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Entertainment Weekly: 'The X-Files' Movie Decoded

Entertainment Weekly
‘The X-Files’ Movie Decoded
Benjamin Svetkey

[Original article here — Published in issue #440 Jul 10, 1998]

What exactly do black oil and killer bees have to do with the price of corn in Tunisia? We get to the bottom of all “The X-Files” mysteries — sort of.

Let’s get this straight. Aliens from outer space have been hiding on earth for millions of years, hatching a secret scheme to colonize the planet by infecting swarms of killer bees with Gooey black stuff that turns humans into zombies. meanwhile, a shadowy quasi-government group known as the Syndicate has been helping the aliens by bombing buildings in Texas and growing corn in Tunisia. It all makes perfect sense—except for the part about the aliens, the killer bees, the black gooey stuff, and those cornfields in Tunisia.

Maybe we’re thicker than Martin Landau’s hairpiece, but we’re still trying to figure out what the heck happens in the X-Files movie. Of course, some degree of enigmatic uncertainty is to be expected when X marks the spot—it’s one of the things that has made the Fox TV series so irresistibly eerie these past five seasons—but we doubt even Cancer Man could unravel all the twisty plotlines coiled into this film. Ambulance-driving assassins? Flying saucers buried in Antarctica? Glenne Headly playing a bartender? If the truth is out there, it’s sure playing hard to get.

Not that anyone cares. As amusing as it is confusing, the X-Files film has grossed more than $55 million since its June 19 opening, pretty much guaranteeing that at least one more X flick is sure to follow. Before that happens, though, we’d like to take this opportunity to raise a few dozen nitpicky (and not-so-nitpicky) questions. Be warned: If you haven’t seen the film, keep an eye out for the !, which indicates answers giving away key plot points. At least we think they’re key plot points—we’re not entirely sure.

WHAT’S THE BEE STORY? The aliens spend millions of years cooking up a plan to colonize Earth—and this is what they come up with? Getting killer bees to cross-pollinate with corn that’s been infected with a zombifying black-oil virus, then presumably having them buzz around stinging every person on the planet? Well, we checked into it. In reality, bees don’t cross-pollinate with corn. What’s more, according to experts at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, it’s impossible to grow corn in the arid terrain of Tunisia. Even more incredible: Are we really supposed to believe that Mulder and Scully could have been trapped in that huge artificial hive with hundreds of thousands of bees and not get stung?

“I’m telling you, we did it,” insists the man who is Mulder, David Duchovny. “We ran through that scene 15 times and never got stung. What they do is take away the queen bee—put her in a nice trailer and let her kick back—and the worker bees aren’t as aggressive.” His costar Gillian Anderson backs up the story: “The bee wrangler was throwing buckets of bees at us,” she says. “But it wasn’t so bad. The only people who got stung were the people who were most afraid of being stung.” As for bees cross-pollinating with corn, X-Files creator Chris Carter says sure, it could happen. “Remember, it’s mutant corn,” he points out. “It’s been genetically altered to attract bees.” He doesn’t think cornfields in Tunisia are such a stretch, either. “We filmed that scene in Bakersfield, California,” he says. “Believe me, it was plenty hot there.”

WHY BLOW UP A PERFECTLY GOOD BUILDING? Early in the film, the Syndicate plants a bomb in a Texas office building where the bodies of four black-oil victims are being kept. Can’t the Syndies think of a way to destroy these incriminating corpses that wouldn’t wipe out hundreds of bystanders? And why did they bother to phone in a bomb threat if they actually wanted the building to explode?

“If Mulder and Scully hadn’t found the bomb, hundreds of people would have been killed—that’s the whole idea,” explains X scribe Frank Spotnitz, who cowrote and produced the movie with Carter. “Those bodies would have been lost in the group.” Calling in the bomb threat was merely the Syndicate’s “cover story so it would look like a terrorist fringe group did it.”

