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COMMENTARY

The Sun Is Out There

Mulder and Scully in L.A.? You have to wonder how the poster couple for 'Northwest noir' will weather the show's move to Hollywood--and the massive scrutiny of this summer's feature film.

June 21, 1998|Tim Appelo | Tim Appelo is a writer based in Seattle

The truth is out there--and it's coming down here. "The X-Files," the half-billion-dollar TV series that just spun off a $60-million movie, is leaving its damp spawning grounds in Vancouver, B.C., after a half-decade and relocating in Los Angeles.

The movie is contrived to make sense to those who don't watch the show--two FBI agents are racing to disentangle a conspiracy involving a bombed Dallas office building, an extraterrestrial mutant virus, a dead kid in Texas, scary blobs of black oil, and a mysterious Antarctic fortress. And don't tell them to bring it to the attention of the authorities! The authorities are trying to blame it all on them!

But "The X-Files" film can also be read as a high-budget episode of the TV series. X-philes will be ecstatic, for instance, to see their old friends The Lone Gunmen show up to help Mulder out of a tight spot. Yes, folks--it's a dessert topping and a floor wax--a major motion picture and a sturdy bridge between two TV seasons' episodes.

That's the simple truth. But as any "X-Files" fan can tell you, there are deeper truths; and the one that concerns them is the future of the show now that British Columbia is history.

For months, the ominous signs of the impending change were as obvious as an extraterrestrial cadaver falling from the sky into a backyard wading pool. "I feel isolated and lonely. I'm not happy," "X-Files" star David Duchovny (Agent Mulder) told Movieline Magazine. "Vancouver is a nice place if you like 400 inches of rainfall a day. It is kind of like a tropical rain forest without the tropics. More like an Ice Age rain forest."

Duchovny was stuck in Vancouver for 10 months of the year while his bride, Tea Leoni, was stuck in L.A., and his co-star Gillian Anderson (Agent Scully) reportedly was restless to bust through the cloud bank, too. A headline in the Tacoma News-Tribune read, "That Blinding Light--What Is It, Scully? It's the Sun, Mulder."

Vancouver is not a town, it's a terrarium. And to make matters worse, border officials regard recreational drugs the way Ahab felt about whales and Gen. Jack D. Ripper felt about fluoridation. Duchovny told Movieline that border officials, who routinely threaten visitors with strip searches and drug-sniffing dogs, detained him and said, "You tested positive for cocaine."

Duchovny said he doesn't use cocaine--but, as he told Movieline, "It sounds just like what a guilty person would say." Duchovny evidently handed his credit card to somebody who had used cocaine in the past few days, and that was enough to freak out a nark-pooch whose nose was sensitive to the point of the paranormal. After a Hitchcock moment, Duchovny was permitted to go to work with no body-cavity searches.

Oh, Canada! You gotta love it--but not if you're making $4 million per film, and you anchor an entire network's business plan.

Perhaps that poor drug dog was under the influence of "The X-Files," a show that has 18 million viewers hooked on a paranoid high. As Thomas Pynchon wrote in "Gravity's Rainbow" (a novel that was to have been the subject of Duchovny's planned Yale PhD dissertation, "Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry"), "Paranoia! Even Goya couldn't draw ya!" But "X-Files" creator Chris Carter is a past master at it. "I'd be flattered if I could create a lot of paranoia," Carter has said.

He seems to have succeeded. Much of the world has embraced the worldview of "The X-Files," a milieu where vaccinations of children are all part of a government plot, and Scully doesn't just get cancer, we must entertain the highly entertaining possibility that the government gave it to her. Even Mulder's paranoia was apparently imposed upon him by a government plot--they hit him with paranoia gas.

"I was a child of the Watergate era," Carter testified to the World Skeptics Congress last year. "I distrust authority. I believe that the government does lie to us regularly and people are working against our best interests on an ongoing basis. So the conspiracy ideas in the show come as a result of my great belief that we're being suckered."

'The X-Files" wouldn't be scary if it didn't echo the headlines. "'The X-Files' has fanned out into the atmosphere," writes critic Joyce Millman in the Web zine Salon, "like a puff of smoke from Cancer Man's cigarette." Pick up the newspaper on any given day and read about mad cow disease and missing children and toxic-blood fumes and disappearing sperm counts. "X-Files" are all around us.

That creepy mutant fly with antennae sprouting out of its mouth on one episode was based on just such a real bug brought to Carter's attention by "X-Files" science consultant Anne Simon, whose book "Mad Cows, Clones and Chimeras: The Science of 'The X-Files' " is due out soon. We're waiting for a show about the actual mice with glow-in-the-dark ears formed by firefly DNA injections by actual scientists. "I'm trying to play with real scientific ideas," Carter told me, "like Crichton cloning dinosaurs."

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