X-Files mythology, TenThirteen Interviews Database, and more

Archive for January, 2016

10X2: Founder’s Mutation

The X-Files 2016: Introduction | 10X1: My Struggle

Billed as the second part of a two-night premiere by Fox, The X-Files return to self-contained cases with this episode — however in the tradition of many season 1 episodes not all is as it seems and the mythology points its nose midway through.

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Spoilers after the jump.

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10X1: My Struggle

The X-Files 2016: Introduction | 10X2: Founder’s Mutation | 10X3: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

After this introduction, let us now get into the meat of this: the episode itself.

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My Struggle” is written and directed by Chris Carter. It has the difficult task to do no less than the following: introduce the concept of the show, its central characters, its main intrigue, to new viewers; refresh the memory of fans on where the story stood when we last saw our heroes; reintroduce the main characters and what makes them tick; cover the time gap between 2008 and today; address and advance the mythology; present an episode’s worth of intrigue, with beginning, middle and end; last 44 minutes; and satisfy fans as much as possible.

Spoilers after the jump

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The X-Files revival: an introduction

After “a thirteen-year commercial break“, as per Chris CarterThe X-Files are back! — and with them the entire trio of creator Chris Carter and actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny.

Some history: The X-Files, 2002-2016

Writing these words does seem surreal. Things could have developed differently. A victim of its own success, the “original series” (a term we are going to have to get used to from now on!) exceeded its welcome on television and ended in 2002, going well beyond Chris Carter’s original ideas for about five seasons and continuing past the point where it would have made sense to make a clean break from the two main leads and focus on new leads entirely. By that point, the series was well past its peak popularity and Carter’s vision to transition into a feature film franchise was compromised; lawsuits with Fox involving Carter and Duchovny did not help either. With 2008’s I Want To Believe, Carter had stayed true to the idea he has expressed since 1998, of doing a stand-alone story for the second film, and enriched it with Mulder and Scully’s personal story. A very interesting enterprise but marred by many flaws (EatTheCorn review here), the second film did not generate enough momentum to lead into a third film, which Carter has teased as a return or one could hope a resolution (as far as resolutions go in The X-Files) of the mythology. The franchise was put on cold storage, being remembered only in anniversary events for an aging audience like any antiquated show before it.

If nothing else, The X-Files‘ feature films have showed that the franchise is too multifaceted for individual stories to satisfy everyone. If more films had closely followed, what was left unsaid in the second film would have a chance to develop and the whole would be elevated above its individual components; if the films were to focus on the mythology, there wouldn’t be the opportunity to verse into other paranormal themes, horror, comedy, experiment out of the norm. As much as it tried to bring feature film quality into the world of television, across the wide range of its fans and critics The X-Files is remembered fondly not for one of its aspects but for the sum of what it could do: for being a multi-episode series.

And so, a return to television. EatTheCorn has already argued that other avenues than a prestigious feature film could be a valid future for the franchise — see our recollections on the occasion of the passing of December 22, 2012, and at the 2013 20th anniversary panel at San Diego Comic Con, where key people still saw the feature film as the only option. Keep also in mind that FOX’s feature film branch and FOX’s television branch are two rather distinct entities, and this revival was certainly made possible in television thanks to the arrival at the top management of people with whom Chris Carter has had good relations with since the very beginning of the show in 1993 — namely, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, CEOs of Fox Television Group since July 2014. Conversely, the feature film industry is more wary of a franchise transitioning from television to film rather than the other way around, and Carter would still have a lot of people to convince were he to make that third film.

The return has been brewing for a couple of years. Carter and Walden attribute the fan excitement of the 20th anniversary as a catalyst. Frank Spotnitz has been mentioning that discussions were going on throughout 2014. IDW’s The X-Files comic series, expertly held by writer Joe Harris (and covered extensively at EatTheCorn), have brought novelty to the brand since their launch in June 2013. Kumail Nanjiani’s The X-Files Files podcast and of course fan activity online have also helped. The revival was put out there as an idea in January 2015, and a firm decision came in March; shooting took place between June and September; post-production lasted till December; and here we are barely a year later. Things went very quickly once the will was there.

