Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Doc Brown Saves the World

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It's only a Blu-ray extra. Give it a break, right? I'm just not sure the world is a better place with this new footage of Christopher Lloyd adequately reprising his most famous character in a weak fan service script. I preferred to think of Doc settling down and enjoying his steampunk retirement.

Back to the Future's appeal didn't lie entirely in its retro "predictions" of what 2015 would be like, though you'd be forgiven for thinking so with all the clickbait articles around last year. This desperate attempt to fix that non-existent "plot hole" is just embarrassing. Fortunately, it's only a Blu-ray extra.

"Great Scott" etc. - Emmett L. "Doc" Brown

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Naqoyqatsi

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Did we need a delayed third part to the story? If we did, this isn't it.

The whimpering finale of the Qatsi trilogy is borderline embarrassing. The only original footage seems to consist of dull pans over non-descript concrete buildings, the rest being archive footage stretched to fill the screen and appalling CGI animations that look like Windows Media Player visualisations. I was convinced I must be watching someone's shoddy alternative take on Philip Glass' soundtrack, but alas, this is the genuine article.

If you close your eyes, the music's still nice. So at least that's something.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Powaqqatsi

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This was the first of the Qatsi trilogy I watched, primarily because I'd finally realised where I'd heard Glass' 'Anthem, Part Two' before and I wanted to force a more pleasant mental image every time the track comes up on my work playlist than Jim Carrey going round and round in a revolving door. Mission accomplished.

A technophobic response to its predecessor, I much prefer this film's celebration (the camera may be objective, but you know what they're implying) of rustic life and traditions in the developing world, even as these too become eroded by irresistible industry. It's inspiring and sad, and if I was a bit older, born into different circumstances and could relate, I'm sure it would be devastating.


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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Koyaanisqatsi

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Reggio/Fricke/Glass' ode to industrialisation is very different when watched today than it would have been in '82. The technology it's concerned about is now retro rather than cutting-edge, but even as an artifact along the path of "progress," it's no less foreboding and depressing.

I've always quite liked Philip Glass' soundtrack, but this extended music video doesn't fit the music as well as I'd hoped. There's no industrial percussion, for a start, but if you watch the more hyperactive bits on double speed, and Glass' synthesiser loop turns into video game music, it starts to make sense.

If there was ever a documentary seemingly designed for tripping, it would be this one. But considering the bad vibes it puts out even before we get to napalm and mushroom clouds, I wouldn't advise it.


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Mr. Nobody

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For the first hour or so, this philosophical Choose Your Own Adventure film coasts along nicely on directorial zaniness. After that, the concept starts to wear thin and I was just waiting patiently for answers.

When we do get the answer, it's the one that makes the most sense out of everything, but it wouldn't have hurt them to throw in some more head-slapping foreshadowing than "those are just some girls he knows," especially given how absurdly detailed the various scenarios are for a child's imagination. What kind of films has he been watching?

"Every path is the right path. Everything could've been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning" - Nemo Nobody

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Time Lapse

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I never actually saw an episode of '90s TV series Early Edition. But its premise – a magic cat delivers tomorrow's newspaper to our hero's doorstep, so he can set about preventing various small-time local crimes before they happen – has always stayed with me as equally inspired and pathetic. Maybe I should dig it out.

Time Lapse reminded me of it regardless, except this time with a magic camera that takes photos 24 hours in advance (so it's also basically this), and presumably with a dash more conflict and inexplicable insanity from the characters who stumble across it.

There's nothing novel here, and the intriguing chicken/egg philosophical questions of who's actually in control of events – where does the artist's inspiration actually come from if he's just copying his own paintings? – is sidelined in favour of low-key crime, drugs and relationship drama and characters turning into homicidal maniacs at the drop of a hat. Still, got to love these slightly rubbish indie time travel flicks.

"Don't fuck with time" - Jasper

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dune: The Complete Saga

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David Lynch's Dune is a massively flawed film, but it still has its perks. It's one of those '80s films, like Blade Runner, that's big on atmosphere, and looks and sounds great, but is tedious to actually watch.

