Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Ghoul Versus X-Files: Fight The Future (Part 1)

"Trust no one."

The X-Files was one of those shows that owes its massive success to coming out at EXACTLY the right time, even moreso than its quality writing, excellent acting, and overall style. See also LOST. It started in 1993, an era where the cultural pulse was based around UFOs and massive conspiracies. Every year it grew bigger and bigger, until 1997 when it hit its pop culture zenith. Agents Mulder and Scully were THE coolest kids in school, and the show's influence could suddenly be seen everywhere.  Even Baywatch did a spin-off show ripping off the premise wholesale, only with a lot more mermaids and frozen Vikings.

The fifth season is where everything began to go wrong. The show began making all the mistakes that these shows do when they get too popular: it began doing everything it could to try to bring it every type of viewer imaginable. We got episodes written by famous authors that had no idea how to write within the show's rules, gimmick episodes, and all kinds of distracting celebrity cameos. By now it was a fully established cultural phenomenon, so naturally the next step was the big budget feature film. Sadly X-Files: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL never materialized.

Now the puzzling thing is they wanted to make the movie accessible to non-fans, so what did they do? Create a Monster of the Week film that wouldn't require any knowledge of the show besides “they're FBI agents that deal with weird stuff”? No, they went with a movie completely based off the show's insanely dense and complicated ongoing storyline, something so difficult even the hardcore fans couldn't fully explain it. It's okay though, the show's creator couldn't either.

This is one of those rare movies I've reviewed on here that I've actually seen before, however that was when it first came out in 1998 so my memory is a TAD hazy on most of the story. I do remember loving the hell out of it though. Let's grab our flashlights and see how this turned out with A Ghoul Versus X-Files: Fight The Future!

The film opens in North Texas 35,000 B.C,. which at this point is still a winter wonderland. Damn I had no idea Texas was this old, I thought Delaware was the first state. What else did my teachers lie to me about?! We find two caveman following some very strange looking tracks into a cave. Inside, they find one of their brethren frozen in a block of ice, along with a very alien-looking figure lurking nearby. He looks a little different from how the aliens have been portrayed on the show to date, as they've always been the stereotypical “grey” type of aliens.

The alien kills one of the men but the other is able to stab it to death with a sharp rock. At least I think that's what happened, this is done is EXTREME CLOSE UP AND DARK Shaky Cam so we can't tell what the hell is going on. They could be exchanging mammoth recipes for all I know. As the caveman looks over the alien's dead body, he notices it's oozing a black oil substance. The oil starts going up his body and engulfs him. He screams as we fade to black, and right off the bat I'm irked. Not only did they change the aliens (which they'd quickly change back the very next episode), they completely changed what the Black Oil is. AGAIN. But that is par for course I suppose, on the TV show every time the Black Oil showed up it would be something totally different. It's really frustrating here, as the show would go on to establish the only way the Black Oil could infect you was to enter your body through your eyes, ears, or mouth. This would lead to a group of rebel aliens sealing their faces shut to prevent this. Yeah... later seasons got pretty stupid.

So what's with it able to enter your body through your skin here? And don't say because skin is porous, because that's too logical! Huh, magic Black Oil that can changes its abilities at random as the plot demands it?  Where have I seen THAT before?  The dark is broken by a kid named Stevie falling through the ground into a cave, as we're now in modern day Texas. Stevie is played by a VERY young Lucas Black in one of his earliest roles, he looks so young here I didn't even realize it was him until I saw his name in the credits. He finds a lot of human skeletons in the cave, along with the Black Oil.
It begins crawling up his body and through his skin in the shape of little worms, converging in his head and turning his eyes black. His friends, watching this happen from the hole Stevie fell through, get scared and run away. A bit later firefighters arrive to rescue him, but the two who descend the hole vanish. Not long after that, a huge force of tankers and black helicopters arrive, taking over the area. Their leader, a man named Bronschweig, is told by the fire chief there are now four missing firefighters down there. Bronschweig's actor Jeffrey DeMunn should also look familiar, we just saw him play the sane brother in Christmas Evil.

A not-at-all-E.T.-esque team of men in Hazmat suits load up Stevie into a giant cryo chamber and sprint him off to the chopper.  I'm going to be asking questions A LOT in this review, so here we go: how did the men (who are working for series bad guys the Syndicate) know about this? Since they basically can monitor every single phone call in the world, all they would have heard is “boy fell down hole, firefighters trying to rescue him not responding to calls”. Now one could make the case they knew about the alien below in the ground (the Syndicate has been working with the aliens for over 50 years), so why the hell didn't they do anything about it earlier?

One week later at the Federal Building in Dallas, Texas, we see FBI agents crawling all over the building. Agent John Locke arrives via helicopter, told by one of the agents that they've evacuated the entire building but can find no trace of a bomb. Locke tells them to search again as he notices a figure on the roof of a building across the way, his brow furrowing. This figure is one FBI agent Dana Scully, who is talking on the phone to her partner Fox Mulder.