But one has to make the obvious question: was a revival necessary? And one has to shed the knee-jerk reaction of the cliché of the unconditional fan, who will ask for more whatever might happen, or EatTheCorn’s obsession with seeing a continuation or closure of the show’s mytharc. With the passage of time and the endless cyclical urge of popular culture to eat itself, we live at a time of a revival/recycling/retooling/reneologismation of the landmarks of the 1980s and 1990s — the examples of that are everywhere. The X-Files was sure to come at some point, not because it has something more to say but because of the mere fact that its first incarnation had success, and thus presents an good case for easy return on investment (not to mention the opportunity of increasing the price of sales of Fox’s back catalog to streaming services like Netflix, which is a very important financial argument in the present days). What more does The X-Files has to say? This is the question that the revival needs to answer.

Behind the scenes of the revival

From the first declarations that Carter made on the revival, it came as a surprise that it was going to be a much more ambitious enterprise than “just” a matter of adapting his ideas of the continuation of the mythology, elements that he might have been keeping for a third X-Files feature film, to a multi-episodes television event. In fact it became something else entirely from that as well, but we will come back to that.

Carter wanted to revive the old show entirely: propose a series of episodes that would recreate the format of mythology, stand-alone scary stories and experimental; return to Vancouver to shoot, the place that defined the show’s identity and look in the first five seasons, same as for I Want To Believe; reunite with the band of writers that made its success; reunite with as many people as possible in the crew (just to name the most obvious that participated in this revival: composer Mark Snow and sound editor Thierry J. Couturier; visual effects supervisor Mat Beck; casting director Rick Millikan; production designer Mark S. Freeborn; production assistant Gabe Rotter; cinematographer Joel Ransom; editor Heather McDougall); and with the cast. Reunite the TenThirteen family. The project of the revival, what many would have expected to be a one-shot single-story event, including this fan, became something much more ambitious. A new season of the show, albeit with fewer episodes (initially 8, but trimmed to 6 for no other reasons than scheduling), and a season that could be, and has been conceived to be, the first of many!

Everything is made to channel the old show again. Its success, even, is measured by how close it is to the original: Dana Walden has said that “We are excited creatively by what we’ve seen. These episodes are incredibly consistent with the original series.

Of course the revival makes use of current themes for the stories and of modern film-making technology, it certainly looks very fresh; but other than that, the “revival” could easily be modified to be a “reboot”, i.e. the recreation of the original starting from a blank slate, an X-Files for the 21st century. Yet story threads still dangle embarrassingly in the absent centre (William, anyone?) and characters do feel like they are defined by the weight of the past; this is a continuation, not a reboot. This mix of old and new defines this revival.

What can be discussed and argued then is the mixture of “old” and “new”. How far does the new show stray, or evolve, from the old one? How much does it want to? In the run-up to the revival, we explored different possibilities, different possible futures for The X-Files. Out of the wide range of possibilities, out of that fourteen-year playground of the imagination for armies of fans across the world, a choice has been made, a single path has been taken, and the other possibilities are no more.

The new writers’ room

The six-episode revival is shaped by Carter and the people he has surrounded himself with. He has referenced in interviews that he wanted the whole gang of the original 3-5 seasons back — Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa — however not everyone was available at such a short notice. Spotnitz’s absence is particularly notable since over the years he had become very much identified as the biggest creative force along with Carter and the two lead actors: they co-wrote both films, they co-wrote most of the mythology over seven seasons, he was imagining himself as participating in a future X-Files endeavour as well when asked in interviews over the long gap years of the past decade, as recently as 2014. Yet it so happened that success hit him at the same time and he was busy with launching his own series, The Man in the High Castle — both series were actually shot simultaneously in Vancouver in thesummer of 2015! Whether the revival series would have taken a different path with him is something to wonder at — particularly concerning the romance between Mulder and Scully, something he has always been an articulate proponent of.

The writers team for this revival ended up consisting in Chris Carter, Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan. It already is a bit of a dream team, and a team that has not worked closely together since seasons 1-4 of the show! This sets the tone for what will follow.

Morgan and Wong (“the Wongs”) are of course responsible for some of the series’ best episodes, and to a great extent they are responsible for the identity of the show, being the writers of the show’s first non-alien, monster-focused episode (1X02: Squeeze and its sequel 1X20: Tooms); they developed the characters immensely, particularly Scully (1X12: Beyond the Sea, 4X13: Never Again); they created the characters of Skinner, the Lone Gunmen, Scully’s mother and father and sister Melissa; they injected a great sense of paranoia in the mythology (1X16: E.B.E.) and gave the show episodes where the supernatural could be something optimistic and not necessarily scary (2X08: One Breath) as well as some of its most horrific B-movie-guilty pleasures (2X14: Die Hand die Verletzt, 4X03: Home). After they left The X-Files and Millennium in 1998 and after some other projects, Morgan and Wong stopped being a creative duo after 2006 and went on their own ways; this is the first project in which they work together since a decade.