If you're trying to improve Dune, adding even more content to make it even more insufferable seems like a weird decision. As my brother was a vocal fan of the Duniverse when we were growing up, I already knew there was an extended TV version out there that reinstated deleted scenes and added other superfluous content, but not being a masochist I'd never got round to watching it. I don't think I'd even sat all the way through the theatrical cut.

This supposedly 'ultimate' fan edit is presumably an improvement on the TV version, but with jarring sound discrepancy every time we cut to a justified (as it turns out) deleted bit, and padding out an already bloated mess with even more of the same, it's not an improvement on the original. Some turds just refuse to be polished.

"Mood's a thing for cattle and loveplay" - Gurney Halleck

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jodorowsky's Dune

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Jodorowsky! Mœbius! O'Bannon! Giger! Foss! Dali! Welles! Floyd! Jagger? Jodorowsky's son!

Even after absorbing this idealistic documentary about Jodorowsky's non-existent film, I'm not convinced that this supergroup-storyboarded adaptation would have been the cinematic milestone they claim. It would have looked bloody nice, but considering how little thought went into any of the practicalities whatsoever, the finished product inevitably would have been a bit of a let-down. It would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than the later Lynch effort, but that's not saying much.

In any case, the post-mortem denouement is actually quite uplifting as we take a tour of how this ghost of a film has sandwormed its way into other projects to live on, from Jodorowsky/Mœbius's own L'Incal to the undeniable Alien, suspicious Flash Gordon and slightly more tenuous Star Wars and Indiana Jones connections.

Would I give an arm to see it? Maybe the left. Why hasn't it been animated already?

"I was raping Frank Herbert. Raping like this." (Mimes action) - Alejandro Jodorowski

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chaos on the Bridge

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William Shatner choosing to make a documentary about The Next Generation is a slightly unbelievable idea. We at least see him conducting some interviews and speaking to camera, so there's more input here than in those novels he "co-wrote" with the Reeves-Stevenses.

But this isn't about Shatner, it's about the troubled beginnings of TNG, and the cast and crew are commendably frank about the flaws of those early seasons and of its creator. It's not quite warts and all - there's not a whiff of sexual harassment, and Wil Wheaton's absence is surprising, as you can't have a comprehensive discussion about the failings of early TNG without discussing Wesley.

But it's enjoyable to have some of the myths and optimistic assumptions stripped down. Growing up, I considered Deep Space Nine to be the underappreciated underdog, but the TNG cast didn't even have toilets.

"Holy cats" - William Shatner

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Prelude to Axanar

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You can't rate fan films on their effort and enthusiasm alone, or they'd all be hailed as masterpieces. Convincing struggling Star Trek alumni to take part also isn't a big deal any more, and loyal service to the continuity is a given.

What Alec Peters and Christian Gossett did with their elaborate fundraising promo was to inject some actual quality into the mix. At least, that seems to be the consensus. Me, I'm not especially excited about War Trek any more, so I don't think I would have sat through the feature-length follow-up if they'd even been legally allowed to proceed.

Let them make their movies, you bastards. Maybe the next one won't be so much like watching someone play a video game.

"They called me Queen Bitch Whore of the Federation'" - Captain Sonya Alexander

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Top 10 X-Files seasons

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My latest X-Files rewatch may have been abbreviated (and ongoing as we catch up on all the less excellent non-mythology capers we skipped - it's about half the series), but it was enough to nudge and reinforce my feelings on this series' general momentum across its overlong run. Okay, no guesses which seasons take the bottom rungs then. But which one is the best?

Prepare to have your conception of reality basically unchallenged.


#1. Season 3

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The first two seasons are where my concentrated childhood nostalgia lies. I hit adolescence around the time season three began its inexplicably mangled BBC run, so my feelings about these episodes are significantly less rose-tinted and I'm less prone to be forgiving... which doesn't matter, it turns out, as this is just plain better.

If I was going by the stand-alone episodes, there wouldn't be much between 3 & 4. But 3 is where the mythology really shines and feels like it's building to something (before frustratingly stalling after the summer break).