“Mulder, it's me. What's that? I know, right? That WAS a great job of getting my catchphrase out of the way already!”

I'm going to pause the review right here for a quick history lesson. At the end of season five, the X-Files division had been shut down by the government and for good measure the Cigarette Smoking Man (the show's human big bad) torched their office. Mulder is an expert in psychology and Scully is a medical expert, so the FBI has reassigned them to checking buildings for bombs? This was seriously the best use they could think of for them?

We find out Mulder had a hunch to check the building across the street while Scully gives him a lecture on why this is a stupid idea. The actors playing the two, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, had some of the greatest chemistry in television history and I'm happy to say it translates to the big screen perfectly. Their back and forth does a great job of immediately establishing their characters' personalities to non-fans. This film REALLY should have just been two hours of them bantering.

They go inside to get something to drink, Mulder going to a vending machine room to buy some pop for the two. We see a man leave the room just as Mulder enters, the camera focusing a little too much on the guy. I'm sure he's not evil, though. Mulder feeds coins into the machine, but it doesn't spit out a drink. He starts shaking it, noticing the machine isn't plugged in. As he goes to plug it in, he looks at the back and gets a big “ohhhh shit!” look on his face. He calls Scully and notifies her he's found the bomb, but is now trapped inside the room as the lock has been broken.

We see Mulder has opened the vending machine and- oh come on! As I bitched about in my World War Z review, those things are NOT easy to open. I can buy an FBI agent like Mulder would know how to pick locks, but still you need a VERY SPECIFIC lock pick kit for a vending machine, one I'll willing to bet Mulder wouldn't have on him. So anyway, the machine is full of explosives. Locke cuts through the door with a plasma torch, looking at the bomb. He says he can defuse it and orders everyone out of the building. Mulder objects, telling Locke that he can't do this alone. Bad move Mulder, you do NOT tell John Locke what he can and can't do!

Locke orders him out and everyone leaves. Locke just sits in front of the bomb, burying his face in his hands. It explodes, demolishing most of the building. Of all the ways to defuse a bomb, I don't think playing Peek-A-Boo was the most effective. Something else I'm going to be saying a lot in this review: Mulder is the LUCKIEST guy of all time. Not only was his hunch about the building right, he managed to randomly pick the ONE vending machine in a thirty plus floor building that had the bomb in it. That's quite the coincidence!

Later at the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C., the Office of Professional Review goes over the incident with the agents. We learn a young boy and three firemen from Dallas also died in the explosion, despite Mulder and Scully being told the building was all clear. The panel talks to the agents separately, making the decision to split them up. Scully tells Mulder she doesn't want to start over again as her heart wouldn't be in it and that she's going to quit. She also quickly summarizes her back story for the non-fans out here, which comes off clunky because Mulder SO already knows it.

We catch up with Mulder later that night as he's at a bar getting hammered. He tells the bartender his life story (and the first five years of the TV show) so we can get his back story out of the way real quick. The bartender cuts him off because she thinks he's WAY drunk to think of such a crazy story, which is HILARIOUS. He goes to use the bathroom but finds it out of order so he goes into the alley, and we get what is still one of my favourite scenes in movie history as he relives himself on an Independence Day poster hanging in the alley. BWA HA HAH! Chris Carter could try to decapitate me with an ax and I'd still forgive him because of this scene.

An old man that Mulder saw earlier in the bar breaks restroom etiquette (it STILL applies in alleys guys)! and starts talking to Mulder while he's going. The man introduces himself as Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil, an old friend of Mulder's father Bill. This is meaningful because Mulder's father used to be a major player in the Syndicate, so every time a friend of his turned up in the show you knew something big was about to go down. Kurtzweil tells him Locke never tried to defuse the bomb. The building had a FEMA medical quarantine office which is where the bodies were found, but the twist is the bodies were already dead. The building was destroyed to hide this fact.

Returning to Texas, the Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM from now on, because I am NOT typing that a million times) meets with Bronschweig. We learn they have built a lab inside the hole, and that's where the last fireman is being kept. The fireman's entire body has turned translucent with an alien baby inside his stomach, which shocks CSM. Bronschweig informs him the alien is digesting his body to nourish itself, and keeping it cold is the only way to slow the process. CSM wants him kept alive so they can try their vaccine on it and if it doesn't work, to burn the body like the others. Remember this scene, I'll bring it up later on.

We cut to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where Mulder has dragged Scully out of bed to investigate the bodies from Dallas with him. They find the military has sealed off the morgue but he's able to trick his way in, because Mulder is a freaking God at deception. Scully thinks this whole thing is ridiculous, reading the autopsy report of one of the bodies and finding it died because of the explosion. Mulder unwraps a body and finds it's in similar condition to the firefighter we just saw, with skin like jelly. Scully quickly agrees to do an autopsy of it.

