To build hype for the release of his big X-Files sequel, show creator Chris Carter picked the best eight episodes for a special DVD release highlighting the show's history.
If that set had been expanded to nine episodes -- with room for one more of the most entertaining and effective tales from the adventures of Mulder and Scully -- Carter's new big-screen entry, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, wouldn't have made the list.
This follow-up to The X-Files: Fight the Future is, in essence, a two-hour episode of the original series.
Unfortunately, it's not a particularly compelling episode, offering too few thrills to feed a feature-length adventure and filling the time with stilted debates and a still-murky love story between the series' iconic pair of leads, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.
(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)
To his credit, Carter stays away from the elaborate uber-conspiracy that drove the later seasons of the series and the original film a decade ago. In fact, the narrative of I Want to Believe, which opens Friday, takes a page from its lead characters -- deliberately staying clear of past FBI transgressions and complications. Mulder and Scully have moved on from their badge-carrying days: Scully embraced her career as a physician in a Catholic children's hospital, while Mulder drifted into bearded Unabomber mode -- hiding from the feds while maintaining his clip files of bizarre events.
They're called out of retirement when a female FBI agent turns up missing out in the sticks. A disgraced pedophile priest (played with repressed self-loathing by Scottish stand-up Billy Connolly) is reporting visions of the missing woman's fate, and Hoover's folks need a reluctant Mulder to make sense of it all. Connolly's performance as a suffering, fallen soul who makes no denial of his downfall is an unexpected treat.
If we were dealing with an hour-long episode of the old show, all that set-up would be knocked down before the first commercial break. On the big screen, it takes in excess of 30 minutes, and the film feels the weight of every second. By the time Mulder is elbow-deep in the snowy search for another missing woman and the disappointingly anonymous villains are hard at work on their Jamie Gumm-esque body harvesting, we don't want to believe -- we just want the movie to get on with it already.
As the investigation trudges through the wintry sludge, Mulder and Scully wrestle with many of the same issues they struggled with during the final season of the series. Does their quest serve a purpose? Is their search for the truth worthwhile? Does Mulder really believe in the supernatural? Does Scully have faith in her God and her work as a healer? And, finally, do the two heroes belong together as lovers?
The final question seems particularly tiresome, as fans have watched their relationship grow for more than 15 years. Mulder and Scully have debated their compatibility longer than many couples stay married. You'd think they'd have made a call by now. Even the actors seem bored with the issue -- especially in the case of Anderson, whose performance seems more perpetually exhausted than heroically agonized.
Those questions of belief and faith form the thematic core of the film, and it would be genuinely refreshing to see a summer blockbuster take on such weighty issues if the rest of the movie put enough narrative meat in the foreground. There just isn't enough of the cool, the spooky and the fun in a franchise that used to be able to pack in all of the above.
As it stands, The X-Files: I Want to Believe takes too long to bring anything genuinely suspenseful to the screen -- leaving any would-be audience wanting more for its money. In a summer of smash successes (Iron Man), Oscar-worthy morality tales (Wall-E) and genre-defining masterpieces (The Dark Knight), Carter's offering seems destined to fade quickly like the whistling opening tones of the old series' theme tune.