#2. Season 4

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The X-Files was mainstream now, so this year and the next have a very different vibe in my nostalgia. In the UK, the series switched from school nights to prime time on Saturday. No longer was I naughtily staying up late to watch it with my dad when my mum was at night class; I was reasonably watching it with my grandparents like it was Casualty or something! My critical view of this year has been tainted by behind-the-scenes knowledge. Once you learn what a mess it was, it's hard to un-see that. But outside the troubled mythology, it's still full of corkers.


#3. Season 2

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If I'd never allowed myself to re-watch an episode since the original run, there's no doubt this would be at the top. But even when I excitedly purchased a second-hand video of File 3: Abduction in the late 90s, I realised that my memories of Scully's abduction arc as the crowning moment of television history were a little exaggerated.

Even if you'd evened the odds by giving them season four's budget and cameras, season two would still feel more formative than perfected. But it's still one of the best and home to plenty of classics.


#4. Season 5

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When I go away for a few years, my complex feelings about the series simplify to compartmentalising the five Vancouver years and the four Hollywood years. The first set being classic; the latter disposable, even occasionally insulting to the legacy. This time, season five felt a little like the Beginning of the End, even if it's still firmly on the good side (it's this series' Red Dwarf VI, if that helps? No?)

Its highs and lows feel more pronounced than previous years, propped up by a couple of classic experimental comedies and the most interesting mythology developments for some time. But when they're not trying as hard, or stung by production troubles, it shows.


#5. Season 1

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Bottom of the impenetrable Vancouver bubble? That's probably correct, but since I carelessly skipped nearly all of this year on this re-watch to get to "the good stuff" (!), it badly needs a reappraisal.

The fact that I watched The X-Files right from the start (when I was still in single digits), is a source of pointless pride for me. I could dig out the fan-fic in my Year 4 topic book to prove it. That's also why I'd have no qualms about letting my own future kids watch supposedly scary things at an irresponsible age. They might have nightmares, but who doesn't love those, right?


#6. Season 6

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With retrospective binging, I can criticise the lighter tone, default character settings and piss-poor mythology of season six, all justifiably. But when I watched it once a week in my early teens, I didn't twig that anything was wrong. They were still pumping out classics on a regular basis as far as I was concerned, but now the lows are getting painful.


#7. Season 8

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One of the post-Mulder-&-Scully years is better than one of the Mulder & Scully years.

Wow, what an interesting opinion. You have challenged my preconceptions and I will be less knee-jerk in my reactions going forward.

Yeah, but it's still not as good as any of the years before that. I can't be that interesting.

Oh.


#8. Season 7

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I don't even want to talk about these any more.

'Amor Fati' was the point at which this fan, who'd grown up with the series through his formative years, couldn't be bothered any more. Having caught up in the decades since, I can confirm there are literally a few good episodes.


#9. Season 10

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One good episode, thanks Darin.


#10. Season 9

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Here are my Top 10 X-Files episodes, as of a few years ago anyway. Where the hell's Darin?


Saturday, November 19, 2016

The X-Files: Existence

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Another season finale that would have made a better series finale than what we actually got a year later, not that that's saying much. The uncharacteristically happy ending (ignoring the looming alien apocalypse, obviously) is a first in that regard, and would have made for warmer wilderness years, in contrast to the teasing cliffhanger that 'Requiem' gave us a year previously and the cobbled together mish-mash we got a year later that thankfully isn't the end any more. (Presumably, Scully's shocked UFO-illuminated eyeball isn't going to be the conclusive closing image either).

If season eight had been the final year, I expect the latter extremities of the series would have been slightly better remembered. Though still criticised for going on too long, which has been a fair assessment since even before the old mythology imploded. But would it have been for the best? This time, I think yes. Wiping out the shaky post-Fight the Future seasons entirely would have preserved the consistency of the early years, but there's a lot that's worth preserving in seasons six and eight, even a little bit of seven. As for nine...

