Didja catch the new X-Files movie this summer? Probably not -- hardly anyone did. It pretty much crashed and burned to the tune of only $21 million in box office in North America ... and it cost $30 million to produce. It actually did much better outside North America, where it earned $47 million, so no one at Fox is weeping too hard, I think. But still: It's hard to imagine that everyone involved in making the film didn't expect it to do much better.
Where were all the diehard fans of the show? Good question. Because The X-Files: I Want to Believe is very, you know, X-Files-y. It's a small, haunting, spooky monster story in which the monsters are of the human variety: There are no alien bounty hunters here, no gray alien babies in jars, nothing like that. In fact, the science fictional aspects of the story are more literary than cinematic, more spiritual than extraterrestrial. Six years after we last met Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), she's having a crisis of faith at the intersection of her religion and her calling as a doctor, at a time when medical science itself is starting to look like science fiction, what with stem-cell research such a hot topic. Meanwhile, he's having a personal meltdown of the kind that comes when your paranoia is proven to be just that, and there's nothing else to replace it. And their relationship, which has moved on over the last six years to an interesting new place, is also under siege by what's happening.
I'm deliberately not telling you much about what happens here, because honestly, you don't want to have it spoiled for you -- the less you know in advance, the better. That said, there's a bizarre emphasis on secrecy in the bonus materials featured in the three-disc version of the new 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD release. (It's also available on Blu-ray.)
Disc two is entirely given over to a three-part making-of documentary called "Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain a Secret?" about the lengths that the cast and crew went to in order to keep the secrets of the film under wraps while the movie was in production. There are some non-secrecy-related tidbits here that are fascinating -- like how writer-director Chris Carter took inspiration for the look and feel of the film from Steven Spielberg's Munich -- but mostly, it's all about how, as Duchovny explains, "Chris very rightly didn't want to see his big movie idea on Law and Order a week before the movie came out." When the show started out in the early '90s, it was perhaps the first to take fan feedback via the Internet -- but now online fandom is all about being the first to score a scoop on a hot project. So, as writer-producer Frank Spotnitz explains, the production launched a huge misinformation campaign with the 'net in mind, releasing staged photos of, say, Mulder in an FBI windbreaker or a stuntman in a werewolf costume, that did not accurately represent the film at all. Some of the misdirection worked -- some didn't.
What none of it did, clearly, was put butts in seats over the summer. Granted, a small, spooky, literary science fiction movie is hardly the stuff of summer blockbusters, and maybe The X-Files should never have moved to the big screen at all. I would have liked to hear someone say that -- or say why I'm wrong to think that -- on the making-of material here. The secrecy fetish seems way overblown in retrospect, and seems to have been totally unwarranted. But no one goes near exploring ideas like that here.
So unless you're a super-duper X-Files completist -- or you really, really want the "digital copy" that takes up disc three of the three-disc set -- you're best off sticking to the single-disc edition of the DVD, which includes both the theatrical and unrated director's cuts of the film (the latter of which is only a few minutes longer and hardly distinguishable from the version that went to multiplexes), as well as a wonderful commentary track by Carter and Spotnitz, crammed with geeky detail about everything from story development and how they dealt with fan expectations to notes about props and costumes and hair and FX. It's nonstop production-nerd awesomeness.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
film reviews and TV blogging at FlickFilosopher.com