The New York Times
September 21, 1997


'X-Files' Looks For the Room To Stretch Out

LOS ANGELES— Steam billowed around the familiar, expressionless visage of F.B.I. Special Agent Fox Mulder as he clawed his way out of a crevice in the ice of Antarctica, then rescued his partner, the wet, injured Agent Dana Scully, the threat of aliens, Government conspirators and spaceships looming somewhere out of sight.

"Cut!" yelled Rob Bowman, the director not of an episode of the highly regarded television series but of a new movie, "The X-Files," which is to open in June. He chatted with the actors -- David Duchovny as Mulder and Gillian Anderson, who just won an Emmy, as Scully -- and then they returned to their places on a huge sound stage here and repeated the sequence on man-made snow, again and again and again.

Movie making can be boring, of course, but fatigue and ennui were more apparent than usual on this late-summer day. Indeed, fatigue is a condition that several people admit is becoming more prevalent on the television show that has made Agents Mulder and Scully famous and has made the paranormal an integral part of television drama these days. And that is part of the reason the movie, which finished filming last week at the 20th Century Fox lot (the series will begin its fifth season on Nov. 2), is not a standard exploitation of a television show, with new actors and a new plot twist.

As the TV series becomes a movie to answer some if its questions, Agents Mulder and Scully may face their riskiest mission yet.

For starters, the "X-Files" movie, costing roughly $60 million, will essentially be an extension of the series, not a takeoff of it -- a first of a kind. Chris Carter, the creator and executive producer of television's "X-Files" and the producer and writer of the film, said that the show's season would end next spring with a cliffhanger and that the movie would then pick up where the series left off. (The 1966 movie "Batman" featured Adam West and Burt Ward, the stars of that television series, but plots were in no way intertwined.) The "X-Files" film is thus based, at least in part, on the premise that viewers will pay $8.50 to watch for two hours what they have been watching an hour every week free. Its creators, however, say there is a difference.

"This is not TV made bigger," promised Mr. Bowman, who has directed a number of "X-Files" episodes for television. "The heart is the same, but more events will be shown than we can do in the show, and the size of the sets and the size of the sequences will of course be much bigger."

More important, the perfectionists who make "The X-Files" are breaching the show's contract with its viewers by answering some of the questions about alien visitors, and about the shadowy Government conspiracy to conceal them, that have been tugging audiences back week after week for four years. In the process, they hope to reinvigorate the series -- not just for viewers, but for the restless cast members.

This is a risky mission, because much of the great success of "The X-Files" can be traced to the amount of information it does not reveal to its adoring public. It is a noirish science-fiction show that embraces the paranormal and paranoid by hinting at, but rarely showing, much action, and hinting at, but rarely clarifying, the purposes of the murky Government entities who are concealing the aliens. Are they using Agents Mulder and Scully as part of some grander scheme, or thwarting them? The question has always been left tantalizingly open.

"The movie will answer many questions, but it will also pose some new ones of its own," Mr. Carter said. "We can now explode some of those issues, consummate some of those things. It is a graduation to another level, in that sense."

Mr. Carter, who is secretive in the best of times, will say almost nothing about the plot of the movie, which has the code name Blackwood. The production notes say only that Mulder and Scully are "drawn into a web of intrigue" after "the mysterious bombing of a Dallas office building."

Visiting the set, one could gather other tidbits: one storyboard was labeled "interior spaceship"; another said "shoot with creature unit." (A publicity agent said the producers were purposely circulating misinformation over the Internet to throw "X-Files" sleuths off the scent.)

The movie is, of course, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the show, but there is unquestionably some risk of tarnishing the show's unusual aura. Mr. Carter said he was taking the gamble with the movie in part to try to recapture a sense of excitement for himself among others. This is the sort of tinkering that most television producers shun as soon as they achieve success, but it is easy to see why Mr. Carter is taking such a chance with "The X-Files." Mr. Duchovny, for instance, was open about his restlessness.

"It's way too long," Mr. Duchovny, 37, said of his tenure on "The X-Files." "There's a point at which it's not challenging anymore. Honestly, I wish they could introduce a new character -- not more popular than me, of course, but interesting -- to change the focus a little."

"It's not like I want to destroy the show," he continued, "but I need room to think of other things."

Ms. Anderson, 29, said that she was loyal to Mr. Carter and the show but that she was frustrated and was eager to make movies built around the inner world of characters rather than action and the occult. "We're different species," Ms. Anderson said of her character, Agent Scully, an earnest physician who is cerebral and a skeptic. "I need to be goofier than her."

The emotional wellspring of "The X-Files" is distrust, and that apparently will not change. Mr. Carter described himself as a writer motivated largely by moral concerns and shaped by the political turmoil of his youth. "I'm 40," said Mr. Carter. "My moral universe was being shaped when Watergate happened. It blew my world out of the water. It infused my whole thinking."

He added that he was essentially pessimistic about the world and that this was what informed his stories (he is also the creator of "Millennium," which, like "The X-Files," appears on Fox, and he is developing a series that will take place just after World War II). "I really think the world is spinning out of control," he said. "There's no work ethic any more and no real moral code. I'm trying to find images to dramatize that."

In fact, Mr. Carter has developed three different kinds of images on "The X-Files," with three different sorts of show. The primary sort of episode is built around the notion of an alien presence on earth and the Government's obsession with keeping it secret. Mr. Carter refers to this sort of story as "mythology"; the movie will be in this category, he said.

The paranoia runs deep in the mythology episodes; one actually purports to explain the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the deeds of the same person, a heavy smoker known as Cancer Man, who is frustrating Agent Mulder's efforts to find the aliens.

Another sort of episode deals with paranormal criminals -- a scientist, for example, who after being irradiated in a laboratory vaporizes people with his shadow, or a young man who after being struck repeatedly by lightning can murder his enemies just by thinking about them.

The movie has the code name Blackwood, and its producers are circulating misinformation on the Internet.

And then there are the more unusual episodes that essentially parody the other two sorts and bring out Mr. Carter's dry humor, as well as the comedic talents of Mr. Duchovny and Ms. Anderson. In one, a janitor impregnates numerous women by mysteriously transforming himself to look like their husbands; he even tries to seduce Scully by turning himself into Mulder. In another episode, two Air Force officers who have posed as aliens and abducted a young couple in a Government plot are themselves abducted by a strange creature from inside the earth, Lord Kinbote, and then become the subject of a novel by a man who believes the whole story is nonsense.

The common thread is that the principal characters, Mulder and Scully, can laugh at themselves but never lose sight of their mission -- to unmask not just criminals but cynics. They are guided by the sincerity and beliefs that Mr. Carter said he had lost in his youth. "They're not cynical in a very cynical age," said Mr. Carter. "These are two characters who are out of step. They're romantic. If they're naive, so be it."

And that point of view is what Mr. Carter, who is still romantic enough to harbor the desire to surf around the world, hopes will remain central to the movie, even as the movie deviates from the heart of "The X-Files" by providing answers in addition to hints.