The first portion of this review will be an attempt not to ruin anything significant for those of you who still haven't seen I Want to Believe. A disclaimer will precede the spoiler part of the review, and I will try not to reveal too much about the plot in my review of the DVD itself.
I remember being very excited to see the first "The X-Files" film, Fight the Future, when it came out in 1998. All I had heard about it from friends was that it amounted to a long episode of the TV show. That turned out not to be true, as the quality and the scale of that film blew away anything on TV. The "long episode" criticism is more true of I Want to Believe, the brand new "X-Files" movie that was released theatrically on July 25, 2008. It's coming to 2-disc, special edition DVD on December 2, and this edition contains an extended version of the film, its theatrical release, and a lot of great special features for "X-Files" fans.
The story takes place in present day, six years after the final episode of the show in season 9 in 2002. An FBI agent has gone missing, and SAIC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) is having trouble finding her. She enlists the help of a Catholic priest, Father Joe (Billy Connolly), who claims to be receiving psychic visions about the case. Whitney's partner, Agent Drummy (Xzibit), is a total skeptic about such things, so he is even less enthusiastic when she attempts to track down the legendary Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) as a liaison, an expert in paranormal phenomena. The only way to find Mulder, who is now in hiding, is to go through his one remaining contact in the world, Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who is now a physician. Mulder and Scully both agree to help, somewhat reluctantly, but before they solve the case, another young woman is kidnapped, and clues are slow to show up. The fiasco leads to a schism in Mulder and Scully's relationship and a crisis of faith for Scully, who is facing another challenge with one of her sick patients, young Christian (Marco Niccoli), who has a rare disease.
A lot needs to be said right off the bat about I Want to Believe. First of all, the quality of the film is spectacular, from the script to the acting to the cinematography. Fans of the show, which was solidified as art by the wonderful performances of Duchovny and Anderson as FBI agents Mulder and Scully, will love to see them back in these roles, and there is a small rejuvenation of the believer/skeptic dialectic that made the first few seasons of the show so special. That being said, the scale of this film is what may surprise and disappoint fans; they've waited six years for a movie, and it's scope is smaller than Fight the Future's and hardly bigger than some of the TV episodes.
Chris Carter, the creator of the show, and longtime collaborator Frank Spotnitz were not ambitious with their vision for this film. Yet the result is a profound amount of intimacy with the main characters, which is more appropriate than focusing on big effects and action scenes. In fact, to fans who are disappointed with I Want to Believe, I would argue that your disappointment is misguided. "The X-Files," despite all of the conspiracy theories and weird creatures and alien encounters, was so popular based on a cult of personality. Mulder and Scully made the show. Fans complained constantly about seasons 8 and 9, saying that the show's quality had suffered. This was not true; the writing remained exceptional right up until the end of the show, and the production values were higher than they had ever been. Rather, those seasons were less popular because the realtionship between Mulder and Scully was almost gone (Duchovny was absent for about half of season 8 and almost all of season 9). The new film returns to the best part of the TV show. In fact, the sci-fi and mystery aspects of this film seem to me like nothing more than a framework to get back into Mulder and Scully's lives. Seeing these characters for the first time in six years is a real treat, and both of them get great reveals for their introductions.
Carter directed this film, (perhaps surprisingly) bypassing all of the other skilled directors who worked with him on the show, including Rob Bowman, who directed Fight the Future. I'm sure that he made this decision because of all the time he's had; Fight the Future was squeezed into the summer between seasons 5 and 6 of the show, but Carter could focus solely on his new movie. He gets the most out of his performers. The appropriate scenes between Duchovny and Anderson are tender, Connolly is creepy as Father Joe, and Xzibit, thankfully, doesn't do very much.
Bill Roe, who shot the last four seasons of the show, returns as director of photography, and his cinematography is excellent. More is done with shadow in this movie than you might believe. "The X-Files" thrives on darkness; if you want to know what type of show this was, Bowman said on the commentary track for Fight the Future that the crew experimented constantly throughout the years of shooting with how to shoot as darkly as possible without losing the image altogether. Roe creates some absolutely spectacular shots, utilizing the snow and fog to add creepiness.
I Want to Believe functions well as a stand-alone movie, one full of mystery, suspense, and sci-fi. I loved it.
From here on, my review will be a total nerd-out. It will include references to this movie and the TV show which may be spoilers for some of you.
If I Quit Now, They Win
So, is this really it? After all the government conspiracies and alien abductions, will "The X-Files" really end on a stand-alone story about a Russian Dr. Frankenstein cutting people up to steal their body parts in West Virginia? Will it go out without addressing the other characters that (like it or not) carried the show through its final two seasons? Honestly, how can this have nothing to do with aliens?