Darin Morgan is another celebrated writer, with only four-and-a-half episodes (4 + 3X22: Quagmire) but all of them in people’s “best of” lists. His unintentionally comic episodes expanded what the show could be and made fun of its codes and characters while managing to present a good X-file, mixing both cynicism and humanism.

Carter remains the main creative force since the show’s inception, however it will be interesting to ponder which story directions were his own and which came as a result of a back-and-forth with the rest of the writers. Each one writes the script and directs “their own” episodes, however the general story of the episodes and the arc they follow is a result of several interactions involving all of them — this time, not in the TenThirteen offices in Los Angeles, but in Glen Morgan’s garden!

Also, another important point is that Chris Carter is not the only on getting credit as an Executive Producer — the well-known last image of each episode — he is now joined by Glen Morgan. This puts Morgan on equal footing as Carter as the person who has the last word on any decision, from vision to script to film, and essentially makes this revival a Carter-Morgan project. What hadn’t happened in The X-Files and Millennium has happened now, almost two decades later!

On to the episodic reviews/first reactions.

Story and Visual Influences on The X-Files: Updated

With less than a week to go for new X-Files (!)…

After more than 3 years after its launch, the massive list of influences on The X-Files — films, TV shows, scenes, cinema techniques, works of literature — has been updated! The list is complete with image “proof” and comparisons, and links to IMDb or Wikipedia for your “to (re)watch” or “to (re)read” lists.

As always, suggestions for further enriching the list are welcome!

Grand total: 205 references…

We’re going to the movies!

Introduction | Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 | Season 4 | Season 5 | Season 6 | Season 7 | Season 8 | Season 9 | Movies

The Obsessions of Chris Carter

When The X-Files return next week (!), we are going to re-enter the world of Chris Carter. Throughout all his works — The X-Files and its two theatrical movies, Millennium, Harsh Realm, The Lone Gunmen, The After — certain common themes, threads, ways to tell a story, leitmotivs come up again and again, making his work recognizable and giving it a unique voice. Among these recurring themes is history and memory, loss, religion, trust, family.

Next week Carter not only returns with the cast from the original series, along with key writers Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan. It’s also such key people, some of which have been with Carter since 1993, as: composer Mark Snow and sound editor Thierry J. Couturier; visual effects supervisor Mat Beck; casting director Rick Millikan; production designer Mark S. Freeborn; production assistant Gabe Rotter. Carter also returns to Vancouver, where The X-Files established its identity in its first 5 seasons and returned to to shoot I Want To Believe. It really is a family.

To delve deeper into this, EatTheCorn proposes below an article that looks at these “obsessions” of Carter’s, written in 2006 by Séverine Barthes — a long time ago, but these very interesting arguments are developed here in an elegant way. Read it after the jump.

XF crew 1994-1995

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Three weeks and counting…

It is now 2016 and not only have we survived another winter solstice since December 22nd 2012 but we are presently less than a month away from entering the world of the X-Files again!

The revival

The FOX marketing machine is gearing up accordingly. “I Still Want To Believe” is the new tagline, echoing the old and underlying the fact that this is a repeat, “more of the same”. This fine line to walk between repeating the old — cozy, reassuring, nostalgic — and the new — bold, risky, unsettling — is a balance that all continuations must face. The recent Star Wars sequel (only very relatively successful, in my opinion) is the most recent example in the impulse to keep on continuing pop culture franchises.

So far there have been exclusive premieres of the “pilot” episode at select festivals (Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Italy), we have seen posters, trailers, and a behind the scenes documentary. This is a lot of material for a six-episodes event, and goes a long way to show that FOX really believes in this and wants it to succeed. Also, the amount of images revealed goes very far — fans have been trying to assign each single frame to not only individual episodes but also chronologically within episodes — and key plot points have been revealed by the promotional campaign disregarding Carter’s previous obsession with secrecy and spoilers control. This is a very modern way to promote entertainment — the social networks buzz must be fed continuously and at all costs — but could prove counter-productive. Already, there is very little one cannot find on the first episode and many story details on the other five by searching the internet.

However, as a fan, I must admit that it all looks extremely exciting! (Including some worrying aspects on the mytharc, but coming up with theories to fill the gaps/plot holes is what we do for a living here.) It is all calibrated to appeal to those who remember the X-Files from the early seasons, including the radical approach on the Mulder-Scully relationship — which is a mix of a non-risk-taking return to how it used to be in the early days and part of a greater plan to reveal what has happened since 2002 progressively throughout all episodes, especially on the fate of William and their romantic split, using elliptic narration and flashbacks. Hopefully the episodes will actually deliver on the good buzz.

