Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The X-Files: Fight the Future - DTS (1998)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - Fight the Future

Thirty-seven thousand years ago, a deadly secret was buried in a cave in Texas. Now the secret has been unleashed. And its discovery may mean the end of all humanity. "The plague to end all plagues."

When a terrorist bomb destroys a building in Dallas, Texas, FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy surpassing anything they've ever encountered. With the dubious assistance of a paranoid doctor (Academy Award®-winner Martin Landau), Mulder and Scully risk their careers and their lives to hunt down a deadly virus which may be extraterrestrial in origin - and could destroy all life on earth. Their pursuit of truth pits them against the mysterious Syndicate, powerful men who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets safe, leading the agents from a cave in Texas, to the halls of the FBI, and finally to a secret installation in Antarctica which holds the greatest secret of all.

Director: Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, William B. Davis, Armin Mueller-Stahl, John Neville, Terry O'Quinn
Box Office: Budget: $66 million. Opening Weekend: $30.138 million (2629 screens). Gross: $83.892 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital & DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; THX; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 18 chapters; rated PG-13; 122 min.; $29.98; street date 1/23/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director Rob Bowman and Producer/Writer/Series Creator Chris Carter; “The Truth Behind the Making of the X-Files Movie” 27-minute Documentary; Three Trailers; Extra Footage.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists | Score soundtrack - Mark Snow

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/B

Prior to its release in the summer of 1998, one of the many hot topics that surrounded the first (and so far only) X-Files film concerned how much time the film would devote to an explanation of the story's history. To be certain, few movies contain as detailed a back-story as X-Files, an issue compounded by the fact that the film would largely function as a continuation of the series. That is, instead of the movie functioning as a stand-alone "episode", it offered additional information about the show's various subplots (commonly called the “mythology”).

Basically, the creators of the film wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They tried to make the movie an integral part of the series but they also attempted to create something readily accessible to folks ignorant of the show. How did they do? Coming from someone who mainly fits into that second category, I think they succeeded very well.

Actually, in that regard, X-Files is a strange beast. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back. Both films offered little set-up about their characters; they both just jump into events without really introducing the participants or circumstances. Also, both movies feature very open-ended conclusions. By the time X-Files closes, I felt like the events of the film simply offered a prologue to a later, larger battle.

Still, even though it clearly was the middle part of a story, TESB worked very well on its own, and so does X-Files. Before I initially saw the movie, I had watched the show roughly three or four times. I knew a little more about the series just as someone who pays a fair amount of attention to popular culture. While I feel I missed out on some of the larger significance of characters such as the Cigarette-Smoking Man and the Well-Manicured Man, I don't think my lack of knowledge hindered my enjoyment of the film.

Overall, X-Files (often subtitled Fight the Future) nicely balanced the two sides of the coin. It provided enough information to satisfy newcomers but it didn’t focus so intensely on the back-story so that the die-hards got bored. Of course, I could only interpret this as a member of the newbie camp. Nonetheless, I have a hard time believing that any long-time fans thought the filmmakers spent too much time explaining events; the film featured exceedingly few explicitly expository sequences. Those that did occur seemed more related to the exploration of parts of the movie and didn’t focus on past episodes of the show.

X-Files also is a movie that endures additional viewings rather well. In fact, I liked it better during subsequent screenings than I did when I first watched it theatrically in 1998. At that point, I thought it was interesting but not anything special. After seeing it again, I upgraded my opinion to find it very good. It's not the smartest or the most exciting movie I've seen, but it's a good deal more thrilling and intelligent than most sci-fi/action films we find these days.

My main problem with X-Files stems from my feeling that it falters during its third act. Not coincidentally, half of our team of heroes (composed of Scully [Gillian Anderson] and Mulder [David Duchovny]) misses most of the last third of the film. During that period, Scully's incapacitated, so the movie relies on Mulder to push along the narrative. Through no fault of Duchovny, he does not strongly accomplish this goal. The problem lies in the fact that much of the pleasure of X-Files seems to come from the interplay between the two leads; if either character goes missing, the story lacks balance because too much responsibility falls on the shoulders of the remaining person.

Nonetheless, X-Files is solidly-constructed enough to withstand that miscalculation. The story is nothing very fresh or new. In fact, much of it reminded me a great deal of Outbreak. However, all facets of the production - from direction and acting to effects and editing - are well-executed. While nothing in the film seems tremendously spectacular, it still deserves a lot of credit for offering such a consistently strong piece of work. X-Files easily could have been a disaster, as it had a lot to lose. Instead, it offered a fun and exciting experience that should satisfy new and old fans alike.

The DVD:

X-Files appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, the picture seemed quite good, with only a few minor concerns.

Sharpness usually appeared distinct and crisp. On a few occasions, I saw some mild softness, which generally occurred during wider shots. However, the majority of the movie seemed detailed and clear. Moiré effects and jagged edges were minor, and I witnessed mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were modest. I detected some light grain at times, and I also discerned a few examples of grit, but no more significant defects such as scratches, tears, blotches, or hairs appeared.