The series finale, a two-parter called "The Truth," got Duchovny back into the mix, and revealed that a mass invasion by aliens will occur in the year 2012. At the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully were on the run from the FBI, our government, and the alien conspiracy. Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) was in severe danger as someone who knew too much and who had helped Mulder escape captivity. Director Kersch was in the same boat. The futures of agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were in question, as was their safety. Because of Mulder's personality, the knowledge of the impending invasion should be the driving force in his life at the time of I Want to Believe.
Yet, as much as I hate to say this, the new film seemingly does away with all of this, as though erasing the last few years of "X-Files" history. Mulder should be the ultimate threat to the aliens, and they should be constantly hunting him. Skinner sure-as-heck shouldn't still be a "bigwig at the FBI." Reestablishing contact with the FBI should lead to at least a little bit of curiosity for Mulder and Scully about the whereabouts of Doggett and Reyes.
As far as the lack of characters like Doggett and Reyes, Carter says on this DVD that, "It just didn't work for this story." He admits that he would have liked to include them. While I love I Want to Believe, I wouldn't blame some of you for discounting it and naming "The Truth" as the true ending of "The X-Files." Unfortunately, none of the questions that that melancholy finale raised are answered in this movie, except for the future of Mulder and Scully's relationship.
However, there are tons of references to the show and its history to keep you all happy. Here is a (non-exhaustive, I'm sure) list of them.:
The subtitle of the film, "I Want to Believe," is from the poster Mulder has always had on his wall, right from the pilot episode of the show.
Mitch Pileggi shows up towards the end of the film, which is awesome, and if you don't know who he is, you shouldn't have read this far.
Xantha Radley, who plays Agent Monica Bannan, was a waitress in "The Post-modern Prometheus" (5x06). Nicki Aycox, who plays Cheryl Cunningham (the second victim), was a high school student in "Rush" (7x06). Stephen E. Miller, who plays the clerk at the feed store, was a cop in "Duane Barry" (4x05). Lorena Gale, who plays a doctor in the film, was in a few episodes, including "Shadows" (1x05).
Lots of the show's writers, directors, and producers have their names cameo in this film. A shot of Mulder's cell phone shows these names on his contact list: Bowman (director and producer Rob Bowman), Gilligan (writer and producer Vince Gilligan), and Shiban (writer John Shiban). The store called Nutter's Feed is a reference to director David Nutter. Manners-Colonial Hospital is a reference to director Kim Manners. MacLaren Natatorium, the swimming area, is named for Michelle MacLaren, a producer on the show.
At one point, Agent Whitney lists off some psychics that Mulder has dealt with in the past. Clyde Bruckman is from "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (3x04). Luther Lee Boggs is from "Beyond the Sea" (1x12). Gerald Schnauz was the killer in "Unruhe" (4x04).
As far as I'm concerned, Scully's greeting of Mulder, "Jesus, Mulder," when he surprises her is a reference to her identical greeting of him in Fight the Future. Also, I think her use of the term "bugger" to describe Father Joe's molestation of his altar boys is a nod at the fact that Anderson has been living in England since the show ended.
Chris Carter can be seen sitting in the hospital in a shot where Scully is walking towards the camera. Also, the actress who used to play Samantha, mulder's sister, on the TV show is now grown up, and she walks past Mulder in the hallway of the FBI building. They make eye contact. Carter's dog also cameos at the hospital.
Be sure to check out the amazing Easter Egg after the credits and e-mail me with the ones I missed!
I watched a screener's copy of this 2-disc DVD. While I didn't have the artwork or the box that you'll buy the DVD in, the content on the two discs was exactly what you'll purchase, with the exception of a 20th Century Fox logo that kept popping up over my image so that I don't try to sell this to you.
The video on this DVD preserves the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The movie looks astonishing, thanks to Roe's cinematography and the quality of modern technology. While most of the film was shot on 35mm, some of the chase scenes were done in HD, with the Genesis camera. I didn't notice the difference, but closer inspection of the HD scenes may make it clear to you.
The DVD looks great, especially upconverted. Considering that the movie contains a lot of things that often lead to artifacts on home video (snow and foggy night shots), it does pretty well. I did see some noise in the snow banks at some points, but the darkness never suffered from posterization on my TV. There was a lack of sharpness on my preview DVD, but I believe that that will be fixed when you buy it. This should be about as good an image as you can get on a DVD. The film is enhanced perfectly for widescreen TV's.
