Mulder and Scully are two FBI operatives who used to investigate the paranormal for the agency. When their bureau is shut down, they resume normal duties but are soon dragged back into stranger goings on.
After five years and five series of televisual success which have established The X-Files as a "cult" phenomenon second only to Star Trek, it was all but inevitable that the series would eventually transfer to the big screen. Increasing TV ratings, shelves full of books and magazines, and - perhaps more significantly - extended length sell-through video releases have seen to that. But whereas those feature-length tapes have merely seen two or three episodes strung together as bridges between series, this movie had to be more, so much more.
Series creator Chris Carter and his preferred director Rob Bowman have risen to the challenge and made a movie that will disappoint few fans and, while not exactly standing as a landmark in cinema history, should at least surprise the sceptics and give them an entertaining clue as to what all the fuss has been about.
Those anticipating an impenetrable plot after five years of back story should fear not - subtitles for the hard of paranormal are supplied. Wisely, Carter's screenplay has gone for intrigue and set pieces, all laced with enough in-jokes to keep the faithful happy without alienating the first-timers. And so proceedings begin in the frozen wastes of North Texas... 35,000 years BC... and a first human contact with an extra-terrestrial black plague. Fast forward to Texas today and its rediscovery (cue brief appearance for Sling Blade youngster Lucas Black). Step sideways for the first sight of agents Mulder (Duchovny) and Scully (Anderson), now on regular FBI duties after their special X-Files bureau has been closed, investigating a terrorist bomb scare. A sizeable bang and four corpses later, Mulder goes for an alleyway pee - against an Independence Day poster, hoho! - and meets Kurtzweil (an excellently tongue-in-cheek Landau) who tells him enough to warrant a two-hour movie. And that's all Empire is telling. The truth, however, is in there...
While potentially apocalyptic, that truth is not exactly a jaw-dropping surprise and so instead the movie leans more on action boosted by a dozen or so walk-on characters familiar from the small screen. More importantly, it allows the simmering sexual chemistry between Mulder and Scully to come to the boil. Their relationship transfers well to the big screen - although it is difficult to tell whether their first scene's ludicrously contrived dialogue was written as a gag or a genuine piece of exposition.
Having established a global scenario, at times the film forsakes it for more of TV's Maglite beams, swooping helicopters and furtive glances between the leads. There's a horribly naff (but mercifully short) "London, England" interlude and, midway, the style overtakes the content in a too easily resolved desert-based chase. But throughout, Bowman and director of photography Ward Russell see to it that that style looks good and the locations - especially the breathtaking snowy wastes of Antarctica - are frequently impressive. The shadowy syndicate with its 50-year plot, the mysterious tents and cornfields and the effects-fest ending (Alien Resurrection meets ID4) all add up to so much more than a TV show getting ideas above its station.
The X-Files can stand proud as a genuine movie with a beginning, a middle and an end, two charismatic leads and a franchise ahead of it. An impressive cinematic makeover that belies its TV roots. X-Files fans add one star to the following and trust no one who tells you any different.
One of the rare successful transitions to the big screen for a TV show - X-Files fans will be particularly satisfied.