The 20th anniversary of The X-Files' foray into film - its success, and what it meant for the television series as a whole
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Producing a film for an acclaimed television series is a risk. The differences between the small and big screens are pretty substantial, and it can be a tasking endeavor to translate television to film (and vice versa).
But when it’s done right, man. Fans are given what they deserve, and the team behind the series can walk around with an air of confidence. That’s certainly how the sci-fi classic Fight the Future fared for The X-Files in 1998.
Sat snuggly between the fifth and sixth seasons, Fight the Future’s narrative was cohesively — albeit still confusingly — constructed to fit a script ten times larger than the team and actors were used to. The mythology and narrative surrounding the sci-fi/paranormal phenomenon was (and still is) so, so intense and profound that for a first-time watcher, it can be pretty daunting.
Saying that, Fight the Future was my first foray into The X-Files realm. I’d never seen a full episode, I barely knew what the show was about, but my parents insisted that I watch the film first. I did, and it amazingly doesn’t spoil anything. It plays like a one-off episode of the show for someone that has no idea what’s going on. To me at the time, it was two rebel FBI Special Agents uncovering a government conspiracy (involving aliens, of course), which is literally the main crux of the show. If you were to sell The X-Files to someone, that’s pretty much all you have to say.
Fight the Future sparked my curiosity, so of course, I jumped into the (at the time) nine season and two film franchise with only surface knowledge. To my surprise, Fight the Future fits perfectly right in the middle of the series. The film was released between the fifth and sixth seasons, with the actors on overdrive learning lines for the show and the film simultaneously during 1997 and 1998; no wonder tensions began to famously run high between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. It luckily did not take away from their performances as Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson), and Fight the Future became a seamless bridge between two full seasons of television.
At the time, I can imagine being a fan must have been painstaking, to say the least. The fifth season finished in May 1998, which meant fans had a month to wait for the film's release. While that may not be that long of a wait, after the release in June, fans then had to wait another six months to see the bombshells presented in Fight the Future to affect Mulder and Scully in the sixth season. If I hadn't been two years old in 1998, you better believe I would have been that one crazy fan going back and forth to the cinema just to get my fix.
Luckily for me, I was able to experience watching the fifth and sixth season with the film in-between, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing how much more you can uncover in the film when you actually know the TV narrative. To this day, I still can’t see how writer/creator Chris Carter managed to construct such a dense script and storyline into Fight the Future without spoiling major plot points to audiences that may have gone to see the film as their first exposure to the show. Once you know what’s happened in the first five seasons, it all culminates in Fight the Future; it’s like one long-ass episode that runs between the two seasons. But on the surface level, i.e. for the casual viewer, it’s just another decent sci-fi film.
That’s the beauty of Fight the Future. It caters to two audiences — the die-hard fan and the casual cinema goer. So you’d think that Carter would have stuck to this winning formula for the second X-Files film, I Want to Believe, released in 2008. Oh boy, he did not.
Thanks to Fight the Future’s success, I guess Carter thought it would be a good idea to give fans a treat after the end of the series. The show originally ended in 2001, this was before we were graced — or cursed — with the recent revival. Being the over-confident writer that he is, Carter decided it would probably be more interesting to focus on a ‘monster-of-the-week’ style narrative rather than continuing the mythology that was never concluded even in the finale of the series.
Safe to say that didn’t go well, at all. Carter had originally planned the series to continue (and I suppose flourish) in film installments after the series originally ended, but I Want To Believe abruptly ended that notion. It's like he completely forgot about the near-perfect construction of Fight the Future and just…winged it? There was certainly no game plan when it came to the second film, which is pretty much completely disregarded by fans now.
Fight the Future is and always will be one of the highlights of The X-Files phenomenon of the 1990s and one of the best parts of the entire series. Once Duchovny’s departure came along in 2000, well. Let’s just say fans — and myself — wished Fight the Future had been the conclusion of the show. Now that would have been a beautiful end.