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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

reason to ‘Believe’

Amid secrecy, ‘X-Files’ movie looks to repeat TV successes

By Gina McIntyre Los Angeles Times

MALIBU, Calif. – Chris Carter is not the sort of guy you’d expect to produce shadowy stories about government conspiracies and alien invasions.

Even as he’s hard at work finishing “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” – the new feature film based on the landmark science-fiction franchise he masterminded in the 1990s – he’s the embodiment of a relaxed California surfer, thoughtful and easygoing rather than tense and paranoid.

The deadline to deliver his cut of the film to the studio is looming, but inside a cozy Malibu residence, he’s calm and deliberate, watching scenes with a critical eye and decisively directing the editor to alter a particular sequence to enhance its rhythm and pacing.

The scene on the monitors is one that will later appear in trailers for the film, which opens Friday.

Looking surprisingly untouched by age over the last several years, special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) – her signature red tresses grown out past her shoulders – stand amid a snow-covered landscape talking with a mysterious man with shaggy gray hair, played by Scottish actor Billy Connolly.

Something unsettling is taking place, but what, exactly?

Carter won’t comment. Neither he nor Frank Spotnitz, the series’ former show runner and the movie’s producer, will reveal anything about the film – except that, chronologically, it picks up six years after the series ended in 2002 and is a stand-alone story that they very much hope will please fans of the show while also appealing to a new audience.

Amanda Peet and rapper Xhibit co-star in the PG-13-rated film, with Carter making assurances that it is both “smart and scary.”

What’s the nature of Mulder and Scully’s relationship?

“You’ll have to watch the movie,” Carter says.

Is it safe to say there are other actors from the series who appear in the film?

“It’s not safe to say. There may be.”

Are there plans for more “X-Files” features?

“We’ll have to do a good job on this one.”

The secrecy goes beyond speaking to journalists. Before shooting began in December, only a handful of people – Carter and Spotnitz, Duchovny and Anderson, a few select 20th Century Fox executives – had laid eyes on Carter’s script. And before doing so, they were required to sign nondisclosure agreements.

During production, the heads of the various below-the-line departments were not given their own copies; instead, they were required to go into a locked room with a video camera if they needed to revisit something from the screenplay.

Even the sides – small pages with dialogue from a scene being filmed – were collected and destroyed after that day’s shooting.

Area 51 doesn’t have this kind of security.

“We’re very good about being paranoid,” Spotnitz concedes with a laugh.

It’s a risky strategy. For a time in the mid-1990s, “The X-Files” was one of those ubiquitous pop culture flash points, collecting critical accolades and attracting a rabid fan following.

Mulder was a man driven to believe in “extreme possibilities,” with Scully acting as his foil: a medical doctor who clings to reason and science.

Their rapport remained constant despite a sprawling storyline that at various points involved alien abductions, shadowy government conspiracies, otherworldly bounty hunters and black gummy substances, clones, shape-shifters and a two-headed monster with a passion for Cher.

“The show brought a cinematic quality to episodic television that was lacking,” Duchovny said recently. “The story ideas, week by week, were movie-worthy for the most part. And the style of acting was not campy.”

The series was, on any number of levels, groundbreaking – not least for spinning off a feature film, 1998’s “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” in the middle of its prime-time run. The movie received largely satisfactory reviews and topped out at the U.S. box office at just more than $85 million.

But by the time “The X-Files” ended in 2002, Duchovny and Anderson had made no secret of their readiness to move on, and new special agents played by Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish essentially had taken over as the series’ leads.

Particularly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, audiences seemed less interested in watching stories built on the idea that the American government is deliberately deceiving the citizenry, a theory that the declining ratings seemed to bear out.

And by then, Carter was exhausted. Looking for creative and personal renewal, he decided to pursue the host of interests he’d shelved while working not just on “The X-Files” but also such other science-fiction-tinged programs as “Millennium,” “Harsh Realm” and “The Lone Gunmen” – a short-lived “X-Files” spinoff based on three computer nerds who aided Mulder and Scully from time to time.

“I actually made a point of not watching the show on TV during my time away and doing as much as I could that wasn’t ‘X-Files’ oriented,” Carter says. “For me, it was 10 years of output, and I needed input.”

He climbed mountains and spent time with “big thinkers” at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara. He also became a licensed pilot.

“Learning to fly an airplane taught me a way of thinking, an approach to problem-solving that was applicable and effective,” Carter says. “Pilots are very methodical and meticulous, and artists tend not to be.”

What lured him back from the skies was Duchovny – and slightly more mundane matters.

In the middle of last year, right around the time Duchovny convinced him that it might be time to resurrect the franchise, a lawsuit Carter had filed against 20th Century Fox Television over payments allegedly owed to him was settled, paving the way for a second “X-Files” movie.

“I came back because David was very interested in doing this movie; I came back because Frank had a long talk with me, and he was convincing. I came back largely because there was enthusiasm,” says Carter.

“And Fox called and said, ‘If you want to do this movie, it’s now or never.’ With all that incentive, I was convinced that it wasn’t going back, it was going forward, and (it was an) opportunity to actually reconsider ‘The X-Files’ not just for me but for the audience, for the fans.”

He returned to a story idea that had emerged in 2003 and completed a script ahead of the Writers Guild of America strike last November. Carter also stepped behind the camera to direct the film, shot during the winter largely on location in Pemberton and Vancouver, B.C.

Despite tough competition from “The Dark Knight” and other films with fantastic themes, Carter believes that if he and the other creative principals have crafted a sufficiently compelling story, the audience, as they say, will be out there.

“I don’t think people go to the movies saying, ‘Oh, I liked that television show from the ’90s, I’m going to like this one,’ ” he says.

“I think they go to the movies to be entertained or to be scared or to be moved, and that’s why I hope they’re going to see this movie.”