> December 22, 2012
Well, if the scenery above is not the image you have outside your window, then something went wrong in the colonization plans. Somebody somehow prevented it; and if it was Mulder and Scully who did it we don’t know — yet!
Indeed, before we were given the date of Saturday December 22nd 2012 in 9X19/20: The Truth (2002), we were told it would be on a holiday in Fight the Future, it would be 15 years after 5X13: Patient X (early 1998), that “the date is set” (3X24: Talitha Cumi), that a new beginning was 18 years after 2X10: Red Museum (1994). This landmark date has been a long time coming. How full of possibilities did these ten years separating the end of the series and that announced date seem, back then!
Like so many things in the X-Files it was there in the series before it became widely known and a factoid of everyday popular culture. The X-Files was pre-empted in the big screen in popularizing the “end of the world” with the presumed end of the Mayan calendar by the disaster movie 2012 (2009) and in recent days it’s been the subject of endless eschatological occult warnings, de-dramatizing scientific articles, viral internet jokes and opportunistic merchandising with a “best before” date. It was also pre-empted by a novel by someone who could have served as an inspiration for X-Files scenarios, Whitley Strieber (author of Communion on close encounters with aliens, 1987) and his inter-dimensional invasion novel 2012: The War for Souls (2007). To all this we have to add a long list of invasion or apocalyptic films, most action- or horror-based, some of so-so quality, that have come out since the series ended ten years ago: Signs (2002), War of the Worlds (2005), 28 Weeks Later (2007), I Am Legend (2007), The Invasion (2007), The Happening (2008), The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), Blindness (2008), Battleship (2012)… Even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skulls (2008) and Prometheus (2012), despite their lame scripts, could be said to contain X-Files-like mythology elements! In this crowded pop culture environment, what place is there for a potential X-Files 3 that would wrap up the alien invasion mythology?
At its heart, the X-Files mythology is a syncretism of various conspiracy theories of the New World Order family and eschatological theories linked with spiritual and alien influence on human matters. Political scientist Michael Barkun said in his book A Culture of Conspiracy (2004):
“Prior to the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two subcultures, primarily the militantly antigovernment right, and secondarily Christian fundamentalists concerned with end-time emergence of the Antichrist.” (p. 179)
Interestingly, Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993-2002) illustrates and beckons to the first group of subcultures, while his Millennium (1996-1999) illustrates and beckons to the second group. The X-Files’ stories of conspiracies “against the American people” from within the American government, “Government denies knowledge”, the NWO-like Syndicate that pulls all the strings, the loss of individual freedom against anything that has to do with arcane governmental doings: all these are ideas that are expressed in a way outside of the conventional bipartisan criticism of government, a point of view right from the US conspiratorial underground — and Millennium would delve deeply into this in its third season (going as far as using one of the most popular of US’s conspiracy theorists, Art Bell, as himself). On the other hand, Millennium’s mottos “wait, worry, who cares?”, its frequent Bible quotes, its use of Christian terminology such as good, evil, light, darkness, sin, redemption, Christian devilish and angelic imagery, its progressive use of apocalyptic themes: all these are popular worldviews in many Bible-frenzied groups that are so typically American.
In the 1990s these ideas were confined to the far right or conservative underground, and Carter’s two series were but one factor that brought them much closer to the everyday political landscape.
Of course these ideas do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the creator Chris Carter, at least not entirely. Whether the X-Files and Millennium defend a conservative or a progressive point of view is a large debate — and beside the point. All of the above plus the two series’ distinctive weight it gives to nuclear relationships (platonic romanticism; the ideal family) points to the former; Carter’s defining moment being the Watergate scandal and other facts point to the latter. Barkun again says:
“Conspiracism is, first and foremost, an explanation of politics. It purports to locate and identify the true loci of power and thereby illuminate previously hidden decision making. The conspirators, often referred to as a shadow government, operate a concealed political system behind the visible one, whose functionaries are either ciphers or puppets.” (p. 178).
And what a simplistic explanation of politics it is! Other works of fiction that adopt a different, more complex worldview are hailed for their quality but penalised for their intellectualism (see The Wire; in particular this scene from season 5, episode 8, 25:29, turning into ridicule the pop culture obsession with serial killers while larger and more lethal societal problems are given less weight in the things we spend our brain time on). Regardless, conspiracies just make for good drama-filled entertainment. Even if certain themes of the two series do speak to eternal inner struggles of the individual, like the believer/skeptic dichotomy or the protection of one’s offspring, their actual stories should not be taken at face value. A third film could continue the story/parable and spin it in new ways.
