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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The plan was always to transition The X-Files from television to film, but fans change.

Following the success of The X-Files: Fight the Future, there had been some mumblings about the possibility of releasing a film in the summer of 2000. Given that The X-Files was a cultural property rooted in the nineties, it seemed like a big screen adventure would have been the perfect way to bring Mulder and Scully into the twenty-first century. After all, the original plan was that the show would retire in its seventh season. (The network even had a bespoke successor selected in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm.)

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

However, this was not to be. It turned out that Fight the Future represented the cultural peak of The X-Files, the moment of maximum pop culture saturation. Almost immediately upon the production team’s move to California at the start of the sixth season, the show’s rating began their slow (and then not so slow) decline. The seventh season was itself hampered by behind-the-scenes drama, with David Duchovny suing Chris Carter and Fox over syndication. At the same time, Fox’s “worst season ever” meant that the broadcast could not afford to cancel The X-Files.

So, understandably, the sequel to Fight the Future was postponed and put on the long-finger. As the show came to an end in its ninth season, the subject of a second X-Files feature film arose again. Still, there was a debate to be had about whether the world really wanted a second X-Files film. While the sixth and seventh seasons had slowly eroded the show’s popularity and appeal, the ninth completely collapsed it; through the combination of bad storytelling decisions and the broader shift in the political mood, The X-Files felt like a spent cultural force.

"Platonic", eh?

“Platonic”, eh?

Ultimately, that was not to be either. The production history of The X-Files: I Want to Believe often recalls the mythology at the heart of The X-Files, with the project constantly shifting and changing as outside forces intervene. I Want to Believe arrived in cinemas in July 2008, a full decade after Fight the Future and more than six years after the broadcast of The Truth. The finished product is radically different from what anybody might have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Fight the Future, its design often surreal and awkward.

If I Want to Believe would have been a strange choice for an X-Files film release in July 2000, it seemed downright perverse in July 2008.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

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Non-Review Review: Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is a staggeringly cynical piece of work.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbusiness satire has its knives out from the opening sequence, and never puts them away. It is a movie that is relentlessly snarky and bitter about just about any facet of the artistic process. The movie seldom pulls its punches, lawing into its targets with a vengeance. There are points where it almost seems too much, where it feels like Iñárritu might be better served to pull back or ease off for a moment as the film becomes just a little bit too much.

Showtime!

Showtime!

Then again, Iñárritu turns the film’s relentlessness into a visual motif, structuring Birdman as one long unbroken take. This structure is only slightly disingenuous. While there are any number of “cheats” that allow Birdman to stitch together multiple takes, the end result is still a hugely ambitious and impressive piece of work. Even viewers as cynical as the film itself may find themselves marvelling at some of the incredibly fluid transitions and extended sequences. Birdman‘s anger might occasionally come close to suffocating, but its energy is infectious.

That is to say nothing of the performance at the centre of the film, with Michael Keaton playing a washed-up has-been celebrity desperately (and pathetically) fighting for artistic credibility after a career spent in blockbuster cinema. One of the more interesting aspects of Birdman is that it seems just as dismissive of the attempts at artistic rehabilitation as it does of the original “sell out” work. Birdman is a wry, clever and vicious piece of work. It is also a phenomenal accomplishment.

You wouldn't like him when he's angry...

You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…

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