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X-Files 2: Who Wants To Believe?

It's been awhile since I did a movie nitpick, and of the two films I saw most recently: X-Files: I Want To Believe and HellBoy 2, it's X-Files that gets the nod.

Not so much for the film itself, but for the very mixed reaction I've seen to it.

IMDB has fans who liked it, fans who hated it, and fans who were disappointed but grudgingly appreciative as only truly devoted fans can be.

It also had non-fans who liked it, who hated it, and some who thought it was OK. Some non-fans thought it entirely accessible. Some fans thought you had to have seen all nine (or at least the first six, maybe seven) seasons of the series to truly appreciate it.

So this nitpick isn't really going to be a review of the film; at some point, fandom takes over and makes a review something of value only to other fans, who all have their own reviews in their heads anyway. Instead, I thought I'd take a look at some of the more common of the criticisms of the film and nitpick those.

Before I get going, let's say this: I am not saying people aren't entitled to their own opinions, or saying that their opinions are wrong. This is simply my opinion of their opinion, and I'm as much entitled to it as they are. Further, while I might grudgingly admit that opinions, unlike facts, can't be wrong, they can be unsupportable, unjusified, unrelated to the source material, unobservant, and otherwise bad.

So without further ado:

The movie wasn't an X-File. This is backed up by the idea that the X-Files was about unexplained phenomena and buried casefiles. It is true that the nature of the crime in the second X-Files movie is not supernatural, is not paranormal, and is not extraterrestrial. However there are plenty of episodes of the series, including some quite good ones, where the crime itself is not supernatural at all, but there is some bizarre element to it, or some supernatural connection to it. The film fits under this heading. This is especially true of episodes that involve extrasensory perception, as this film does.

I'll endeavor not to spoil the film, but I think the statute of limitations on spoiling the X-Files series itself must have long since expired, so here goes:

In the episode titled "Unruhe" a construction worker abducts women and gives them orbital lobotomies to attempt to exorcise the demons in their head (which are really demons in his own head-- he's nuts). Nothing particularly paranormal about crazy guy with an icepick. The supernatural element was that his presence near Polaroid film caused the film to expose with visions from his head; these visions led Mulder and Scully to the killer. So we have paranormal detection of a normal crime.

"Mind's Eye" features crimes committed by a recent prison escapee, witnessed by a blind woman, who turns out to be the criminal's father. His crimes are entirely ordinary. Again, it is the method of detection that is paranormal.

The second X-Files film perfectly fits this theme.

The movie didn't even have Aliens! What can I say? Chris Carter gave interviews well in advance that mentioned it was not about aliens, and given how the series really botched the invasion mythology in the later seasons, and very little of value was added in the first X-Files film, this was a welcome break from that. And this is coming from someone who clearly prefers the mythology episodes of the series to the "monster of the week" episodes; although it is worth noting that while I think the mythology plotline, as it covers many episodes in nearly every season of the series, as a whole is stronger and more interesting, many, if not most, of the best individual episodes are not mythology episodes, but rather the monster episodes.

This movie is sooooo 2001. This criticism I also saw more than once and in several forms, mostly suggesting that the idea of a thriller that doesn't feature aliens, car chases, or gratuitous explosions is somehow old-fashioned. To that I can only say... thanks very much. In fact, Carter gets kudos from me for having two scenes that involve car accidents without anything whatsoever exploding. One can almost imagine some studio exec somewhere asking if one or both cars could be made to explode just to have one explosion to put in the trailer; bravo for not giving in to that temptation.

It was a soap opera. Let me just disabuse people right here: the show was a soap opera, too. Whether you liked or hated that element, or were able just to ignore it, it was there, and a significant portion of the audience wouldn't have soldiered through all nine seasons if there hadn't been an attempt to make it a show about two people with a professional relationship that becomes a personal relationship. For all those who yelled at the screen when intimate moments between Scully and Mulder were interrupted by gunshots or bees, this film is definitely for you.

If this aspect of the series and the film was a problem for you, then I've got another revelation that I think will hit you below the belt. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a soap opera, too. Deal with it.

The film was too scary and gory. This criticism also came from those claiming to be longtime fans. I have to wonder what show they were watching. The series featured many dark and revolting themes, frequent autopsies with varying degrees of visual portrayal, many men and creatures of many kinds with strange proclivities including brain-eating, blood-drinking and cannibalism. Aside from which, most of the actual violence is kept off-screen, and the resulting injuries are shown only briefly. For those who have problems with scalpels or needles, you're going to find yourself looking away from the screen a few times. However this film isn't for young children; it wasn't marketed at them, it has absolutely nothing to offer them.

The film wasn't gory enough! Oddly enough the film gets this one, too. Most of it comes from the same crowd that was upset about their being no aliens. Are there no X-Files fans like me who were disappointed that the alien unfrozen in the spacecraft scene in the first film turned out to be a snarling, nonverbal killing machine? No, I thought not.

Frank Spotnitz ruined the film! This one has to be about the craziest one there, which is really odd. Spotnitz shares writing credit on the film with director Chris Carter, as well as credits either as a writer, a story editor, and/or a co-producer on about 154 episodes of the X-Files between 1995 and 2002. Keeping in mind that the show ran for 9 years and 24 episodes a season is usual, that means he was involved in 154 out of sightly more than 200 episodes; about 75% or so. X-Files is nearly as much Spotnitz as it is Carter.

This criticism becomes impossible to justify when you look at the list of episodes penned by Spotnitz, including monster as well as mythology episodes: Nisei and 731, Piper Maru and Apocrypha, Our Town, Tunguska and Terma, Memento Mori, Tempus Fugit and Max. Sure, there are plenty of great episodes that he only edited or co-produced, like Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, or Oubliette, War of the Coprophages, Pusher, and Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'. But the ones he wrote himself are no slackers. If one doesn't like the film, fine; if one doesn't like the film's story or you think it's poorly written, that's also fine, but it seems very spurious to me to suggest that Spotnitz has had an ongoing deleterious effect on the property and should have been kept away from the film.

As a final few notes, I had relatively low expectations of the film and found them exceeded. I liked the look of the film very much; the use of snow-covered environments and the harsh white lighting contrasting with dark spaces I thought was compelling; the material's return to its Canadian homeland I think has treated it well.

I found Mark Snow's score excellent, and it makes me wonder why he hasn't gotten more film work.

For my part, I enjoyed the film. Should this be the last installment in the X-Files universe it is certainly more fitting than the previous entry, Fight the Future, despite that entry's larger budget and focus on the mythology material.