Moving on to these actual episodes then, the dilution of the formerly complex mythology to basic body snatching doesn't exactly feel like a step in the right direction, and I've never been fond of Chris Carter's penchant for hokey Christian imagery, so this isn't up there with my favourite two-parters of the series. It's not even in my top two two-parters of the season. But at least it dares to deliver some closure... most of which would be unceremoniously torn away after the summer break.

But I'm not going to bother watching that. Let's leave it here and pretend there's nothing to worry about except the inevitable alien invasion. Maybe I'll catch up on 'My Struggle' before the 2017 series, but only if I feel like self-harming.

"The child she is carrying is very special" - Lizzy Gill

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Friday, November 18, 2016

The X-Files: Deadalive

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It feels like comparison between Mulder's and Scully's abduction stories is conspicuously lacking. Clearly because popular interest (even a lot of nerd interest) in the series had evaporated by this point - deservedly or not - so that even people who were raised on the series, like me, tend to forget that these latter day events even happened.

When you have the basic behind-the-scenes info about actor availability, both cast members' abductions are actually quite comical. Gillian Anderson would come back once she'd given birth and enjoyed the bare minimum maternity leave before she could get to back to work earning a fraction of what the man one was making; David Duchovny would be back for sweeps with the punctuality previously demonstrated by Cancer Man and the conspiracy.

But reigning ourselves back into the fiction and judging these stories on their own merits, there's a lot to like. The fact that they can actually show a convincing UFO at this point in the series, and no longer need to maintain the ambiguity, makes for some powerful scenes. Mulder's inevitable recovery is a bit weirder than Scully's, but it makes for a similarly dramatic final part as his colleagues run around car parks shooting and shouting.

Even now the aliens are doing it for themselves with no need for turncoat human conspirators (who were always going to be more trouble than they were worth), the mythology feels like it's evolving down distinctly retrodden ground, even bringing back familiar faces from way back in the golden age. And nothing the characters do really makes sense when you accidentally think about it for a second. But if all The X-Files can do these days is to riff on itself and require us to suspend our disbelief, at least it's still doing it with style. For now.

"The truth may hurt, but it's all that matters" - Dana Scully
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The X-Files: Requiem

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In case you hadn't deduced already, this also contains the opening two-parter of season eight.
But Doggett is weird and new and we fear change, so he can stay in the background.



I didn't see the VHS (were DVDs out by now?) compilation edit of this "TV movie," but of all the season-bridging "trilogies" the series produced over the years, this one has to be the least suited to the format. (Even Scully's abduction arc worked fine, and they skipped over an episode in the middle of that).

Sure, a lot of people binge-watching on Netflix won't be able to resist leaping from 'Requiem' into 'Within' right away, but don't pretend they're all one big story. All of it is great - without a doubt the best the mythology's been since the film - but while the season seven finale brings the series full circle and presents us with a viable end to the series, the next two inaugurate a bold new era. One that may have been flogging a dead horse in some ways, but is unfairly maligned in others.

I don't think I appreciated just how great a finale 'Requiem' is until this time around. If this had been the series finale, as semi-intended, it would have worked a hell of a lot better than 'The Truth,' but let's not get ahead of myself.

By drawing our attention to how far the series has come since the pilot, it feels a little more crowded (Skinner, Cancer Man, Krychek  the other one whose name I'm not going to attempt to spell and the ABH), but thanks to the conspiracy culling it still feels surprisingly low-key. I prefer to forget that Smokie still seemed to be involved in some sort of semi-Syndicate in his recent appearances; the dying, deposed despot desperate to start over is a fitting end. And talking of fitting ends, leaving Mulder out there would have made for far more tantalising wilderness years than "he's on the run" and "he's just living in that house, I guess."

But we got another season, and as uninventive as it may be to make your female lead pregnant for a shock cliffhanger, and as much as the looming shadow of Mulder prevents new characters from ever really getting a fair chance, I think the series benefited from it. I'd already bailed out before David Duchovny did, so I didn't watch many episodes from this era the first time around until my run through the series a couple of years back, but I can confidently assert that season eight is an improvement over the preceding year, at least in mytharc terms.