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Of course, everything is done to promote the new series, which also means that the old series benefits from this buzz too — some even say that financially the new series is made so as to pump up the value of the old series as well for broadcasting rights for internet streaming services. The one-episode-a-day event that FOX marketing is animating over all its social media (head over to EatTheCorn’s Facebook page for some comments on each mytharc ep) is not only a way to count down to the new series but also a way to bring in new fans.

The BluRay

The most important event however, and quite possibly the ultimate and, well, last possible thing that could ever be done with the “old series” is its release in BluRay. Long anticipated with HD broadcasts in Germany and the USA since 2013, the whole package, including the two films and all bonus material from the DVDs, and a slot for the future new series’ BluRays (I wonder where “season 11” will fit if there is one?) was released on December 8 2015. After being one of the very first TV series that was edited in complete form in the DVD format in 2000, the X-Files has made the jump to the next format.

The challenges to do such a release were many — head over here for an interview with Jim Hardy, CEO of Illuminate, the company  behind the transfer — chief among which the fact that every single episode had to be recreated from scratch by scanning the films of the raw unedited dailies. Post-production in the 1990s was done directly on VHS, and creating HD transfers is comparatively easier for shows both before and after that period! We’ll leave the debate on whether original 4:3 aspect ratio or feature-like revisionist 16:9 widescreen was better to the experts — what is out there looks amazingly fresh regardless. However, no release is perfect: the fonts that were used for the XF logo, the opening credits, the cast and crew credits, and the place and time tags are different from the original; some departures from “The Truth Is Out There” tag were not respected; and some other issues. These things are all the more frustrating that they could have easily been respected, and I don’t expect FOX to do a re-release (or a re-scan for 4K for example) any sooner than one or two decades. You can see some DVD to BD comparisons and a detailed list of differences here.

“The rest”

Another important “old series” release could also be very close. The third volume in the X-Files music by La La Land has been postponed from 2015 to early 2016, and I could very well see LLL taking the opportunity to make use of the revival to release it. After two volumes for both X-Files and Millennium, it’s going to be worth the wait — and in the case where LLL lacks inspiration, here is a requests list.

The interest on the X-Files has been rising steadily since IDW started publishing X-Files comic books in mid-2013, and EatTheCorn has been covering closely the storylines developed by Joe Harris. “Season 11” should be drawing to a close with three more issues and what follows next is still unclear, apart from an independent “what if” alternative history issue in April. What is certain though is that IDW will be continuing to publish X-Files comics, with Joe Harris very much involved! What form will these comics take (unique stories, continuing storyline) and what continuity they will follow (alternate universe, pre-revival, post-revival) is not yet revealed.

It’s no wonder that IDW is also expanding its X-Files merchandising line: after the X-Files board game (which should have a couple of extensions in the future) and re-prints of all older comics and novels, a trilogy of X-Files short story collections is coming out, edited by horror writer Jonathan Maberry. The stories mostly take place in the “golden age” of the series, around 1996, but not exclusively. The first volume, “Trust No One“, was released in July 2015 and the second, “The Truth is Out There“, will be released in March 2016. There are some older XF alumni in here: Stefan Petrucha, writer of the (excellent) first 16 issues of the XF Topps comics in 1994-1995, Sarah Stegall, famous XF reviewer of old; Joe Harris and Dean Haglund might participate in a future third volume.

Titan also publishing two X-Files Companion books that seem to consist in collections of already published material, namely articles from the official XF magazine (some of which can be found on EatTheCorn) published by Titan in the 1990s. There will be two volumes: the first “The Agents, the Bureau, and the Syndicate” in January and the second “Monsters & Villains” in March.

I wonder what else we will be seeing in terms of merchandising in the coming weeks and months.

The fandom is also gearing up to the revival. Professional genre expert John K. Muir, who has written on X-Files and all things Chris Carter several times on his blog, also published his book on XF, The X-Files FAQ, featuring reviews and analysis of The X-Files and Carter’s other works. Darren Mooney finished his epic series of reviews of all four Ten Thirteen shows on his site, an incredible amount of text and many amazing insights. The reference site X-Files News has relaunched their website afresh. Retrospective articles in the media abound.

FOX is planning to broadcast the episodes in over 60 countries all around the world within 24 hours of their broadcast in the USA. Barely three weeks remaining for the launch of potentially the first season of the revival.