CTP Episode of the Day - 11.27.06 – Field Trip

Today's Cherished Episode: Field Trip (6x21)
Original Air Date: May 9, 1999
Written By: Vince Gilligan & John Shiban
Story By: Frank Spotnitz
Directed By: Kim Manners

After being exposed to a hallucinogenic, Mulder and Scully are trapped inside a subterranean cave -- and the dark recesses of their own minds.

"Extraterrestrial visitors from beyond who apparently have nothing better to do than buzz one mountain over and over again for 700 years."

"Sounds like crap when you say it."

Some "Field Trip" Tidbits & Musings:

-- The episode title is a double entendre -- a "field trip" as in a little excursion out into the field; and a "field trip" as in Mulder and Scully being exposed to an interesting drug.

-- "Field Trip" was an extraordinary episode for several distinct reasons: among them a subtle, convoluted, but ultimately crystal-clear, powerful plotline; an epochal Mulder-Scully confrontation on the very nature of the science/passion schism that separated the two main characters; and a serious meditation -- within a prime-time entertainment show, no less -- on the very nature of human perception and reality.

-- "It was quite an experience," recalled Frank Spotnitz, who was credited with the story for "Field Trip." "As I remember it," explained Spotnitz, "it went through a lot of permutations. Originally, it was about Mulder trapped in a cave with a monster. Then both Mulder and Scully were trapped underground. Then it turned into Mulder and Scully thinking the other one was trapped underground, with only Mulder gradually realizing what was really happening. And then suddenly everyone became very excited. Because we'd never really done an X-File like this. We could explore Mulder's and Scully's differences by seeing the extremes of their two hallucinations -- a serious version of what we did comically in Season 5's 'Bad Blood.'"

-- Added Spotnitz, "It was then that we knew we could do a scene where Mulder said to his partner, 'You tell me you need scientific proof. But aren't I right 99 percent of the time?' And where else could we play a scene where Scully saw a gray alien and said, 'You were right, Mulder. All these years you were right!'? The whole story was a wonderful mind game. But we didn't want to cheat, and we didn't want to tip our hands too soon, and we didn't want to make it so convoluted that the viewer wouldn't understand what was happening. Frankly, I was a little worried."

-- Spotnitz's worries were assuaged when the teleplay -- assigned to co-executive producer Vince Gilligan and producer John Shiban -- was turned in. Spotnitz felt that the script's early clues, particularly Mulder's and Scully's respective triggering of the puffball mushrooms, were perfectly placed.

-- "Another really important thing we did," said Vince Gilligan, "was making sure that the audience didn't think that Mulder and Scully weren't really in jeopardy -- that it was all just a dream, like that whole season on Dallas a few years back. That's why we made sure they realized that the goo from the mushroom would kill them if they didn't figure out what was going on."

-- Meanwhile, further behind the scenes, researcher Lee Smith was having a busy week consulting with botanists and mycologists (mushroom experts), and learning more than most of us would ever need to know about a giant five hundred-acre fungus known to live underground in rural Wisconsin. He also spent many interesting hours on the telephone with experts from "The Body Farm": a thirty-acre facility of the University of Tennessee's Department of Forensic Anthropology, where human body parts from donated cadavers are buried underground in different ways and under different conditions -- the better to monitor their decomposition and provide baseline information for crime investigators. And others.

-- At his shop on Los Angeles' northern fringe, special effects makeup coordinator John Vulich -- working slightly outside of his specialty -- was turning several art department designs into the spidery, eight-foot tall fiberglass pods ("Corey Kaplan told me she wanted them to look organic and earthbound, not alien," said Vulich), that imprisoned the hallucinating Mulder and Scully underground.

-- The pods were moved to the Fox Studio's sound stage, where the scenes involving them -- and the goo-drenched David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson -- were filmed by the show's second unit. Vulich also worked with the special effects department to manufacture the tiny exploding mushrooms -- which spewed Fuller's Earth on cue via squeeze bulbs and plastic tubing -- and, of course, the various complete and partial skeletons that were so important to the plot.

-- At production designer Corey Kaplan's direction, numerous members of the art department thumbed through old geology textbooks and adventure magazines to get the correct look and feel for the dozens of stalactites (the ones that point upward) that her department manufactured.

-- These were temporarily installed -- at location manager Ilt Jones's strong recommendation -- inside the Bronson Caves, an easily accessible network of underground chambers located in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Perhaps best remembered as the entrance to Bruce Wayne's sanctum sanctorium in the old Batman TV series, it is one of the most frequently filmed natural phenomena in the Hollywood area -- which means, of course, that it's one of the most frequently filmed natural phenomena anywhere. In fact, when the X-Files cast and crew spent several days working there in April, they joined a list of hundreds of television shows and movies reaching back to the Silent Era.