Still, Ten Thirteen shows were notable for bringing a high degree of realism in their fantastic stories. We are led to believe that somewhere in our world, these supernatural events do exist, and that Mulder and Scully and Frank Black are fighting the good fight, protecting us from evil. But if that realism is to be kept intact, the world the series depict must not radically differ from our own. If the alien invasion or the millennial apocalypse comes, disbelief settles in. If the invasion or the apocalypse is prevented, it must not be done so in a way that is too open or too public, like an all-out war or a presidential assassination or a massively deadly viral outbreak. What then are the possible outcomes of a third X-Files film? A silent revolution that manages to destroy the aliens, or a covert skirmish that manages to postpone the invasion. Both solutions leave the possibility open for a movie taking place after December 22 2012, something that’s been bothering fans as if it were an unmovable deadline.
There’s something to be said about the resolution, or rather the lack of resolution of Ten Thirteen’s two major series!
A “closure” on the colonization storyline would be a classic case of the “good guys” against the “bad guys” and who would win in the end. In this view, the series would have been “the mystery” unfolding, and “X-Files 3” would be “the action” capping everything off. The X-Files rarely was about the leading characters taking action in the grander scheme of things: they were merely observers and, though their personal lives were greatly affected by the surrounding mythology, they were passive receivers of developments that were beyond their hands’ reach. (At least during the first 7 seasons, after which the focus became radically different: the leading characters would act, would be the world savers, would produce messianic offspring.)
Quite similarly, Millennium featured a very personal story of a man and his family against another mythology centered around evil. For the better part of 3 seasons, Frank led his personal battle against that evil, under its many forms, but never hoped to eradicate it or not even protect everyone from it. Like in the X-Files’ mythology, the leads’ actions were nearly inconsequential on the greater battle between Good and Evil (with capital G and E’s). Frank suffered losses (Catherine), enjoyed small victories (resisting Al Pepper for example), saved a few, failed to save some others. But at its heart, the show was about a state of being; it never was about definite victories or failures. It was more interested in exploring the fact that Frank was worried (“Wait, Worry, Who Cares?”) than explaining whatever it was that worried Frank — something that could be changed to fit that week’s particular episode. Similarly, Mulder and Scully’s investigations brought forth dark deeds that asked for the world to stop and meditate on how power can corrupt. Neither shows were interested in making triumphant heroes out of the lead characters in a way other than heroes of moral superiority, heroes of ideas, not of revolutionary accomplishments. And ultimately, both shows introduce very interesting characters and plots and both serve to illustrate larger themes: both are tools, not ends, both are secondary to say something that is more than entertainment.
Thus, the closure in the respective storylines could only be partial, or bittersweet, or ambiguous. This is at the risk of sparking sequelitis in their fandoms: the continuous “we want to know what [insert character] did next…” problem, the problem of not saying that enough is enough. Sequelitis is the surest way to turn a lively universe into a badly perceived profit-seeking franchise, and that’s what happened with the X-Files with at least its last two seasons. But such a fine balance Chris Carter has walked since the beginning. “Who will win, Owls or Roosters, or Legion or ‘Samiel’?” is like “Will the colonization happen or will humans survive?”: essential questions created by the shows’ mythologies but questions Carter has till now chosen not to answer.
Does Carter want to bring his story to a simplistic heroic victory or a repetitive postponement of the deadline? A third X-Files promises to be the resolution, the final confrontation, the climax — while the show’s fabric has been based on a lack of clear-cut endings. This is why I anticipate a postponement of the colonization rather than a pure calling off, should there be an X-Files 3. The X-Files world cannot exist without dark forces looming above. Similarly, when Carter has mentioned a return to Frank Black, concepts like the “Millennium feel” are mentioned rather than “Frank Black vs The Group, Part IV”.
What is left, then, is a story of a secret fight against an alien conspiracy, with a touch of paranormal, necessarily stripped to a bare minimum of all of the intricate complications of the X-Files’ mythology. A warm setting would counterweight the winter setting of I Want To Believe; New Mexico or Mexico perhaps, to build on the Native American (Anasazi, Navajo) and Mayan references in the X-Files’ mythology (plus the state of New Mexico offers significant tax incentives to film production, the reason why Breaking Bad is filmed there!). A Village of the Damned-like (or 4X01: Herrenvolk-like) generation of abnormal children could be a starting point for the intrigue, thereby tying in with 12+ year old William. An underground league of resistance (like the hybrid clones in 4X15: Memento Mori…or the aforementioned children, there’s a plot twist!) that Mulder and Scully would stumble upon would provide the “broad impact manpower” necessary to provide a solution to a global invasion scenario, a solution which would most likely have to be biological and not military in order to respect the plausible realism explained above. This necessity for realism would also reduce the need for a blockbuster-level movie budget. After Mulder saving Scully (XF1) and Scully saving Mulder (XF2), in this one they would have to work together and save each other — and more. And surely, what would make it stand out from the rest of the action/horror invasion/apocalyptic movies would be that characteristic moody atmosphere with lazy silent shots bathed in Mark Snow’s ambient music, a look and feel inspired on Carter by 1970s political conspiracy thrillers such as All the President’s Men (1974) or Three Days of the Condor (1975). It would certainly need to appeal to a larger group than certain parts of the X-Files fans, whose campaigning has been quite vocal but of dubious aesthetics.
