The X-Files: I Want to Believe15, Nationwide
OK, straight to the point, because we are busy people, right? And when we are not busy we are pretending to be busy, right? So, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, worth your time? No. As it is, it’s 104 minutes that I won’t be getting back. Just think: 104 minutes. I could have done a lot of pretending to be busy in that time. I could have done a lot of ‘Not now! I’ve got a deadline!’ while making typing noises with one hand and leafing though the Boden catalogue with the other. Do we like Boden? I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m just not ‘sassy’ enough.
Anyway, I should, I suppose, confess that I never particularly cared for the popular TV series on which the movie is based. In fact, the nine seasons of it pretty much passed me by, probably because it was always billed as ‘sci-fi’ and I only have to get a sniff of sci-fi, and I’m off. I am very terrestrial in this way. Still, none of this should matter. According to Chris Carter, the series creator who also wrote, directed and produced this, an understanding of the series’ mythology is not a prerequisite. ‘This is a real stand-alone movie,’ he says in the press notes. ‘If the show hadn’t existed, this is a story that would have found its way to the big screen.’ Well, if he wants to believe that, let him believe it. Do I have time to argue? Do I even have the ‘sass’? It’s rubbish, though.
OK, I know the basics. The X-Files is about two FBI agents, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), who are assigned to investigate unsolved cases within the Bureau; cases that often involve the paranormal, the supernatural and the inexplicable. Perhaps the TV series was as good and entertaining as it was popular, but this is so terrible it’s not even quite fun (like Mamma Mia, say); it’s just terrible. It’s muddled, confusing, contrived, suspense-free, utterly pointless and, for the most part, boring as hell. My dears, it’s The Zzz-Files, fit only for Zzz-ing, which you can do in spades. You won’t miss anything, I promise.
It’s one, big, juicy cliché, and even begins, as countless thrillers do, when Mulder is summoned out of retirement — you’re the only man for the job! — by the FBI because a female agent is among women being kidnapped in a wintry patch of rural West Virginia, where body parts are turning up under the snow. The divining rod is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a visionary psychic who is also a former priest, defrocked for abusing altar boys. Quite what the paedophilia — The Paedo-Files? — has to do with anything, I couldn’t say, just as there is no accounting for so much of what happens. The film’s ambition may well be to ‘stand alone’ but, alas, it doesn’t even stand up.
Now, where were we, as if we care, which I’m not sure we do, but come on. It was my 104 minutes and I’ve got to get something out of it. OK, Mulder is, of course, joined by Scully, who now works as a hospital surgeon, which is cool, but who is also the dreariest, most humourless woman ever, which is not so cool. As for the famed ‘sexual chemistry’ — nope, nothing, not a squeak. He’s sullen; she’s a pain; and Duchovny and Anderson act with such little energy it is as if they can’t be bothered. They’re even in bed together at one point — is that a big thing?; I don’t know — and it’s as if they can’t be bothered. If you are after ‘chemistry’, you’d be better off in Boots.
Although the first half of the film keeps it together to a certain extent — although not to a great extent — the latter half spins off into a great shambles of awfulness and implausibility. One of the baddies is a human organ transporter who is stealing the organs, and has been doing so for a considerable time. Well done to the FBI for finally figuring this out, but hang on: didn’t any of the hospitals due to receive the organs alert anybody that they hadn’t turned up? Wasn’t the patient, stretched out and waiting for his or her new heart, a little annoyed? The baddies, by the way, are all Russians with bad teeth. Should I ever find myself in LA, I am determined to stand outside all the major studios with a loudhailer, shouting, ‘The Cold War is over! No, seriously, it is!’ And, depending on how I am feeling, I might then add, ‘And they do have dentistry in Russia, you know!’
There are all sorts of things going on in this film to do with God, science and that which we don’t understand, but none of it is even vaguely coherent. At 104 minutes, it may even be 104 minutes too long. It wants us to believe. I didn’t; you won’t. Is the truth ‘out there’? No, because you just heard it now.
There’s a rather wonderful new book out by a man named Travis Elborough, which sounds a bit like one of those dead Dorset villages where every second house is a holiday rental. Mr Elborough’s previous book was a great thundering roar of nostalgia for the Routemaster bus, and The Long-Player Goodbye (Sceptre, £14.99) is a great thundering roar of nostalgia for the LP record, from its origins in the 1940s, through its long heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, to its current rather enfeebled state as a weekly CD giveaway glued to the Mail on Sunday.
Mr Elborough feels, as many of us do, that the 40-minute album is a thing of beauty and its current status as an endangered species is a disgrace. I suspect it has never quite recovered from the arrival of the compact disc. Suddenly, perfectly good 40-minute albums were being bulked out to 50, 60 even 70 minutes, and I defy you to think of a single such record that wouldn’t be better if it were 20 minutes shorter. And as for the reissues of things you had already with extra tracks you will listen to once and never play again, well, more fool us for buying them. I write this knowing — not merely suspecting, but knowing — that in the next week I shall buy the bumper new CD reissue of Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool with a single painless click on Amazon. Voilà! Yet more money I haven’t got down the drain!
Money, though, is at the heart of this story. When the Columbia recording company released its first batch of LPs in 1948, they cost $4.85 each. These were what marketing men would now call ‘premium products’. By comparison, when Decca started manufacturing record players for the new format in the UK a couple of years later, the cheapest one cost £9. Maybe it was a similar business model to Gillette’s: charge bugger-all for the razor, but make them pay through the nose for the blades. By the time I started buying albums in 1977, they were still relatively expensive: £3.99 was the going rate for a chart album in Our Price, which rose apparently arbitrarily overnight to £4.31 when the government of the day slapped VAT all over them. In the same year my Penguin paperback of P.G. Wodehouse’s Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen cost me 65p. A fiver for an album was normal in 1980, with cassettes about 50p cheaper. (And blank cassettes were much, much cheaper than that. I suspect that in every household where fortysomethings lurk, there is a cardboard box full of tapes of other people’s albums which you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away, even though you no longer have anything to play them on.)
Prices then leapt in the mid-1980s when CDs came in. The average CD cost £12 — roughly equivalent to £30 today. Once again the album had been repositioned as a premium product, even though CDs cost less than vinyl LPs to produce. My god, they made a lot of money. I have a friend who has been going to the same therapist for 15 years, and when she sits in her house for her weekly session she looks around and thinks, ‘ I’ve paid for about a quarter of this.’ I feel the same towards record companies. How much cocaine have I inadvertently bought for their rising young executives? How many taxi journeys to gigs by awful up-and-coming bands for their half-witted A&R men?
Even three or four years ago, we were still all paying £11 or £12 for a CD, because that was how much they cost and there wasn’t any way round it. There is now. My local record shop, which couldn’t or wouldn’t reduce its prices to Amazon and Asda levels, went under with terrifying speed. The record companies are crying foul, but that’s the way the market goes: if you profit by it in the good times, you have absolutely no right to complain when the good times end. (Banks seem to have the same problem.) Not that we, as consumers, are complaining exactly. Indeed, it’s all I can do not to cheer when I see something I really want in Fopp marked down to £5. Travis Elborough thinks the album is finished, that downloads will wipe it out completely. So shop now while you can. It’s the buyer’s prerogative: cash in when the opportunity arises and take no responsibility for anything whatsoever.