"He is but one man. One man alone cannot fight the future."
Right at the zenith of its popularity, 'X Files' creator Chris Carter decided to bring his popular television series to movie theater screens -- while the show was still on the air. It was a bold move that, to my knowledge, had never been attempted before. Later on, numerous programs from 'South Park' to 'Hannah Montana' would duplicate its success, but at the time, no one was sure that the ploy would work. The obvious concerns were raised. How do you convince people to pay to see something in theaters that they can get for free on TV every week? Will anyone who'd never watched the show want to see the movie? Released the summer of 1998 after Season 5 had finished airing, 'The X Files: Fight the Future' (as it is commonly known) turned out to be a pretty sizable box office hit. Despite some glaring flaws, the film was generally well-regarded among both existing fans and new viewers.
Technically speaking, the movie's on-screen title reads only as 'The X Files'. The phrase "Fight the Future" was originally just a tag line printed on movie posters, but the studio's marketing department took to incorporating it into the title to differentiate the film from the TV series. Eventually, both fans and the show's creators did the same. It's now widely acknowledged to be the full title. The movie was designed as a bridge between the show's fifth and sixth seasons. It starts with reference to the fifth season cliffhanger, in which the FBI's "X Files" paranormal investigation department has been closed down. The events of the movie will essentially resolve that plot point and lead into the sixth season's storyline. At the same time, the film was also structured to play well for new viewers. While familiarity with the characters, their relationships, and the show's ongoing mystery plot will certainly help to make this a richer experience, the movie sufficiently reintroduces most of those elements, and has its own standalone story with a coherent beginning, middle, and end.
Things start on a sour note. The opening titles eschew the show's famous theme music, and the film begins with a lengthy (frankly cheesy) prologue in which prehistoric Neanderthals encounter an alien. We get back on track with the jump forward to modern times. After the closure of their X Files, agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have been reassigned to a more traditional case involving a domestic terrorist threat. Naturally, nothing is what it seems to be. Soon enough, they discover that the bombing of a federal building (a rather ballsy echo of the real-life Oklahoma City tragedy of a few years earlier) ties into a far-reaching government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials planning an invasion of Earth. The mysterious Syndicate seems to be behind it, with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Somehow, Mulder and Scully must piece together this puzzle from clues including corn fields, bees, fossil fragments, threatening helicopters, and a goopy Black Oil from outer space.
Of course, in retrospect, the notion that FEMA could be a well-organized shadow government secretly running world affairs sounds pretty ridiculous in light of what we now know about the agency. You really can't hold that against the movie. Even so, the script (by series creator Chris Carter) is often sloppily plotted with a reliance on coincidences and improbabilities. Our heroes find clues easily right when it's most convenient for them to do so. When they can't figure something out on their own, there's always an informant to fill them in on the details. A car explodes for no particular reason simply for the sake of a dramatic moment. Jetting to the far reaches of the globe and back happens almost instantaneously. Things turn especially dopey in the final act, when Mulder makes his way to the middle of Antarctica, literally stumbles upon a massive underground facility miles wide, and manages to find exactly what he's looking for within 30 seconds of searching. And let's not get started on how he gets back to Washington, D.C. by the next morning with no transportation, communication, or even a coat. The movie doesn't even pretend to explain that one. It just happens, because it needs to happen, and that's how things work in Chris Carter's mind.
If you can put all that behind you, 'Fight the Future' nonetheless pulls together into a largely satisfying expansion of 'The X Files' into feature film territory. As directed by series veteran Rob Bowman, the film has an impressively epic scope with several well-staged action sequences. Duchovny and Anderson are at the top of their games (both would grow noticeably bored with their characters and the show in later seasons). The byplay and chemistry between them is still very entertaining at this point. The movie offers "fan service" appearances for popular series characters like The Lone Gunmen and the Cigarette Smoking Man, and organically incorporates guest star roles for the likes of Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. More importantly, the picture was promoted on the basis of finally providing answers to some of the show's ongoing mysteries. Carter may not lay all of his cards on the table, but does indeed explain what the Black Oil really is, the nature of the Syndicate's plans, and gives Mulder vindication for some of his loonier theories.
Sadly, 'The X Files' would begin its slow, painful deterioration into awfulness in the seasons following the release of 'Fight the Future'. Although by no means perfect, this first feature film still serves as a reminder of what made the franchise so popular at its height.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The X Files: Fight the Future' comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, released simultaneously with its sequel 'The X Files: I Want to Believe'. The two movies are available separately or bundled together in a cardboard box as part of 'The X Files Movie 2-Pack'.
The 'Fight the Future' disc contains both the original theatrical version and the slightly longer Extended Cut that was available on every prior home video edition. Differences between the two amount to less than a minute of screen time. In the preferred Extended version, we see a little more of the alien at the beginning, and the Well Manicured Man has some additional dialogue about Mulder's sister.
The movie is packaged in some surprisingly stylish new cover art. On the other hand, the disc is Java-enabled and extremely slow to load in a standalone Blu-ray player.
Back in the day, Fox released 'Fight the Future' on DVD a couple times. The first edition from 1999 had a poor, edge-enhanced non-anamorphic letterbox transfer. A re-issue in 2001 was remastered for anamorphic widescreen, but looks quite poor by modern standards. The Blu-ray had nowhere to go but up. Indeed, it's a significant improvement over the last DVD. Unfortunately, even in High Definition, this is still a very flawed image.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio) has a little bit of everything wrong with it. The picture has edge enhancement artifacts pretty consistently throughout its running time. The opening credits exhibit noticeable color banding (though this isn't a problem after the credits). The first scene after the credits has problems with the grain pattern freezing in place unnaturally (likely due to Digital Noise Reduction). The first few scenes look very filtered and lacking in detail or texture. The movie's photography is a bit soft and grainy by nature, but the grain hasn't been digitized well. Macroblocking is evident in both the prehistoric and modern Texas scenes.
Frankly, the picture looks downright awful all the way through the building explosion in Dallas. Things improve after that point, and there are parts of the movie that look pleasingly film-like. Colors are natural and well-defined. Ironically, dark scenes tend to look better than bright daylight scenes. Given that this is 'The X Files', there are a lot of dark scenes. Still, I wouldn't ever call it stunning. And I know the movie has nice photography that deserves better. In fact, the high-def clips in the Gag Reel on the disc actually look less processed and more detailed than the movie itself does.
If not exactly perfect either, the disc's audio is more impressive than the video. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has plenty of slamming bass and aggressive surround activity. Sound effects are crisp and convincing. This is exactly the kind of sound design you'd expect out of a big summer sci-fi action movie.
I do feel, however, that the track is far too loud just for the sake of being loud. The mix is poorly balanced. It's either too quiet or too loud, with little in between, which is a problem considering how often scenes alternate between whispered dialogue and huge action effects. Nevertheless, for the type of movie this is, the soundtrack is plenty satisfying, and the Blu-ray delivers it in excellent fidelity.
The DVD editions of 'Fight the Future' were never exactly packed with bonus features. Fortunately, everything that was on the DVDs has made the transition to Blu-ray.
While not without its share of flaws, 'Fight the Future' brings 'The X Files' into the realm of feature films in grand fashion. The Blu-ray has pretty good audio and a decent assortment of bonus features. Unfortunately, its video transfer is disappointing. I have no hesitation recommending the disc for existing 'X Files' fans, but casual viewers may want to give it a rent first.