much more than a cheesy science fiction/horror show (the movie is blessedly free of the Lone Gunmen, the Smoking Man, and other distractions—though, thankfully, Walter Skinner makes a brief appearance). Mulder and Scully's complex relationship is the heart of I Want to Believe. The plot is almost secondary, a catalyst for creating conflict and cohesion between the two leads. That's a bold approach for a genre piece, and one that doesn't entirely work. But I appreciate what Carter and Spotnitz were attempting.
The movie's murder mystery plot and the subplot involving Scully's young patient fit together thematically in that they place Mulder and Scully on parallel tracks of obsessive truth-hunting. Scully's hospital sequences also give Anderson ample opportunity to flex her acting muscles with an emotionally rich performance—an opportunity she doesn't squander. But the Scully subplot wars against the flick's genre trappings, throttling the pacing and clouding what would otherwise be the missing persons investigation's strong narrative through-line. I Want to Believe is an intimate, character-driven movie that is thematically vast and bites off a bit more than it can chew. Because Carter and Spotnitz place so much emphasis on the hearts and souls of their two leads, the crime story feels undercooked.
Much of The X-Files: I Want to Believe takes place at nighttime and in other dark settings. The Blu-ray's 1080p AVC transfer delivers inky blacks and well-defined shadow areas, deftly avoiding black crush. Detail is excellent in brighter sequences. Digital artifacts of any kind pose no problem. Digital noise reduction is kept to a minimum. Simply put, the movie looks beautiful in high-definition.
I Want to Believe is a dialogue-heavy film that mostly avoids thundering LFE and other audio pyrotechnics. The lossless DTS HD audio track handles the many conversations with style. It also offers a fine-tuned ambient space that delivers fine audio detail. Everything including gunshots, automobile engines, barking dogs, footsteps crunching in snow, and Mark Snow's atmospheric score comes across with a maximum of clarity. The movie's audio design won't test the limits of your home theater system, but it's a fine example of a subtle and supple audio presentation.
All of the supplements (except for the anti-smoking PSA) from the two-disc DVD release of the movie are carried over to the Blu-ray:
Carter and Spotnitz provide an excellent audio commentary that delves into the production of the movie as well as pointing out a plethora of references to the television series. The most charming thing about the track is the duo's frequent nods to various crew members who worked on the movie after having been involved Carter's The X-Files, Millennium, and Harsh Realms television series. It's clear that for Carter and Spotnitz, I Want to Believe was something of a family reunion.
Trust No One: Can the X-Files Remain a Secret? (1:26:01 ) is a three-part making-of documentary that looks at the production from top to bottom. It draws its title from Carter and Spotnitz's desire to keep the plot of the film secret in the age of the internet.
Body Parts: Special Make-Up Effects (8:12) examines the sophisticated cadavers and dismembered limbs created by the effects team for the movie. There's some insane stuff on display.
There's also a collection of three deleted scenes; a gag reel that runs nearly 10 minutes; a music video for "Dying 2 Live" by Xzibit, which was going to be used during the end credits sequence but was cut at the last minute; a collection of four still galleries covering collectibles, concept art, storyboards, and unit photography; and domestic and international trailers for the film.
Chris Carter's Statements on Green Production is a brief video featurette (6:06) in which Carter discusses the production's use of hybrid cars for transportation, its recycling strategy, and its use of bio-diesel generators in an effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
A second disc contains a digital copy of the film that can be downloaded to your PC or Mac.
There are also a number of supplements exclusive to this Blu-ray release:
The disc contains both the theatrical version and an extended cut of the film. The extended cut runs four minutes longer and contains a few brief new scenes. One, in which Scully struggles under the weight of her responsibility to her young patient, is a particularly strong addition to the movie.
Carter and Spotnitz's commentary is presented in a picture-in-picture mode as well as the standard audio version. It's not exactly the most dynamic use of picture-in-picture that I've ever seen, but it's kind of cool to be able to see the duo as they talk enthusiastically about the film.
There's also a set of in-movie features. Using the red, green, blue, and yellow buttons on your remote, you can access the picture-in-picture commentary by Carter and Spotnitz, making-of footage taken from the Trust No One documentary, and storyboards from the still gallery while you watch the movie.
The X-Files Complete Timeline offers a layered menu that allows you to drill down into the history of the show by year or season. It is essentially a guide to every episode of the show, plus both feature films.
Agent Dakota Whitney's Files is a text-based extra with a menu system designed to look like a file folder. Five different tabs take you to lengthy documents that provide background on three alleged psychics or clairvoyants investigated by Mulder and Scully during the television series as well as for Father Joe and Janke Dacyshyn from Whitney's case.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe is also the first Fox title with BD-Live content. So far, the only content has been hints of a game that involves solving a mystery with Agent Drummy, but Fox has promised a host of featurettes, games, and other online content.
Finally, the disc is D-Box enabled.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe isn't a perfect movie, but it doesn't deserve the scorn it has received. As an X-Files story, it's far superior to the mythology-focused first feature, Fight the Future, which has diminished with time and the demise of the television series.
If you hated I Want to Believe when you saw it at your local cineplex, you might want to give it a second chance—between the thematic richness and the many small references to the television series, it's a lot to digest in one sitting. If you haven't seen the movie yet, the superior picture and sound as well as the plethora of supplements makes this Blu-ray your best option for checking it out.
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