But could it even be better than the bipolar season six? Surely it doesn't hold a candle to the untouchable Vancouver years? I'm looking forward to tearing down some of these preconceived notions in the days ahead... (the answer's almost definitely no, just to dispel any excitement).

"I've seen things that I cannot deny" - Dana Scully

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The X-Files: File 15 – Closure

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This was the last of the 'Files' to be so numbered.
RIP.


This season's answer to 'Two Fathers'/'One Son,' 'Sein und Zeit'/'Closure' ties up the major dangling thread remaining (alright, second major after "are they?") in a way that was always going to be a bit disappointing, but didn't have to be this convoluted.

Yes, I know this is season seven of The X-Files and I should be used to "convoluted" by now... maybe I just don't like it when they go so fervently religious on us. Also, just like the dissolution of the Syndicate that could easily re-form from the ashes, it doesn't feel that much like a conclusive ending. So the original Samantha's gone; that doesn't mean there aren't still countless clones of her at various ages being used as slaves (to varying degrees of reluctance) all over the world. Why has Mulder never made it a priority to track them down?

I can't hate this two-parter, but I don't like it very much. Tied with Emily for the most disappointing TV movie so far. Bring on season nine!

"This is the end of the road" - Fox Mulder

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The X-Files: File 14 – Biogenesis

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Wouldn't The Sixth Extinction have been a catchier title?
And more apt, considering their usual naming convention?
Did polysyllabic strangeness sell in the 90s?


Nowadays, this attempt at crafting a new mythology (dragged down by some of the old) is generally seen as a mis-step. At the time (according to early Amazon VHS reviews, anyway), many fans claimed it "The Best X-File Ever." So what's the ultimate verdict, lying as it does with I, the fickle arbiter of truth?

It's a bit of a mess. The unshakable presence of Smokie is necessary but a bit annoying, and I especially could have done without the scene of him in a meeting that implies nothing much has changed, except that the shady men in the know are no longer conspirators but out on their own. At least we follow through on Krychek's compromise of Skinner, which I was worried had been abandoned and pointless. And I won't shed any tears over Fowley.

This three-parter explores very grand themes (the first two parts, at least) that seemed destined to be the new focus of the mythology from here on out. I was certainly pumped about the ancient astronaut genesis revelation as a teenager. Am I right in saying they amount to absolutely nothing, as we go back to alien infiltration before too long? Instead, the biggest shift in the storyline is the (clearly very deliberate) decision to make the mythology more personal and about our heroes, rather than what one of their dads did.

Everything from here on out will be more intimate (until season nine, I guess? I don't even want to think about that). Even though the misogynist conspiracy is no more, Scully will become ever more the female stereotype, but at least here she gets a chance to be the one running around the world wielding a machete while Mulder lies sick in the hospital bed. It's a nice, increasingly rare reversal of the dynamic. I liked it when she wore the tight top too. Oh, damn.

"Extraordinary men are always most tempted by the most ordinary things" - C.G.B. Spender

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Monday, November 14, 2016

The X-Files: File 13 – One Son

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The decision not to give a semi-conclusive, semi-satisfying end to the conspiracy in the film, only to postpone it a few months to the middle of the subsequent season, is a strange one. Though all the flashbacks and call-backs it would have necessitated doubtless would have been less appealing to casual cinemagoers than Mulder running to the ends of the Earth to rescue his beloved.

I'm glad they did semi-conclusively end things here, though it already feels a little on the late side. The slate is clear of smoke-filled meetings, hybrids, train cars and neck-stabbers, but the alien threat remains undefeated. Things may even be worse without those deceitful middle men stalling the clock, something that I wish these episodes had made more out of. 'One Son' almost convinces that C. G. B. Spender was the hero of the show all along, until he shoots his own son in the face.

Pay-offs always have a hard time living up to set-ups, especially when you've committed so much time, so although this two-parter has always left me feeling cold, it's about as good as it could have been. Here's hoping for some more entertaining set-up in the volumes to come, because I know it's not going to end well.

"The future is here, all bets are off" - Fox Mulder

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

The X-Files: Dreamland


Another 'File'-less mail-order exclusive, I think? I wouldn't know, I picked them all up in Cash Converters years later. This time, pedestrian VHS punters weren't missing out.