-- In sharp contrast to this traditionalist approach were the methods used by special effects producer Bill Millar. In order to "melt" Mulder and Scully on screen, he had to capture their bodies digitally in high resolution and in three dimensions. To do this he took David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson to a special facility in Glendale, where an advanced laser device scanned their (fully clothed) bodies and in fifteen or twenty minutes turned their complicated surfaces and curves into easily manipulated computer data. Well, not so easily manipulated.

-- "When we looked at our first tests," said Millar, "we realized we couldn't melt Mulder and Scully without some degree of difficulty, because David and Gillian couldn't just melt. They had to melt like movie stars -- without looking grotesque, without lookig comical, without turning Gilliam temporarily into Margaret Thatcher or David into John Hurt as the Elephant Man. So we went back in and, utilizing the same data, did a leading edge melt where parts of them melted and turned into the goop that was underground, and the goop would work its way down their bodies so that their facial features would remain intact until the goo overtook them."

-- Alas, outside of the digital realm the goop -- actually a vegetable-derived food thickener with yellow food coloring added -- overtook them frequently. "I mean, geez! They spent hours and hours covered with this stuff, all over their eyes and ears and hair!" said second-unit production manager Harry Bring, who marveled at Duchovny's and Anderson's stolid acceptance of these working conditions.

-- So did most of those present at the Ventura Farms movie ranch, north of Los Angeles, where all of the scenes outside of the cave mouth were filmed. To shoot the sequences where Mulder and Scully claw their way or are pulled to the surface, large pits were dug, scaffolding was constructed inside them, and the actors -- wearing wet suits under their costumes and covered with dirt and goop -- spent hours between shots crouching beneath the cold earth.

-- "I have to tell you," said Vince Gilligan, "that I really was afraid when we turned this episode in that we'd get a call from David or Gillian saying, 'What the hell is this? You think I'm gonna get covered in goo and lie down in a hole in a field somewhere?' Well, we heard back there was some good-natured griping, but on the day they shot it, they didn't complain at all."

-- "Field Trip" used sound effects from the computer game StarCraft (1998), specifically from the Zergs.

-- In the scene just after the opening credits, Mulder is describing the Schiffs' bodies being found in the vicinity of Brown Mountain, North Carolina; but he is displaying a map of South Carolina.

-- The Brown Mountain Lights are one of the most famous of North Carolina legends. They have been reported a dozen times in newspaper stories. They have been investigated at least twice by the U.S. Geological Survey. And they have attracted the attention of numerous scientists and historians since the German engineer Gerard Will de Brahm, who recorded the mysterious lights in the North Carolina mountains in 1771.

-- De Brahm was a scientific man and, of course, had a scientific explanation for the lights. "The mountains emit nitrous vapors which are borne by the wind and when laden winds meet each other the niter inflames, sulphurates, and deteriorates," he said. But the early frontiersmen believed that the lights were the spirits of Cherokee and Catawba warriors slain in an ancient battle on the mountainside.

-- The lights appear at irregular intervals over the top of Brown Mountain -- a long, low mountain in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. They move erratically up and down, visible at a distance, but vanishing as one climbs the mountain. They at first appear to be about twice the size of a star as they come over the mountain. Sometimes they have a reddish or blue cast. On dark nights, they pop up so thick and fast that it is impossible to count them.

-- Hard to believe that this was Mulder's first slide show since "Bad Blood" in Season 5 (Scully did a slide show in "Mind's Eye").

-- "Field Trip" also marked the first time that Scully let the tears fall in front of Skinner (well, sort of, since it was actually a hallucination).

-- Jim Beaver (Coroner) went on to the recurring role of Whitney Ellsworth in the HBO western series Deadwood. Also a writer, Beaver once worked as a newspaper film critic and has written episodes of several different TV series. He is writing a definitive biography of TV Superman actor George Reeves and served as historical consultant on the 2006 film about Reeves' life, Hollywoodland. He has appeared on such shows as Biography, E! Mysteries & Scandals, and Unsolved Mysteries discussing the strange circumstances surrounding Reeves' death. (The name of the character he played on Deadwood was named for the producer of The Adventures of Superman in which Reeves' starred.) Beaver can currently be seen as 'Uncle' Nick Vukovic on a series that has X-Files ties, Day Break.

-- Robin Lively (Angela Schiff) started out as a child actress (you might remember her as Goldie Hawn's oldest daughter in the film Wildcats) and comes from an acting family: her father and mother are both actors, as are her two brothers and one sister. (Her father Ernie Lively played Sheriff Teller in the X-Files episode "D.P.O.")

-- David Denman (Wallace Schiff) can currently be seen as Pam's ex-fiancée Roy on the NBC series The Office.

-- The part of the small gray alien in "Field Trip" was played -- in body suit, mask, and gloves -- by seven-year-old Cody Weselis, son of X-Files stunt coordinator Danny Weselis. Cody is currently following in the footsteps of his father, working as a teenage stuntman on films including Along Came Polly and The Cat in the Hat.

(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Field Trip."