I admit it—whatever the equivalent of “Trekkie” is for The X Files, I was one of them. I thought Mulder was hot and Scully was smart; I taped reruns, went to the movie when it came out in 1998, and bought the DVD. Last summer, I was excited to discover that a second movie was being made, but I managed to miss it when it came out. So it was with a sense of vacation well and truly started when I brought the DVD home to see at last.
A lot has changed, though—at least in TV land—since the days when a paranormal investigator like Mulder would be relegated to a basement office at the FBI. There are crime shows with psychics and profilers and sci fi shows positing entire divisions—or at least warehouses—of FBI agents monitoring paranormal phenomena and communications from other planets. The new X-Files movie (subtitled I Want to Believe) doesn’t consider this context at all, and its insistence on Mulder’s fringe status (and at the same time, his complete correctness) dates the effort horribly.
Mulder is now not just the office nut but in hiding (although if anyone doesn’t know where he is, every wingnut who claims government is incompetent is correct). Scully has given up crime fighting to be a doctor in apparently a religious hospital, limiting her access to advanced treatments for her patients. The FBI asks her to contact Mulder, bring him in from the cold to consult with the psychic who claims to know where the bodies are buried, Mulder cries fraud, Scully’s freaked out by the former priest’s Bible references, and there’s a whole lot of shouting about being open minded and who’s willing to have faith in Mulder.
The attempt to resurrect The X-Files leads me to compare it to other story universes that have managed to endure. Some sci fi has even managed to guide our expectations of what the future they described decades ago should contain. Where are our flying cars, our transporters, our universal translators? Not only do the first showings leave lasting cultural imprints, but the next Doctor Who or Star Trek version, to take two examples, add to the canon and the fan base. They manage to carry forward some timely characteristic of the story (or perhaps just don’t emphasize a quality that’s discordant). In a landscape where one might choose between the werewolf and the vampire for boyfriend material, where kids shout “Expelliarmus!” at each other in lieu of throwing a punch, Mulder’s antagonists look stupidly obstinate, not skeptical.
Perhaps it wasn’t the weight of the times that sinks this effort but the movie itself. My zeal for the TV series waned as the scientific side of the argument got thinner and thinner, and Skully increasingly became a defender of Mulder, not of reality. In I Want to Believe, the sides have already been chosen. The characters shout their positions and then walk away in the dark to be followed and thus create a creepy ambience to match the soundtrack. Like the poor agent the psychic priest is tracking, genuine skepticism never stands a chance.