Duchovny provides another explanation for the eye-grabbing kaboom: “It’s kind of a big cheat to start the movie,” he admits. “It gets your attention at the beginning.” That it does. However, no real buildings were harmed during the making of this motion picture. Instead, X’s F/X experts built a facade in front of a real office building and blew that up. “The real building wasn’t touched at all,” Carter swears.

! WHO CALLED THE KILLER PARAMEDICS? The fake ambulance the Syndicate sends to kidnap Scully—how did that happen? The Syndies couldn’t possibly have known an errant virus-carrying bee was hiding in Scully’s collar waiting to sting her and put her into a coma. Also, is the ambulance driver seriously trying to kill Mulder when he shoots him through his window—or did he deliberately just graze him?

“The ambulance driver wasn’t instructed to kill Mulder—that was his own idea,” thinks Spotnitz. “And Mulder’s phone had been tapped, which is how the Syndicate knew he was calling for an ambulance. We had a scene explaining that, but it got cut. These sorts of questions make me nuts. Frankly, the answers weren’t interesting enough to put in the film.”

Here’s one that’s interesting enough: “Why doesn’t the Syndicate just kill Mulder?” asks Duchovny. “That’s always the question. There’s the suspicion on the show that he’s somehow helpful to them. That’s possible. I think Mulder is the worst FBI agent in the world. He spends millions of dollars investigating these paranormal phenomena and never comes up with any evidence. He’s the Kenneth Starr of the FBI.”

WHERE HAVE ALL THE CUTE ALIENS GONE? The ones we meet in the movie are so vicious they make Sigourney Weaver’s Alien nemesis look like Big Bird. What happened to the silvery big-eyed ETs from the TV show? And what about the others missing from the series? Like Alex Krycek? Or the eyes-sewn-shut zombies from last season? Or the clones of Mulder’s sister? Or Mulder’s sister herself, for that matter?

“There was a scene in the film about Mulder’s sister, about the meaning of her abduction, but we cut it,” reveals Carter. “There was just too much information. You can’t fit everything into one movie.” Still, Spotnitz promises there is a connection between the kill-first-abduct-later aliens on the screen and the big-eyed ones on the show. “But I can’t tell you about it yet,” he says, hinting that the issue will be addressed this fall in the show’s sixth season.

! AT LEAST TELL US WHY THE ALIENS WAITED SO LONG TO ATTACK. Not a chance. “That’s something you’ll learn on the TV show” is all Carter will say. “Keep watching.” Spotnitz won’t talk either, although he will explain why the saucer in Antarctica suddenly blasts off at the end of the movie. “As soon as Mulder injects Scully with the antivirus, you see her nutrient tubes get corrupted and the ship starts shimmering and shaking,” he says. “Clearly the antivirus is a contaminant that sends the ship away.” Clearly.

! WHAT DOES ‘THE X-FILES’ HAVE AGAINST FEMA? This harmless, huggable bureaucracy—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—does nothing but pull kittens out of trees during floods, yet it’s portrayed as a traitorous Syndicate front with powers to suspend the Constitution. “From what I’ve read, FEMA can declare martial law,” insists Carter. “They figure prominently in all the conspiracy literature.”

Morrie Goodman, director of communications for FEMA—which has been so nervous about X-Files-inspired terrorism it ordered security beefed up during the opening—begs to differ. “There’s nothing in the film that has anything to do with reality as it pertains to FEMA,” he says coolly. “These fringe groups believe we have all kinds of powers. All FEMA does is respond to floods and other disasters.” He promises the agency has no current plans to declare martial law and unleash swarms of alien-DNA-infected bees. “Not this week,” he says.

“Maybe we got FEMA mixed up with PETA,” Duchovny suggests. “We’ll have to put Babe the pig in the sequel.”

WHAT’S UP WITH SCULLY’S WARDROBE (I)? Not that we’re complaining, but when did the dowdy agent develop such killer fashion sense? Is it a side effect of alien abduction? “In the beginning of the series, I was into the frumpy FBI agent look, but I got tired of it pretty quickly,” Anderson says. “I’ve been paying more attention to my clothes. And with the movie, we had more money, so we could start doing things with Italian fabrics and stuff.”