There would also have to be a layer over or under it all, conveying a certain message or theme, in order to make it more than mere entertainment. For me that message in I Want To Believe was spiritual solitude and decaying institutions, a move away from the NWO-inspired conspiracism of the show’s mythology into a more religious, or moral, ground. In this unending crisis of our times, possibilities abound to enclose a conspiratorial message in a third movie that would simultaneously strike a vibe with how our current times are experienced and making the X-Files relevant again, a conspiracy that needn’t be similar in nature to the NWO-like Syndicate; perhaps one extending the misdeeds beyond government to the private sector as well. A new backbone to strengthen a fandom which is fragmented, to say the least!
This is not exactly the profile of an action-packed summer box office hit, but given the performance of I Want To Believe (all expenses accounted for, it was barely profitable) and the X-Files’ distance in time from the media spotlight (ten years since the series ended, fourteen since its peak), can we hope for something more than a mid-budget flick? Would more be even necessary? Would Carter accept anything less than a theatrical release? Actually, sometimes it feels like the unlikelihood of an X-Files feature film is linked to the desire for it to be a theatrical feature, which is inherently more expensive. As if Carter and the X-Files wanted to “graduate” from TV to the big screen, while top-rate directors do not stop at the opportunity of doing the opposite (the Martin Scorcese-directed pilot of Boardwalk Empire reportedly cost $ 18 million) and many recognize that the 1970s kind of inventivity that existed in movies has now shifted to television. In a shifting environment for movie-making, the X-Files could take advantage of new means of release, distribution and funding, such as an exclusive television event, direct-to-video with special theatrical screenings, Japanese-inspired V-Cinema, Video On Demand pre-orders, iTunes premiere or YouTube premiere, funding from multiple sources (see 2012’s Cloud Atlas), international sale bundled with an HD remastering of the entire series, the economies on special effects and on-location shooting using full-greenscreen (see Starz’s Spartacus or SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, which reportedly cost $ 2 million). For comparison, Fight the Future reportedly cost $ 66 million ($ 93 million, inflation-adjusted) and I Want To Believe $ 30 milion. The marketing move to have the X-Files released on BluRay starting with next year, as hinted, on the occasion of the show’s 20th anniversary, could be a nice way to gauge interest before the movie. Stranger things have happened (see 2005’s Serenity, based on a FOX series of only half a season, or Star Trek‘s resurrection in 1979 after ten years off the air)!
Whatever happens, the film could only hope to be successful commercially if it is fully supported by the studio — unlike with I Want To Believe, which FOX didn’t seem to know how to market exactly (action, horror, romance), nor did it seem to particularly want to. Carter returning to the media spotlight with another project (the proposed The After series, for example) would benefit, not hinder, the odds for a return to the X-Files. Carter’s chances at directing it, however, might be fewer, given the second film’s history.
Actually, if there is a third X-Files, FOX’s interest might lie in the long-term profitability of the franchise: a continuation and a reboot should be considered as something that might really happen, especially now with the X-Files-like Fringe (2008-2013) now ending, with Duchovny and Anderson potentially acting opposite a couple of “next generation” younger actors. If an X-Files 3 is announced tomorrow, it’s unrealistic to expect a release before 2014. If they want to make it coincide with the full release of the series in HD (counting 2-3 BluRay seasons per year starting from September 2013), that’s end of 2016.
The passage of time has been very kind with Carter and Spotnitz’s I Want To Believe, mainly thanks to its production design and overall themes, and it’s possible to consider it in a good light despite its many shortcomings — which to me boil down to a tight schedule due to the 2007 writers’ strike and thus the impossibility of rewrites, and some aspects of Carter’s directing (including the counter-productive and ultimately needless efforts to maintain secrecy on the set). It could even do as a closing chapter for these characters, since the mythology became so much convoluted and absurd in the last two seasons that it might as well be left alone, or massively simplified, or expertly by-passed. My own time is spent on more important things, such as those Carter seems to have espoused recently, as evidenced by “Statements on green production” in I Want To Believe‘s bonuses.
Still, a third X-Files film or a return to Frank Black would be some gift! Actually it needn’t be “just” a resolution of the colonization storyline: the beauty of Carter’s universes is such that it’s interesting to explore them many times over, with a series of films as Carter had initially envisioned. Works of such a character as those established by Ten Thirteen are rare to find.
> One man alone cannot fight the future
> Don’t give up