Posts Tagged ‘X-Files’

In Classic Hollywood, Anderson and Duchovny might have been the franchise, not The X-Files

February 23, 2016

Anderson and Duchovny - image from The Guardian

The X-Files completed its brief revival run of six new episodes last night. Apart from a standalone film released in 2008, this was the first time its lead characters Dana Scully and Fox Mulder had investigated the paranormal since 2002. The opening and closing episodes directed by series creator Chris Carter attempted to advance the world of the series into the present and acknowledge the differences in conspiracy culture then and now, but the show still leaned heavily on nostalgia, and many episodes were hampered by their need to acknowledge story details from more than a decade earlier.

Fans were elated when The X-Files’ return was announced, most of all because of the full participation of its leads, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, who became less involved in the original series’ final years. Now that the new miniseason has finished, their presence and undiminished chemistry was the most enjoyable aspect of the series and the best argument for its existence.

Which made me miss the days when screen pairs stuck together through multiple projects rather than repeatedly sequelizing a single project. Anderson and Duchovny went on in the intervening years to individually head other TV series, but never again together. Their other projects saw varying levels of success, but never anything like X-Files. The pair weren’t the only thing that made X-Files a hit, but it’s not hard to imagine a new project reteaming them would have been at least as popular and probably more so than their separate work.

The great advantage of long-running screen pairings built around performers rather than characters—think Astaire-Rogers, Hepburn-Tracy, Bogart-Bacall, or Hope-Crosby—was the ability to repeat a pair’s chemistry without getting stuck with old continuity or confined to a single set of writers/directors/showrunners. Those screen pairings were very much franchises in the sense that we now use the word, but they were franchises built around the performers and their personas/chemistry rather than around intellectual property. When fans talk about the Astaire-Rogers movies, they generally refer to Fred and Ginger, not the characters they play in the various films, none of whom I can name, despite owning all the films on DVD and having watched them repeatedly.

Similarly, every X-Files fan I know speaks mainly about the leads’ dynamic, and while the characters as written are part of that, fans talk as much or more about Anderson and Duchovny—or Gillian and David among the hardcore—as they do Scully and Mulder. The performers were what fans were excited to be revisiting, more than the conspiracies or aliens or Chris Carter’s scripts and direction. It’s difficult to envision the new series being as anticipated if the roles had been recast; it’s unlikely it could even have been made.

Outside of a few comedy ensembles (the phenomenon belongs more to comedy in the first place, but the Bogart-Bacall example is a potential model), franchises today are almost exclusively built around intellectual property that can be leveraged across media and continued indefinitely. The movie star as a cultural figure has greatly diminished as a result, and specific pairings of performers has gone with it. That business model is so ingrained that Fox brought back a series whose best days are far behind it rather than bet on a new Anderson-Duchovny series that would be less immediately buzzy but potentially have longer legs.

I have no idea if a brand-new Anderson-Duchovny project that wasn’t tied to an already-beloved show from the ’90s would have gotten the same level of attention the revived X-Files has, or if Anderson and Duchovny themselves would have been interested. Had Fox presented a new series unrelated to The X-Files, but reteaming its leads, and made sufficient noise that this was a reunion of the parts of The X-Files fans loved most, I think there’s a chance. In its way, the first time Anderson and Duchovny play new leads opposite each other is as big a story as the latest time they play the same leads. In any case, I have no doubt it would have resulted in more interesting and almost certainly more entertaining television. It’s just not how Hollywood works anymore.


Guest Review – Cue the “Spooky” Synthesizers!

July 29, 2008
The X-Files #0
By Frank Spotnitz and Brian Denham
DC/Wildstorm – saddle-stitched, $3.99

SO, my boyfriend, Brendan, asked me to write a review of the new X-Files comic because I’ve been a huge X-Phile (that’s an X-Files fan, if you haven’t figured) for literally an entire half of my life. As a teenager, my bedroom wall was plastered with the posters, and my action figures were neatly arranged by my Mulder & Scully Barbie dolls. I’ve currently gone back on the message board with the release of the new movie. I am, however, not a comics fan and have not read many comics (ones I’ve read and loved include: Preacher, anything Jeffrey Brown, and currently, Fables). It is with this X-Files-insider, comics-outsider perspective that I review The X-Files #0.

The X-Files #0 page 1, featuring a drawn version of the show’s title sequence.
Click for larger image

This is the first X-Files comic to be written by someone from the TV show — Frank Spotnitz, a producer and writer on the television series (as well as co-writer of the new feature film) — and it nicely captures the feel of the show. In fact, this comic could very well be an episode of the show in drawn form. It’ll definitely feel familiar to anyone who used to watch the series and remembers its stand-alone episodes: It starts with a supernatural and violent incident in a small American town, and Agents Mulder and Scully arrive to help local authorities because of their expertise in “cases that defy rational explanation.” From there, evidence and victims mount as Scully contributes her medical knowledge, and Mulder makes leaps of logic that turn out to be right.

Similarly, the art also captures the aesthetic of the TV show. The colors are dark, and everything seems to be barely lit by small or out-of-reach light sources in dark places, creating persistent shadows. Every panel looks like it could be a freeze-frame of a shot from the show, and has a logical, straightforward progression. There are also a few visual inside-joke gags for the observant fans. Unlike the ‘90s X-Files comics from Topps, in this new comic Mulder and Scully actually look like the show’s stars (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson). Even their facial expressions (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask) are spot-on. By comparison, the old Topps comics look inappropriately superhero-y.

“This looks like a job for Super Mulder!”
Superhero-style art from Topps’ The X-Files #31.

The only problem with this comic partially results from what is good about it: that this is a self-contained mini-episode of the TV show. That is to say, it feels exactly like the TV show at its height – except imagine if an episode was half as long. This comic so closely follows the formula of a prototypical X-Files episode, it has the effect of simultaneously feeling rushed and being too thin. It feels rushed because it attempts to cram in everything that is “supposed to” be in an X-Files episode in a small space, and it feels thin because once all of the formulaic aspects are laid out, there really isn’t much room left for the storytelling to be very innovative (I figured out what was going on before Mulder did, which almost never happens), or to do anything too deep with the characters or themes.

The more restrained, television-like look of The X-Files #0.

I have reason to be optimistic. As I was telling Brendan my take on this comic, he told me something I couldn’t have known as a non-comics reader – that a #0 issue typically implies that it is an introduction, a teaser. From this perspective, I can see that this issue could be a good introduction for something more. Perhaps in a multi-part series, stories, themes, and characters can be more fleshed out. Maybe they’ll start to feel more comfortable with breaking away from a strict formula. Or, they could possibly find a way to take more advantage of the comic book medium without sacrificing that X-Files feel. After all, watch the pilot episode of the TV show, try to not have it unintentionally make you laugh out loud, and then watch a solid mid-season episode like “Beyond the Sea” or a quirky gem from a later season like the black-and-white “Post-Modern Prometheus.” Tell me that the show didn’t grow to change, evolve, and take risks.

With the TV show long over and the new movie honestly leaving me a bit unsatisfied, some new stories in comic book form could be refreshing. Like Mulder’s poster says, I Want To Believe.

––Akiyo Horiguchi