Wanna know the real truth? Judge Bill Gibron has discovered that The X Files is still a fabulous show, even in this truncated Mythology Collection format.
Our review of The X-Files: The Complete Ninth Season, published October 6th, 2004, is also available.
The Truth is Out There
For years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been working the bureau's long-forgotten "X-Files"…cases of confusing origin without any legal (or scientifically acceptable) conclusions. As they investigate monsters and madmen, supernatural phenomenon and paranormal people, they are driven by uniquely individual desires. Scully is a skeptic, hoping to disprove many of the myths these cases introduce with her background in medicine and science (she's a doctor). Mulder, on the other hand, is an open vessel. He wants to believe in something beyond accepted reality and he knows that the truth he is looking for is "out there," among the many mystifying files. Over the course of their search, they've made some interesting forays into a looming governmental conspiracy that seems to have its roots in Mulder's past. One of the reasons he is so dedicated to the X-Files is because he is trying to get to the bottom of his sister's supposed abduction by aliens decades before. Now the agents are on the verge of uncovering the proof of a pending extraterrestrial invasion. Naturally, there are forces far more powerful trying to protect the "project." It is up to Mulder and Scully to determine the genuineness of this pending calamity and uncover the corruption before it's too late. This time, failure could be apocalyptic.
As part of their ongoing milking of The X-Files's legacy, Fox has decided to divvy up the 60 episodes that represent the series' "Mythology," the overwhelming story arc that drove and directed this show, into four individual packages. As a carrot for all those who already own the previously released single-season box sets, Chris Carter and company are presenting commentaries (on select episodes) as well as a new documentary (divided into four parts) that supplements and complements the scattered storyline. Many fans felt less than satisfied by how the show wrapped up its "big picture," but these new collections are meant to be primers and pathways to the various elements inside the show. As a newbie who knew nothing of the series before viewing this set—although he did enjoy the X-Files: Fight the Future film when it was released in 1998—this critic was instantly drawn into the drama and easily understood the fervent fandom for the show. Unlike other hour-long offerings from the usually noxious networks, The X-Files filled an intellectual gap that is still more or less unfilled in the medium.
There are many reasons for the phenomenal success of The X-Files, which have more to do with artistry and professionalism than the occasionally hokey storylines the series delivered. Using his love of genre trappings as a basis for a much more epic ideal, Carter saw his series as a way to work through most of the meaningful initiatives in science fiction and fantasy. Incorporating crime, horror, and urban legend as well, he developed a dense, layered style that made each episode a mystery, each answer another enigma in an ongoing puzzle box of possibilities. As a result, The X-Files is a better written series than most, scripted to take into consideration aspects of the narrative both spoken and undeclared. All throughout the 16 shows offered as part of the Colonization Mythology, we hear the kind of brilliant dialogue and imponderable plausibility that made the show a sensation.
Similarly, the acting is uniformly excellent. Though David Duchovny as Fox Mulder garnered all the limelight—and way too many prima donna plotlines toward the end—the real anchor to the series is Gillian Anderson. She is the audience's doorway into the world of The X-Files, a lady of logic slowly seduced by the messages she uncovers. Duchovny, for all his roguish charms, is really just a conduit, a connection between truth and terror that never really breaks under the stress of the situation. Upon reflection, the cases he considers do get under his skin, but overall, he's a torch trying to decipher the light from the lunatic fringe…and sometimes, he's just as insane as the events he's experiencing. Prowling those fringes—especially during this portion of the Mythology—are several sensational ancillary characters. Mimi Rogers does a delicious job of deceiving Mulder as former fling Diana Fowley and Nicholas Lea is a wonderfully heartless assassin for the Syndicate (the corporate group working with the aliens toward colonization). Sliming around once again is that nasty nicotine icon Cigarette Smoking Man (who we learn is the father of one of Mulder's rivals at the FBI) and, as played by William B. Davis, he's one of the more hissable villains in TV history. Of course, no X-Files storyline would be complete without Mitch Pileggi as bureau chief Walter Skinner.
Finally, the production values for the series were consistently first-rate. Sure, the limits of broadcast budgets keep the effects from sweeping into Spielbergian sensationalism, but when agent Scully stumbles across a spaceship stranded off the Ivory Coast (as part of the "Biogenesis" plotline), the impact is profound. The show simmers with the iconography of the genre, from extraterrestrial entities to blood-and-gore drenched death scenes. Arguably, the weakest element is one of the most important in this part of the saga. The alien colonization has forced an interplanetary rebellion, the dissidents wearing surgically-altered faces to keep themselves from being infected by the genocidal virus meant to destroy the planet. Yet these "blank-faced" beings look rather ridiculous, not necessarily as frightening as the show would have you believe. Even the visitors—read: children in ET suits—cut a more menacing figure. With CGI still in its infancy and financial considerations topping the list of logistical considerations, The X-Files still found a way to turn the tacky into something terrifying…thanks to the people behind the production as well as the effects wizards.
In this box set, we get 16 episodes spread out over four discs. They all come from Seasons Five, Six, Seven, and Eight. For those interested, here is a specific breakdown with brief plot synopsis:
• "Patient X"
• "The Red and the Black"
• "The End"
• "The Beginning"
• "Two Fathers"
• "One Son"
• "Biogenesis": An ancient ruin found in Africa seems to certify a definite link between man and alien. Its presence pushes Mulder over into insanity.
• "The Sixth Extinction"
• "The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati"
• "Sein Und Zeit"
• "En Ami"
Overall, this is a satisfying storyline…a little unclear at times, but compelling and consistent, none the less. One imagines that if you had all four box sets or even a more fundamental understanding of the show, some of the more dismissive aspects of the narrative would become gripping. It's interesting to watch Duchovny go from team player to featured performer here, since the later episodes rely on Anderson and new cast member Robert Patrick to carry much of the load. Technically, we are offered the same tech specs as the original box set—1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Dolby Digital Stereo Surround 2.0 with some minor channel challenging—nothing different than what was offered previously.
What may lure those already in possession of the series is a collection of newly-recorded commentaries and the aforementioned documentary. The featurette is very good, clarifying issues the series left open. The alternate narratives, on the other hand, are scattered and inconsistent. Whenever Chris Carter is present, we get lots of back story. But some participants, like director Kim Manners and writer Frank Spotnitz, are a little too lax in their approach, leaving large gaps of dead air during their discussions. Completists may crow for such new X-Files filler (along with the excellent timeline insert describing all the characters and the Colonization story arc), but it doesn't really appear to be a mandatory part of X-mania.
Indeed, true believers may balk at this double-dip design as repackaging, but for anyone intrigued by what made the show so successful, the Mythology Collection is a good place to start. It definitely plants the seeds for further exploration into the series as well as offering palpable proof of what made the show so great in the first place. This is a clear case in which resistance of any kind is not a viable option.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on "Patient X" by director Kim Manners
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