This DVD contains audio in 5.1-surround English, 2.0 French, 2.0 Spanish, and an English commentary track.
I remember not being blown away by the audio when I saw I Want to Believe in theaters. The sound design is excellent, but the lack of action scenes means you won't be making a ton of use of the 5.1 or the bass. However, they are put to good use creating ambient sound to make you believe you're in a hospital or surrounded by mulling FBI agents. Mark Snow's music sounds excellent and intense on the soundtrack.
There are subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. (But the French didn't work on my DVD.)
The Special Features
The first disc has a boatload of special features, considering that it already has two versions of the film on it.
While the Theatrical Version is exactly what was shown in theaters, the Extended Cut contains a few extra scenes. It has one scene where Scully goes into her office at the hospital and cries over Christian. It has some inserted shots where the kidnapper sees the FBI digging up some body parts he had buried. It has some shots of Mulder climbing up a cliff while investigating a crime scene. It has a couple extra shots of the Russian doctor's work at the end of the film, and these are more graphic than the Theatrical Version. There are also behind-the-scenes photos during the credits, which are the best reason to watch the Extended Cut. Frankly, the Extended Cut would be unnecessary but for these photos and the longer commentary.
The commentary is excellent. Recorded before the film's theatrical release, it contains Carter and Spotnitz discussing all aspects of the film. They point out a lot of Easter eggs and talk about the filmmaking process. The extended scenes' commentaries are simply edited out on the Theatrical Version commentary. So you need to watch the Extended Cut's commentary, which extends into the credits, to hear the whole thing.
There are three deleted scenes in the special features menu. Each one is a couple of minutes long. I won't describe what happens in them, but I will tell you the names: "Cheryl Cunningham Begs Scientist to Let Her Go," "Father Joe Visits Scully in Hospital," and "Mulder Escapes Car Wreck." These are presented in 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's.
There is a featurette called "Chris Carter: statements on green production." This is an on-screen interview with Carter about environmentally friendly movie production. This is 16x9, enhanced, and six minutes long.
There is a featurette called "Body Parts: Special makeup effects." In it, you go behind the scenes with Bill Terezakis, the film's special makeup effects designer. He shows you a lot of the prosthetics involved in the film, which are quite impressive. This is 16x9, anamorphically enhanced, and eight minutes long.
There is a gag reel, set to music. It's a lot of fun to watch everyone slip on all the snow and ice. This is 2.35:1, enhanced, and 10 minutes long(!).
There is a feature called "Dying 2 Live" by Xzibit. It's his rap song set to a slide show of production photos from the film. Does it feel out of place on this DVD? Absolutely. This is 16x9, enhanced, and four minutes long.
There are four still photo galleries for you to file through with your remote control. They are titled "Collectibles," "Storyboards," "Concept Art," and "Unit Photography."
There are also two trailers for I Want to Believe, one domestic and one international.
I believe that there will be a bonus digital copy on one of these discs, also.
The second disc of this DVD contains only one thing, a long documentary that's split into three parts. It's called "Trust No One: Can The X-Files Remain a Secret?" It's definitely the most comprehensive "making-of" featurette ever made about any "X-Files" production. I can't recommend this strongly enough to "X-Files" fans. It was shot in 16x9 and enhanced for widescreen TV's.
Part 1 is called "You Can Go Home Again." It contains a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, including on-screen interviews, made just for this documentary, with cast and crew. Fans of any of the major performers will want to see this; it's a lot of fun to watch them all joke around and interact. It is 29 minutes long.
Part 2 is "Misinformation." This is almost exclusively about the misinformation campaign that carter and Spotnitz unleashed upon the internet nerds to keep this film's plot a secret. It also covers the end of the shooting schedule. It is 29 minutes long.
Part 3 is called"Don't Give Up." This covers post-production stuff, like editing with Richard A. Harris and scoring with Mark Snow. Only true fans or film nerds will make it through this; you don't get to see Duchovny or Anderson in this section. It is 28 minutes long.
So, will there ever be another "X-Files" production? Well, this one didn't even make back its budget in the US ($30 million budget to $20 million domestic box office), but a supposed $70 million total worldwide gross should give us hope, and Spotnitz admits on this DVD that it's possible. For now, just enjoy this one. Buy this DVD as soon as possible; you're not buying the (relatively worthless) Extended Cut, but the excellent documentary and a long, high-quality, stand-alone final episode from the best TV show of all time. "Highly Recommended."
Thank you, Chris Carter.