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'The X-Files' Mutation

Fox's hit show is venturing into unknown territory--the '98 season finale cliffhanger will be used to lure audiences to the theatrical movie.

May 15, 1997|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It should be no surprise that "The X-Files" is undergoing some paranormal activity on its journey from hit TV show to feature film.

The 1997-98 season's finale cliffhanger will be followed, not by the usual two-part solution in fall '98, but next summer, transformed into the marketing bonanza of a big sci-fi event film.

About 18 million to 20 million viewers tune in to Fox TV's weekly saga of TV FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who skulk around seeking the truth in what are usually mysterious events. Should that audience tune in for the pre-summer '98 cliffhanger, 20th Century Fox, the network's sister studio, is banking on a blockbuster bow. At an average of $4.50 a ticket, 18 million viewers could mean a box-office gross of $81 million. (And in many cities, including Los Angeles, tickets cost up to $8.) Even better, Fox estimates there are about 30 million "X-Files" fans worldwide.

Tom Rothman, head of production at the Fox studio, declined to talk specifics about the movie or Fox's expectations, except to note that it would definitely be a "worldwide event movie." Executives at the Fox network wouldn't comment either.

But some of the hush-hush details have begun to surface. Fox hopes "X-Files" will be its first event film of the summer, a strong jump-start for the season, say exhibitors. The other event films will likely be "Godzilla" from TriStar, "Superman 5" and "Speed Racer" from Warner Bros., "Mission: Impossible 2" and "Indiana Jones 4" from Paramount, "Return of Planet of the Apes" from Fox and the animated "The Legend of Mulan" from Disney.

But studio and TV show executives know the pressure to get the "X-Files" movie to the big screen by next summer is taxing the show's stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, as well as the creative team and crew. Even worse, the show's creator and executive producer, Chris Carter, who wrote and is producing the movie, has said he plans to leave the TV show after the '97-98 season, ending a five-season run. (Duchovny and Anderson are obligated to another year under their six-year contracts.)

Carter also decided not to direct the film. Rob Bowman, who has directed several episodes of the TV show, is at the helm. Carter, still working on the TV set in Vancouver (this season's finale airs Sunday), declined to be interviewed as he was polishing up the movie script that begins production there June 16.

Filming is expected to wrap at the end of August, just before the new TV season begins, taking up virtually all of the cast and crew's usual summer hiatus. Noted one source who has worked with the stars on the TV show: "These are great people but like any actors they can get testy. You're talking 16-hourlong days for practically a year with no real break in between. This schedule would make anybody insufferable."

Even more peculiar, however, is filming first the resolution to a cliffhanger that they will then spend an entire season leading up to in the show. Neither Carter nor Fox would discuss how the episodes would play out. But executive sources did say the TV show's cliffhanger episode would probably be shot first this summer as filming on the movie begins. They want the story to be in sync, making the editing process much smoother.

Money, however, has apparently cushioned any concerns. Sources on both the TV show and the film say Duchovny is receiving more than $4 million for the film role and had been pressing for $100,000 per episode in the '98 season, although some believe he may try to bargain for even more, in light of the reported $600,000 per episode that the "Seinfeld" co-stars are receiving.

It was unclear how much Anderson is being paid for the movie role, but several sources said she is getting several million dollars. She reportedly is paid less than Duchovny on the TV show, and has been pressing for more money next season as well. Neither Anderson's nor Duchovny's representatives would discuss their salaries on the show or the film.

While the production shoot will be grueling, it does give Bowman and the studio plenty of time to polish the film in post-production before it turns up in theaters next summer.

Everyone involved in the film has been sworn to secrecy about its plot, but sources did say it will stick with the show's usual theme of the two agents trying to decipher the government's knowledge and involvement with extraterrestrial life on Earth.

Will Mulder and Scully finally fall for each other--a scenario that has been the subject of much speculation among fans?

Said one of the TV show's producers: "Always a possibility. Guess you'll have to wait and see. Right now, that's top-secret."

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