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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
here was a time when I was an “X-Files” fanatic, but that was way back during its first season in ’93 and ’94. The series lost my viewership about halfway through its second season, and I only sporadically tuned in over the many seasons that followed. Why the falling out with Mulder and Scully? The arcing storyline about little green men and government conspiracies held zero interest for me. I’m not saying it was bad TV – clearly, Chris Carter and Co. built an engaging empire on aliens and chain-smoking suits that the public devoured – but I was always interested in the standalone tales, the monster of the week that eventually became the monster of the month. So when it was announced that a new “X-Files” movie was happening, and that it would be a standalone tale un-tied to its infamous arcing mythology, I got just a little bit excited.
This collection of eight episodes was chosen by creator Chris Carter and exec producer Frank Spotnitz, and it’s been deemed ideal primer for the upcoming film, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” If what’s on this set is anything to go by, then the film should certainly deliver some chills and make believers out of the uninitiated. One of Carter’s primary inspirations for the show was the mid-‘70s series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (not to be confused with the dreadful 2005 remake starring Stuart Townsend). More than anything, this two-disc set evokes the adventures of Darren McGavin, as week after week he investigated the bizarre, otherworldly and downright inexplicable.
Kicking off the selection is the pilot, which is an obvious choice to introduce folks to the crazy intense world of FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). It’s interesting to see that many of the iconic elements are in place from the word go, and even though the introductory tale is an alien abduction story (of sorts), I won’t hold that against it. The show can’t be accused of not knowing what it wanted to be from the moment the cameras started rolling. It’s also mildly worth noting that Anderson had a firmer grasp on her character coming out of the gate than Duchovny, who here seems a tad more rambunctious as opposed to how he eventually ended up playing the character.
The first season later unveiled “Beyond the Sea,” an hour of TV that cemented my interest way back when, and ideally resurfaces on this set. The story begins with the death of Scully’s father – played by Don S. Davis (Maj. Briggs of “Twin Peaks”), who recently passed away and, as such, adds a chilly vibe to the proceedings. After he moves on, but before Scully finds out he died, he visits her. Was it a dream? An otherworldly connection from the afterlife? We cannot know. The rest of the story deals with convicted serial killer Luther Lee Boggs (Brad Dourif), who may or may not have psychic powers that can prevent the rampage of another killer. Boggs may also be able to connect with Scully’s father from beyond, and the story is as much about skeptic Scully finally believing in something, as it is anything else. Dourif’s portrayal of Boggs is a sight to behold and will surely go down as one of the great performances of his long, twisted career.
“The Host” is an early Season Two offering. It finds Mulder, presently operating alone due to a shutdown of the X-Files (there’s that arc again, though it’s barely pertinent to the story), investigating a grisly murder in the sewers of Newark. This is a straight up monster story, which ultimately proves to be anything but supernatural. On the other hand, it is nasty and gross, just like a good “X-Files” should be. There’s a scene of Scully performing an autopsy and finding a little something that’ll give you the serious heebie-jeebies. To say anything more about the piece would be to ruin the creepy fun of it all. If one were to think of what made for an ideal “X-Files” tale – something that could be viewed as almost completely standalone - “The Host” might be a perfect candidate.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” is from the third season. It won two Emmys (one for writing, and one for Peter Boyle’s guest-starring turn) and was also named the 10th greatest episode in TV history by “TV Guide.” Boyle plays Bruckman, a sad, lonely man who actually does possess the ability to see into the future, unlike many of the charlatans Mulder and Scully encounter. He becomes inadvertently involved in their search for a serial killer and may even be able to help solve the case. Why this episode garnered so much acclaim I do not know. Boyle is excellent and it’s a good episode, but it’s not that good…and maybe that’s why I was never a snug fit with “The X-Files,” because if I had been, I’d probably see the beauty of this tale. Perhaps much of my reaction to it stems from all the acclaim. In any case, it’s not the weakest the set has to offer…
No, that honor goes to “Memento Mori,” which kicks off Disc Two and features a bunch of shit I always hated about this show, such as alien abduction, the cigarette-smoking man, government cover-ups, the Lone Gunmen (three characters so annoying that their spinoff series only lasted half a season), and finally Scully’s cancer, which is the result of -- wait for it -- alien abduction. It’s a convoluted episode that would only have meaning to someone invested in the more nonsensical aspects of the ‘Files. If the upcoming movie has anything to do with this melodrama, consider me dissatisfied before having even purchased my ticket.
Luckily, the next offering is a standout highlight. It’s called “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” Presented entirely in black and white, it’s an homage to “Frankenstein,” and quite frankly rocks…or rather pops; it does, after all, feature a central monster obsessed with Cher (and with good reason, too). It also unveils a small town transfixed by the theatrics of Jerry Springer, a mad scientist, and some really unlikely, unexpected pregnancies. I could watch this episode over and over and never tire of it. At its close it even echoes David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” and the fact that Chris Carter, who both wrote and directed the piece, was able to congeal all these elements into 45 minutes of perfection is perhaps exactly why the show was on the air for nine seasons. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” deftly shifts from horror to comedy to pathos to humanity, and it’s well worth purchasing this set for this episode alone. While “The X-Files” may not have always been my bag, fare like this makes up for all the little green men.
“Bad Blood” is Gillian Anderson’s favorite episode. It’s a comedy that sees Mulder and Scully in the small, fictitious Texas town of Cheney, investigating what Mulder believes to be a series of vampire attacks. Its humor comes from it being a case of “he said, she said,” as both agents recount their versions of what went down in Cheney. Guest stars Luke Wilson as the town sheriff (both with and without buck teeth), and Patrick Renna (“The Sandlot” and “The Big Green”) as an unlikely pizza-delivering vampire give it an extra “ummph!”
Rounding out the set is “Milagro,” the story of Mulder’s next door neighbor, Phillip Padgett (John Hawkes), a writer with an unhealthy fixation on Scully. The lines between the written word and reality are as blurred here as in Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch.” This is a very unsettling installment with no easy answers and a killer with a penchant for ripping the hearts out of his victims’ chest cavities while they’re still alive. Is the killer Padgett, his accomplice, or does he come from somewhere…else? According to Carter, “Milagro” is Sean Penn’s favorite episode of the series. This isn’t really relevant; I just thought I’d mention it.
It’s difficult to tell exactly what the aim of this set is, other than to present a sort of “best of” collection. There certainly seems to be an emphasis on Scully, and maybe that’s a hint as to what can be expected from the film. Unless you’ve got an inordinate amount of time and wads of cash to blow between now and July 25, this is an easy, inexpensive way to hook into “The X-Files” and prepare for the upcoming film.
Special Features: Not too much, really. Each episode has a brief intro from Carter and Spotnitz explaining why the episode was chosen. Don’t expect to gain any insight as to how these tales might fit into the new movie, however. Most of their comments pretty much boil down to, “This is one of our best!” There are no commentaries, which is a shame as they would have been welcome. There’s a trailer for the series and a one-minute teaser trailer for the film, which was first shown at Wondercon. The highlight here is a 27-minute panel from Wondercon (featuring Carter, Spotnitz, Duchovny and Anderson), and this one feature would be the only reason I can imagine someone who already owned the series on DVD would want to purchase this set. Finally, there’s a voucher worth $8.50 towards an admission to the upcoming film. Hey, looks like I won’t have to buy a ticket after all!