Carter, always a stickler for verisimilitude, resisted the makeover at first but ultimately came around. “I met with an actual FBI agent who really was a babe,” he says. “She dressed beautifully. So they’re not all dowdy.”

IS THAT WHO WE THINK IT IS POURING DRINKS? Yep, it’s Glenne Headly (Steppenwolf veteran and star of Mr. Holland’s Opus) doing an uncredited bit part as a bartender. According to her agent, Headly did the scene—a brief but memorable turn in which she cuts Mulder off after he drunkenly rambles on about extraterrestrials and government cover-ups—because she’s a huge fan of the show. According to Duchovny, she was indispensable. “I was worried about that scene,” he says. “It just seemed like a lot of exposition to explain who Mulder was and the history of the show. But she made it funny. Glenne Headly saved my ass in that scene.”

NOT THE STRUGHOLD? Armin Mueller-Stahl plays an evil Syndicate overlord named Strughold. Any relation to the real Strughold, the Nazi scientist who conducted experiments on prisoners during World War II—and whom the U.S. secretly brought over afterward to work on the space program?

“He’s either related to him or a big fan,” guesses Duchovny.

“Very good,” says Carter. “You got it.” He also cops to planting a few other nonfiction names in the film. Martin Landau’s flaky doctor character, Kurtzweil, is inspired by a real doctor who supposedly died under suspicious circumstances (Carter says he read about him in the conspiracy literature; this guy definitely needs to join a new book club). And Stevie, the boy who finds the ancient alien goo at the beginning of the film, is named after one of Carter’s boyhood friends (“We used to dig holes a lot, just like in the movie”).

WILL MULDER AND SCULLY EVER KISS? “I think so,” says Duchovny, who almost smooches with his costar in the movie. “If you tease the audience too long they get frustrated.” Good luck convincing Anderson. “It’s not appropriate,” she says. “The series isn’t about our relationship. If it happens, we should wait until the very last episode.”

! WHAT’S UP WITH SCULLY’S WARDROBE (II)? At the end of the movie, when Mulder finds Scully frozen inside that buried flying saucer in Antarctica, she’s buck naked. Moments later, she’s dashing through the snow in a cozy ski suit. Where’d she get it? And while we’re on the subject, how do the two of them get home after the saucer takes off? The Sno-Cat Mulder arrived in is nowhere in sight.

Duchovny clears things up. “I was wearing three layers of clothes, so I gave her some of mine,” he says. “That naked scene, by the way, wasn’t in the original script. But my wife [that would be Tea Leoni] read it and said, ‘You’re missing a great opportunity—it’s the one time Mulder gets to handle Scully naked.'” Not quite as naked as Mulder might have liked. Recalls Anderson: “He was supposed to pick me up naked and throw me over his shoulder, so that we’d be cheek to cheek. But we didn’t film it that way. If you’re not going to see David’s bare butt, you certainly aren’t going to see mine.”

Oh, and according to Carter, Mulder’s Sno-Cat was “parked behind a snowdrift,” out of camera range, which is how they got home (never mind that it had run out of gas). Duchovny offers another scenario: “It was all downhill, so we just got on our asses in the snow and slid the whole way back to D.C.”

SPEAKING OF DUCHOVNY’S BUTT—WHERE’S THE BEEF? What happened to Mulder’s much-talked-about naked-butt shot? The David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade is demanding to know. “We shot it,” says Duchovny. “It was me in a hospital gown. But the sight of my bare ass 40 feet high on the screen was just too frightening even for X-Files fans.”

“David is being modest,” says Spotnitz. “It wasn’t so bad. We just needed to cut that hospital scene and the butt shot seemed gratuitous.” Carter, though, sounds like he regrets the trim: “I’m looking at the shot right now,” he says. “We blew it up and framed it for posterity. In fact, we’re thinking of making the next movie all about David Duchovny’s butt.”

Fine. Just so long as it doesn’t cross-pollinate with any corn.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Fierman)

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