"I'm done chasing monsters in the dark."
I can hardly imagine a more appropriate title for the 'X Files' sequel movie than 'I Want to Believe'. Not only is the phrase the personal motto of lead character Fox Mulder (as seen on the UFO poster in his office throughout the series' run), it also perfectly sums up most fans' reaction when they heard that creator Chris Carter was finally reuniting David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson for a new movie. 'The X Files' ran for nine seasons on TV, from 1993 to 2002. When it was good (i.e. the first five seasons), it made for some outstanding television. The first theatrical feature ('The X Files: Fight the Future', released the summer of 1998), was a little sloppy, but successfully expanded the concept to the epic scope of a big sci-fi action movie. Unfortunately, everything went downhill from that point, and the show's later seasons slid rapidly into incoherency and general awfulness. I still rank the series finale as the worst two hours of television I've ever watched.
Rumors of another movie had been stirring for years, but seemed as though they'd never come to fruition. As the show's quality decreased, so did its ratings in the last few seasons. In the half-dozen years since its cancellation, the world had pretty much forgotten about 'The X Files'. But the faithful fans remained, remembering the show at its best and always hoping that one day Carter would be able to redeem his creation. When the word finally came that a new movie was in production, "I want to believe" is exactly what every fan was thinking. We wanted to believe that it would be good. We wanted to believe that 'The X Files' could be restored to its former glory.
Things didn't quite work out that way. When it was finally released in the summer of 2008, 'The X Files: I Want to Believe' opened to scathing reviews and tanked at the box office. Fans were divided. Some defended it, but many others derided it, even to the point of calling it the worst movie of the year.
Me? Well, I thought it was pretty good, actually. Not great, not the home run that Carter frankly needed it to be, but a solidly entertaining return to form and a graceful note of closure for a pair of endearing characters who didn't get it the first time around.
Unlike 'Fight the Future', 'I Want to Believe' is not a big action movie. Releasing it during the heart of the summer (the weekend after 'The Dark Knight', no less!) was a significant mistake on the studio's part. Further defying expectations, the film has no aliens, or Black Oil, or massive government conspiracies. In 'X Files' terms, this is a "monster of the week" story, not a "mythology" story. Actually, there's not even a monster in it, at least not in the literal sense. In fact, there's hardly anything supernatural about the movie at all, other than one character claiming to be psychic, the veracity of which there is much doubt. Of course, not every 'X Files' episode was about the supernatural. This one would fall into the category of "experimental science gone awry" more than anything else. That's a perfectly legitimate topic that the TV series tackled all the time, but it certainly seems an unlikely choice for the first 'X Files' story in more than half a decade, much less for a feature film.
Picking up several years after the FBI's X Files unit had been disbanded, the new movie finds former agent Dana Scully now a doctor at a Christian hospital, and Fox Mulder a bearded hermit clipping newspaper articles about unexplained phenomena. The two are pulled out of retirement when an FBI agent is kidnapped, and a disgraced former priest (Billy Connolly) claims to have psychic visions that can help locate her. Since Mulder has the FBI's most extensive history with this sort of thing, the agent in charge of the case (Amanda Peet) believes that he'll be useful as an advisor. In the new dynamic, she's the believer, and her partner (rapper and 'Pimp My Ride' host Xzibit) is the skeptic. Scully tags along for support but isn't happy about it. The trail of clues they find with the psychic's help will lead them to uncover an organ harvesting ring and a mad Russian doctor performing some pretty whacked-out medical procedures.
Both written and directed by Chris Carter, 'I Want to Believe' is a very low-key affair. If this were part of the TV series, it would probably be considered a better-than-average episode. In its favor are a sustained creepy atmosphere, knowing (but not obnoxious) references to past storylines from the series, and a welcome last-act appearance from a familiar character. The case itself doesn't amount to anything of significance, and in true Carter fashion, the movie has some oddball directorial decisions (like casting Xzibit as an FBI agent) and moments of lazy screenwriting (brilliant doctor Scully actually Googles "stem cell research" at one point). What really makes the film worthwhile, however, is the interplay between Mulder and Scully, and the discovery of where their relationship has led in the time since the show. Duchovny and Anderson know these characters inside-and-out. Their interactions are fully believable and emotionally satisfying.
For the last six years, I've been deeply unhappy with the way that 'The X Files' ended and the disrespectful way it treated its characters. Though certainly not the epic revival that many viewers may have wanted, 'I Want to Believe' goes a long way to correcting some of those mistakes. If this is truly the last hurrah for agents Mulder and Scully (and judging by its performance, it likely will be), I for one am glad to have it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The X Files: I Want to Believe' comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment as a 2-disc Ultimate X-Phile Edition. Disc 1 is the movie and Disc 2 is a Digital Copy. The movie is being released simultaneously with its predecessor 'The X Files: Fight the Future'. The two films are available separately or bundled together in a cardboard box as part of 'The X Files Movie 2-Pack'.
The 'I Want to Believe' disc contains both its original theatrical version and an Extended Cut that runs three and a half minutes longer and has weird end credits played over a montage of behind-the-scenes photos.
The Blu-ray is Java-enabled and extremely slow to load in a standalone BD player. Not helping matters are a Digital Copy promo and two lame trailers before the main menu.
'I Want to Believe' is a significantly better-looking Blu-ray than 'Fight the Future'. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (presented in the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio) has much less of a problem with edge ringing artifacts, and no noticeable issues with color banding, macroblocking, digital compression errors, or noise reduction. The movie's photography is dark and mildly grainy by nature (this is 'The X Files', after all), but contrast and shadow detail are excellent, and the grain looks properly rendered without turning noisy.
The picture is perhaps a little soft, but does not appear filtered. There is a tiny bit of edge ringing in a couple scenes, but nothing to get upset about. For the most part, this is a very natural, unprocessed, and film-like image.
As the movie opens, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is bassy, bassy, bassy. After the initial attack, the movie calms down significantly. There are a few moments here and there with aggressive low-end activity and surround action, but the sound design becomes quite subdued for the bulk of the story, relying heavily on creepy ambience and atmospherics. It's an effective, if not showy mix. The lossless track has terrific fidelity in both the music and sound effects, with clear and intelligible dialogue (even whispered conversations).
The Blu-ray has a strong selection of bonus features. Everything from the comparable 2-disc DVD edition is here, consolidated onto a single disc (the Blu-ray's second disc is for the Digital Copy).
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
In addition to the above, the Blu-ray has a few exclusive features.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
Bonus View: Requires Profile 1.1
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
'The X Files: I Want to Believe' may not have been the movie that most fans expected or wanted, but it's nowhere near as awful as the negative buzz surrounding its theatrical release would suggest. Judged on its own terms, the film is a welcome coda for agents Mulder and Scully. The Blu-ray has excellent video, audio, and a number of good bonus features (especially the making-of documentary and that interactive Timeline). It's worth a look, if you can approach it with an open mind.