Since X-Files is such a dark movie, one would expect a fairly subdued palette, and one would be correct. The colors were modest but accurate at all times as the film presented quiet and moody hues. Black levels looked appropriately dark and rich, and shadow detail generally came across as acceptably clear and opaque. On some occasions, I thought low-light situations appeared slightly too dim, but these were rare. As a whole, I found the picture of X-Files to seem strong.

Even better are the film’s soundtracks. We find both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes on this DVD. For the most part, I didn’t detect any differences between the two. I thought some of the high-pitched sounds - such as the alien’s screams - were marginally clearer on the DTS track, but otherwise they seemed virtually identical. Please note that the DTS mix is mastered at a higher level, so it’ll seem louder if you don’t adjust the volume. When I did so, I found the results to show two exceedingly similar soundtracks.

That’s not a bad thing, because both mixes were very good. The soundfield appeared nicely broad and engaging at all times. The track displayed a wide forward spectrum that displayed fine stereo imaging and which blended audio cleanly and smoothly; sounds panned clearly between the speakers and they seemed naturally placed within the environment. The rears kicked in a great deal of information as well. Whether I heard music, solid ambiance or if more prominent effects came from the surrounds, I felt that the atmosphere was bold and compelling throughout the movie.

Audio quality seemed similarly positive. Dialogue always appeared crisp and natural with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music was nicely bold and dynamic and sounded appropriately bright and clear at all times; the score was an active participant in the mix, and the reproduction made it quite satisfying. Except for some marginal distortion to a few alien screams, effects appeared clean and bold without any distortion or harshness. Ultimately, I thought the soundtrack was a very satisfying affair.

This new X-Files DVD exactly replicates the extras found on the original release. Foremost is the informative and entertaining audio commentary from director Rob Bowman and producer/writer/series creator Chris Carter. It appears that both men were recorded separately and the results were edited into this piece.

The track nicely balanced anecdotal details about the production (usually from Bowman) and general comments about the series (generally from Carter) and the two tied together neatly. Even as an X-Files novice, I thought the commentary presented a lot of compelling details that kept me interested. The main problem I had with the track stemmed from the fact that Carter and Bowman both sound quite a lot alike. I often had a great deal of difficulty knowing who was speaking. To be honest, the identity of the speaker rarely mattered, but the confusion could be a little disorienting at times.

“The Truth Behind the Making of the X-Files Movie” provides a generally solid documentary about the film. The 26 minute and 50 second program combines the usual mix of cast and crew interviews, film clips and shots from the set to create an interesting little show. This is clearly a promotional offering that wants to pique your interest in the film, but it provides a lot of good information about the making of the movie and helps give X-Files neophytes some background. My favorite part? The interview when Anderson almost calls Duchovny "Mulder"; she just gets out "Mu-" before she catches herself. See if you can find it - fun for the whole family!

Lastly, we find three theatrical trailers for X-Files. According to the DVD's case, X-Files contains "extra footage." To a casual fan like me, this additional material was not apparent at first glance (or second or third glances, for that matter); I thought these shots would take the form of added scenes either in the film or as a supplement. My initial review of the original DVD said that there was no extra footage on the DVD, but a reader corrected me and reported that the scene between Mulder and the Well-Manicured Man has been extended. It ain't much, but it's there!

The original X-Files DVD contained a booklet inserted into the case. This piece offered cast and crew details but no production information. The first release also included a tremendously lame "collector's card." The latter is a 3"X5" color card with the movie logo on one side and a creepy painting of Scully and Mulder on the other. Since my copy of the new DVD didn’t come with the final packaging, I can’t say for certain that the new disc will provide these paper extras; I expect it will, but don’t send me any nasty e-mail if it doesn’t!

One new addition to this DVD is the inclusion of the “THX Optimode” program. As also found on other Fox DVDs like Fight Club and X-Men, this is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials; the Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.

Since I recommended the first DVD release of X-Files, obviously I will do the same for the new version. After all, it’s the same fun and exciting movie, and the re-issued DVD improves on the old one in a number of ways. While I thought picture and sound quality seemed virtually identical for each DVD, the new one is anamorphically-enhanced, which means those folks with 16X9 TVs - or sets capable of the “anamorphic squeeze” - will enjoy higher resolution for the re-release. The new DVD also provides a DTS soundtrack in addition to the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix from the original disc. While I discerned no substantial differences between the two, others may disagree, and it’s nice to have the option.

If you don’t already own the old release of X-Files, you’ll definitely want to pursue the new one, and you’ll be happy with it. For those who already possess the original DVD, the question is less clear. If anamorphic enhancement is important to you, then you’ll want the new DVD. Also, if you’re just banana-bonkers about DTS, you’ll want this disc. However, if neither matters to you, then there’s no reason to re-purchase X-Files. I’m happy to have this new release in my collection, however, and I think it’s a fine DVD.

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