It’s nearly fifteen years since Mulder and Scully first burst onto our screens, creating one of the TV fads of the nineties. For pretty much the first time, it became acceptable to watch a show revolving around aliens, ghosts and assorted other ghoulies. As The X-Files’ popularity boomed, sci-fi geeks around the world let out silent sighs of relief. They were no longer to be outcasts, no longer to be bullied for their love of Star Trek and continued obsession with the Star Wars series ten years after the release of The Return of the Jedi.
Of course, the geeks were wrong – they would still be bullied, because geeks always are. But on one thing they were right: The X-Files made science fiction acceptable and mainstream. It became an appropriate topic of conversation around the watercooler or down the pub.
The likes of Star Wars and E.T. may have been smash hits at the box office, and Twin Peaks’ success in 1990-91 may have shown that the television-viewing public were ready for something slightly more challenging and weird, but The X-Files was the first to combine the easily-accessible populism of cinema sci-fi with the edgy, grown-up atmosphere of David Lynch’s small screen masterpiece. The result was pure TV gold, and has spawned countless imitations, from the obvious (conspiracy series Roswell and Dark Skies, occult investigation series Millennium) to the less so (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Torchwood), with its impact still being felt to this day in the likes of Lost, Six Feet Under and Pushing Daisies. Some have even credited The X-Files with the wonderful trend in American television over the last decade of series building up storylines that can last for years. The benefits of which have been felt by any fans of less obviously indebted shows such as The West Wing, 24, House or The Wire that have been making up the new Golden Age of American TV drama of the last few years.
But, of course, the end of The X-Files was more of a whimper than a bang. After the immense, global popularity of the first few seasons, by the turn of the millennium the show had begun to run out of steam and ideas. The long-running villain the Cigarette-Smoking Man was written out, ongoing plot points resolved themselves, and one of the show’s two stars, David Duchovny, decided to call it more or less quits, appearing in only half of the episodes of the eighth season, and just the finale of the ninth and final season. In fact, the appearance of the first, underperforming X-Files movie back in 1998 pretty much coincided with the decline of the popularity of the show itself. It may have struggled on for another few years, but it was the first three or four that created the reputation.
So, why now for a big screen sequel to a film that didn’t make much money a decade ago that’s an offshoot of a TV series that fizzled out back in 2002? But ignore that – the more important question is “is it any good?” Well, the good news is that the old Mulder and Scully spark is still there and the nostalgia value of the intervening years certainly works in the film’s favour. It sensibly brushes over much of the little-watched last few seasons while still giving the fans what they want. If you used to watch The X-Files back in the early, rather than the late nineties, you won’t be disappointed. It may not be quite up there with the series’ very best episodes, but certainly has a good stab and is a decided improvement on the last outing. But it’s still, when it comes down to it, one for the fans. Newcomers will be utterly lost.