I was planning to skip this one, but my wife enjoys the breaks from the darkness, and after 'The Beginning' I felt I could do with some more time away from hybrids, Syndicates and Fowleys, even if that does mean sitting through an overlong and misjudged caper.

I've always been pretty down on this two-parter, but this time around I thought it was alright. It's representative of a weird time in the series (after 'Drive' and before the next mythology installment) when its gravitational core shifted towards comedy.

This raised justified concern at the time, when there was a risk that this was what The X-Files was going to be now. But when you look at the big picture, this odd rom-com run where Mulder and Scully sneak around paranormal cases under the nose of their killjoy boss is pretty fun. At least until you get to 'The Rain King' and it implodes, but then fortunately a dishevelled Krychek shows up to drain away all the joviality and get us back on track (however tedious that may prove to be).

Sure, 'Dreamland' would have been better as a single episode and without all the caricatures. But would a two-part 'The Beginning' or 'S.R. 819' really have been the better way to go?

"Does Scully sound like a woman's name to you?" - Fox Mulder

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

The X-Files: File 12 – The End

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In any other year, this VHS would have bundled the season finale with its thematic sequel and almost-immediate successor 'The Beginning.' But the film got in the way, and - more importantly - British TV scheduling was half a year behind, so this was rushed out as a quick way for us foreigners to catch up with what we supposedly needed to know before going to the cinema (the running time was padded out with a behind-the-scenes documentary instead).

It made sense in theory, just not in reality. Apart from the closure of the X-Files and the agents' impending reassignment (fortuitously still together, it would turn out), 'The End' has no impact on Fight the Future at all, which is more concerned with season four-era themes of bees, oil and UFOs.

There's also the "building" tension between Mulder and Scully I suppose (if you can pretend there's any sense of momentum there), but as popular as that strand of the series is with general audiences, Scully's immature jealousy is what spoiled this otherwise decent finale for me. Fowley's introduction makes me feel uneasy for non-shippy reasons, a signal that we've reached The End of the "classic" series and The Beginning of The End for the mythology.

Just to complicate my over-simplified nostalgia, I still love the stand-alones in season six, but on this mythology-heavy rewatch I now don't have much to look forward to between the movie and late season eight, when memory tells me the downturn will reverse, however briefly. Please prove me wrong, One Son! You can do it, Biogenesis! Do I really have to watch Closure?

"Grand slam number two with double hash browns and a side of Canadian bacon" - Gibson Praise

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Friday, November 11, 2016

The X-Files: File 11 – Patient X

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That's one question answered, then: The Unopened File (aka 'Anasazi'/'The Blessing Way'/'Paper Clip') is the high point of the mythology after all, and 'Patient X'/'The Red and the Black' isn't all the revelation I touted it to be on my last run through the series, when I raved with the euphoric afterglow of a hypnotised Scully and deemed it to be the absolute peak of the entire series. Nostalgic binge watching screws with your mind, man.

In fact, what I loved most about it last time - the reversal of the Mulder/Scully paradigm, before its gradual resetting - now feels overly rapid and convenient. Especially since the immediately preceding 'Bad Blood' relied entirely on the duo being as Mulder and Scully as Mulder and Scully can be. They could have done so much more with Mulder's sceptical arc, but when they did try again in the revived series it was even more disappointing and nonsensical.

On the plus side, something actually happens for the first time in a long while. We didn't just poke around to uncover bits of the grand plan; a new complication put a spanner in the works and caused the dwindling Syndicate to sweat. It's quite the unexpected gamble, what with the film looming precariously on the horizon and needing the status quo to be at roughly a season four level (which was when they wrote and filmed it, before forgetting not to be creative in the interim).

Don't worry, they won't mention any of these new characters or developments on the big screen. Or the Gibson Praise stuff. I'm starting to think that pedestrian UK viewers who saw season five after we saw Fight the Future might have ended up with a slightly less puzzled internal continuity overall.

"Extraterrestrial phenomena is frankly the more plausible explanation" - Walter Skinner

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