Sunday, December 07, 2008

X Misses The Spot

Just to take a massive shit onto what had been a pretty reasonable weekend, I watched The X-Files: I Want To Believe. I think the extreme cold has seeped through my thick skull to freeze my basal ganglia, which otherwise would have stopped me from taking it down off the shelf. Either that or part of my thought process is to catch up with movies I studiously avoided during their cinema release, in which case it’s making me act like a complete tool.

Why I bothered to watch it is a question I’m going to be asking myself for a very long time to come. Why they bothered making it in the first place is something else altogether. I’m sure that’s being asked by many of the 20th Century Fox executives who, if not looking down the barrel of a gun, are probably ruminating over the question as they stare at the bottom of a whiskey glass.

I doubt the studio Christmas is going to be a barrel of laughs. While Warner Bros. Pictures have been raking it in, hand over fist, with The Dark Knight (which at least took some of the sting off the big-budget crash and burn of Speed Racer), and Paramount Pictures found a license to print money with the better than expected Iron Man, and worse that expected Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Fox just seemed to serve up one dismal flop after another.

From summer onwards, the studio failed to find an audience for the Eddie Murphy “comedy” Meet Dave (which, at a cost of $60 million made $50.5 million worldwide), science fiction nonsense Babylon A.D. (budget $70 million/$71.5 box office worldwide), and kids adventure City of Ember (budget $55 million/$12.25 box office worldwide). And the budget figure is the production budget, therefore not including all the millions spent on prints and advertising to try and drum up business.

The movie that made the most money for the studio was Alvin and the Chipmunks, which returned $360.5 million worldwide from a $60 million production budget, and that was actually released around this time last year. Their most successful film that came out in 2008 was Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, produced by Blue Sky Studios who make the Ice Age movies, taking $297 million from an $85 million budget. I guess these are the kinds of films that will give Fox addition revenue from the home entertainment market as well.

If anything it shows that Fox has learnt to let someone else make their animated features while they just have the job of releasing them. After Dreamworks and Warner Bros. set up their own studios, the studio followed suit with Fox Animation Studios, based in Phoenix, Arizona, of all places. But all they could come up with was Anastasia and Titan A.E., and that was pretty much it.

So that brings me to The X-Files: I Want to Believe. With a budget of $30 million, it crawled to a worldwide box office of just over $68 million, with almost seventy per cent of that figure coming from foreign territories. At the UK premiere Gillian Anderson complained that the reason for the film tanking in the US was because it opened the weekend after The Dark Knight. That may have been the party line, but I suspect the real reason was because the movie was just bad. One reason for the preamble is because, hardly any time after watching it, I’ve been desperately trying to remember what it was actually about.

I’m sure I was paying attention while it was on. There was a lot of snow, Billy Connolly as a psychic paedophile priest who kept dropping to his knees, a severed arm, a severed head, a ridiculous chase in a building site, and a bunch of Russian surgeons doing some kind of shady operation. Mulder started with a beard then shaved it off, while Scully went around with a face like a slapped arse boring everyone senseless by yabbering on about religion. Gosh, why didn’t it work?

Like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the initial reaction to the film was surprise that it was being made at all. The television show finished six years ago, it’s all over. Apart from the handful of die-hard fans that saw it though to the end of nine seasons, and were salivating over the return of Mulder and Scully, everyone else had let it go and moved on. So why bother to bring it all back?

During its TV run, The X-Files got itself tied up in an ongoing muddle of alien abductions, weird paranormal activities, oddball psychic phenomena, and shady government conspiracies. Long before the end all these different strands had become knotted together in an utterly hopeless mess, but at least that was what the show was remembered for, which is why its odd that this second film ignores all the mythology the show accrued.

What we get instead is a rather confused serial killer narrative that would ordinarily make a quite boring movie of the week on some wayward television channel. Rather than Mulder’s search for evidence of aliens the majority of the film seemed to be about Scully questioning her faith. Is someone flummoxed about their religious beliefs what the audience was eager for? Based on those box office figures, the answer is obviously not.

Still, 20th Century Fox can put all that behind them now and look forward to all the money that will come flooding in from Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and their remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still starring Keanu Reeves. Ah.....!


At 2:38 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

And even though The Day The Earth Stood Still opens this week, there's not a review to be seen anywhere.

That's always a good sign.

At 5:34 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I hadn’t noticed that, but yeah, it’s being turfed out into cinemas across the globe on pretty much the same day. And there’s no word about it in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter or EW so far. Well that’s certainly giving me a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

Would I have gone to see it... with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu? I’d prefer to be nailed to the floor and force-fed a porcupine, tail first.

Still, good old Fox. After their massive summer barbecue, they’re now feeding the world a big slice of Christmas turkey.


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