Mulder goes to talk to Kurtzweil about this discovery, finding the police at his apartment investigating the doctor's involvement in underage pornography. Mulder leaves, seeing Kurtzweil in a nearby alley. He says this is all because the Syndicate knows he's talking to Mulder and are trying to silence him. Kurtzweil points Mulder in the direction of Texas.

I'm stopping the review again because this is where the movie pretty much loses me. The boy and the four firefighters were infected with Black Oil, so the Syndicate killed all of them except for one. The dead bodies were put in the FEMA office in Dallas, and then they blew up the building to cover the fact the bodies were turning into jelly? The Syndicate had spread a fake story there was a viral outbreak in Dallas, this wasn't good enough to say this is how they died? They had to blow up an ENTIRE BUILDING?

And keep in mind if Mulder hadn't magically found the bomb, it would have killed HUNDREDS of innocent people. Why even bother calling in a fake bomb threat to the wrong building when NO ONE could have possibly discovered the bomb in the right one? What purpose did it serve? That only would have served to draw more people in the area and possibly die in the explosion, not to mention a ton of FBI agents and run the (extremely unlikely) risk one might find the bomb... which is exactly what happened.

The Syndicate honestly couldn't have thought of a less messy plan? If they didn't think a viral outbreak was good enough, why not just set the FEMA office on fire? Hell, in the previous episode we saw CSM burn down the X-Files office in lieu of blowing up the whole damn building. This whole plan is so stupidly convoluted it makes my head hurt the more I think about it. Cut to the FBI field office in Dallas, where Mulder and Scully want to see what was left from the FEMA lab. The agent on duty gives them some bone fragments, which Scully examines and finds they contain the same virus as the firefighter's body did.

Ugh. Why would the Syndicate be so careless about the bones? Or, for that matter, the bodies? Why would they let any of them out of their sight for a single second, when all it would take is a single person looking at them to know something is wrong? ...which is exactly what happened. I find it very hard to believe they are behind the biggest conspiracy of all time at this point.

Elsewhere in Texas, Bronschweig goes does the hole to inject the firefighter with the vaccine but all he finds is the firefighter's body with his torso burst open. Uh oh. He sees the alien in the corner, but instead of GTFO he decides to wisely approach it. Yeah, this is going to go great. It grows claws and slashes the hell out of him (I think, EXTREME CLOSE UP AND DARK Shaky Cam makes this indecipherable) but he's able to inject it with a syringe and knock it out. He runs to the ladder to climb out but his fellow scientists close a hatch over hole and cover it with dirt. The alien wakes up and it's time for Round 2. It doesn't go well for Bronschweig.

England. We meet Syndicate member the Well Manicured Man (WMM, yeah they weren't super creative with names on this show. I anxiously await the introduction of Shoe Wearing Man) as he gets a call from CSM that the Syndicate is having an emergency meeting. He arrives, and we get to meet the men behind all this nonsense. They tell WMM the virus has mutated and thus they have to change all their plans now. Talk about Old White People Problems!

The Syndicate's leader, a man named Strughold, tells WMM they plan to turn an infected body over to the aliens as cooperation is the only way to save themselves. WMM argues the aliens are just using them and knew this was going to happen from the start. CSM shows WMM security footage of Mulder at Bethesda, saying he must have been tipped off by Kurtzweil. They plan to kill them both, but WMM says if they kill Mulder they'll create a crusade. Strughold does agree with this, saying they must stop Mulder by taking away what he values most.

We jump cut to Scully in what must be one of the least subtle transitions in film history. She's with Mulder in North Texas searching the area where the Dallas agent told them the bone fragments were found, but we find the Syndicate has built a giant playground over the hole. They see some boys in the area, asking them what they've seen. The boys tell them a whole bunch of tanker trucks just left, pointing in the direction they went. They drive down the highway, reaching a fork in the road. They debate on which direction to go, Mulder deciding to go forward down an unpaved road. As Mulder and Scully are stopped at dead end, he tells her the virus may be extraterrestrial in origin which surprises her for some reason. Did- did she forget what show she's on?

They see a train go by, loaded up with the tanker trucks. Following it, they find two giant white domes in the middle of a MASSIVE corn field. Damn, Mulder is lucky! Investigating one of the domes, they find it's a series of closed vents atop a larger structure. We hear an ominous buzzing as the vents open and a KAJILLION bees pour out. I refuse to make a Nicholas Cage joke here, in case you're wondering. They manage to run out of the dome without getting stung into oblivion, also escaping from some black helicopters chasing them through the cornfield because why not? Back in Washington, Scully arrives for her reassignment hearing. As she goes over the past few days with the committee, we see a see has stowed away in her jacket and climbs under her shirt collar. This bee is about to become the most hated villain in X-Files history, just wait.

Click here for Part 2!