It began with a werewolf. I'm speaking about my interest, that is, in 20th Century Fox's brand spankin' new X-Files feature film. But for the sake of explanation and full disclosure, allow me to back up and come clean about a few things. As a fan once living in New York City, I attended one of the first X-Files fan conventions at the Javits Center. First in line. Opening day. Stamp "Chick Magnet" on me now. Yes, I had an appreciation of the show and, like so many out there, my fascination with the quest for truth - spearheaded by Fox Mulder and Dana Scully - checked out the back door when the ninth season rolled around and T-1000 joined the FBI with Annabeth Gish. Six years later, series creator Chris Carter, longtime contributor Frank Spotnitz and company are picking up the pieces with this enigmatic new venture.
And it may or may not have anything to do with a hirsute beast.
You see, a certain "spy photo" leaked online a few weeks prior to my receiving an invite to visit the Vancouver location of the film. Said snapshot revealed a professional exchange between Carter and a lycanthrope (some dude in a suit) on set. Was it a ruse? Something to throw us journos off the beaten path from the secrecy-enshrouded plot? Whatever the case, it was enough to stir long dormant pangs of excitement in this X-Files fan. After all, what X-phile worth his or her salt wouldn't be excited over the prospect of a creature feature recalling the days of the Flukeman?
I ride in a production van to the Playland Amusement Park in Vancouver, Canada with all of this in mind. - hoping to perhaps eye a swatch of fur, a yellowed claw, anything to confirm, or even deny, the "werewolf" talk.
This latest X-Files marks a return home for Carter and his crew. When the series began in '93 lensing took place in Vancouver before the production ultimately moved to Los Angeles. Familiar faces of X-Files' past populate the crew providing the director with a comfortable insulation. John Bartley, director of photography on seasons one through three, is working second unit alongside first assistant director and ex-Lone Gunman Tom Braidwood. Meanwhile Bill Roe, from the Los Angeles days, resumes his duties as d.p. on first unit. Then, of course, there's Duchovny and Anderson as Mulder and Scully, respectively. They're joined this time by newcomers Amanda Peet (Identity), Billy Connelly (Fido) and Xzibit, in a slice of arguably inspired casting.
The entrance to Playland directs one past a roller coaster - the same one used by James Wong (another X-Files alum) for the opening of Final Destination 3. But where I'm heading is to the ice rink, that's where the crew is working today. Inside it appears the converted rink has been bisected, most of the action is predominantly occurring around a faux house facade garnished with the foliage. "This would be Mulder's house," co-writer and producer Frank Spotnitz informs us, greeting ShockTillYouDrop.com by the porch. He's enjoying the warmer environs here after shooting for three weeks in sub-zero temperatures north of Whistler in Pemberton. "It matches the real house [located in Fort Langley] which is supposed to be somewhere around the Washington D.C. area in the movie." For Spotnitz, the realization of another X-Files case, "has been a dream. I didn't think it was going to happen - after six years, negotiations, working on the story."
His cynicism is understandable and he estimates his commitment to a sequel was sealed in 2002 or '03. Where things get rocky is in the ensuing years and, as Spotnitz suggests, best explained by Carter. Luckily for us, we find the director by craft service, an enormous black poodle by his side.
The years have been kind to Carter. Same ol' friendly eyes. Defined chin. White hair a stark contrast to the puffy black winter coat he hugs tight (not to mention his dog). He's a blue jeans kinda guy. "Fox had come to Frank Spotnitz and me and asked us to do the movie about a year after the TV series had wrapped," he clarifies. "We said yes and had worked out a story, pitched it to them, they said yes. We went into negotiations and those, shall we say, got protracted. All of a sudden there was this other issue and that took a couple of years to get resolved."
In the interim, Carter and Spotnitz tabled sequel notes they scribbled together and later revisited them with slightly more mature eyes. "We feel there is a lot to be proud of with the X-Files and we wanted to move forward knowing we had a real story to tell and a reason to tell it," Spotnitz says. "I think we have that. I already think this is going to be something we're all proud of and feel good about."
"I was surprised by how alive they still were in our imaginations," he adds referring to protagonists Mulder and Scully. "We arrived at what they would be doing at this point in their lives and what happened to them the last six years. For eight years I wrote and produced this show, I spent many hours thinking about Scully and Mulder so in a sense they're very real to me."
The sequel, as Spotnitz said, picks up six years after the show's conclusion. Real time has elapsed which has brought about change in the lives of Mulder and Scully. What those changes are, we're never told save for the fact that the two are drawn back into the world of X-Files by one case in particular. Carter likens the film's air of secrecy to a Christmas present. It's something we can shake. Something we can hypothesis about but when all is said and done, he'd prefer to have all of the details blown wide open when the sequel arrives in theaters on July 25th.
Mystery permeates every aspect of the set. Call sheets and script sides are accounted for and whisked out of public view (especially today). Absolutely no cameras are allowed. A tour of Mulder's house gives us everything and nothing. Spotnitz guides me up the porch and through the front door into a warm, earth tone-driven living room. Issues of Scientific American are neatly scattered about. Framed black and white photographs are hung on the wall. Mulder's digs are nice...and a step up from the apartment we're accustomed to seeing him in. The cleanliness is befitting of a woman, however.
"You'll notice the brown railing," Spotnitz points out. "There was one just like that in his apartment." The reference is a bit over my head but those fans with the photographic memories will be pleased to hear there is plenty of continuity they'll appreciate. Take the gold fish for instance. "The tank is bigger than the one in the show." Well, sure, it only seems right they get a big pad if Mulder is moving up. Oh, and look at that, there's the scuba diver at the bottom of the tank.
"Mulder's been living here since 2002," Spotnitz adds. "Come on in here..."
I follow, awash with nostalgia the minute I enter the next room: The office. A clutter of piled-up newspapers, clippings and monstrous sketches. Removed is that aforementioned tidiness. I actually miss it. But here...here is where the eye candy comes into play. Gaze closer at one of the headlines screaming from a nearby paper and you'll find FBI ARRESTS MODERN DAY FRANKENSTEIN DOCTOR. The ceiling above has been skewered by pencils which hang like stalactites. Sunflower seeds peek out from under the mess on Mulder's desk where a photo of his sister rests.
Then there's the poster.
You know the one. Series staple. Black and white, sorta fuzzy image of a UFO with big bold white letters proclaiming I WANT TO BELIEVE. Yeah, that one. Rippling with wear, but present nonetheless. Still signifying all that is "Mulder" and hung with care as a teen would hang a rock idol by his bed. "I'm not sure if it's one of the L.A. or Vancouver posters, it is an original though," Spotnitz notes.
So, what is Mulder and Scully up against this time...an alien menace, more government spooks, Scully's offspring back for revenge like the Davies baby? Try an X-file that has never been covered before. Hard to believe, I know. "I have to say it was challenging after 202 hours to find something that wasn't done," admits Spotnitz. "That isn't to say there are not elements - there will always be [familiar] elements - but the fundamental idea is different from anything we had done in the show. What we also wanted was an X-file, however fractured, that could serve as a mirror to Mulder and Scully - we were looking for a case that could expose things about them."
Carter adds: "I think the first three seasons really helped lay the foundation for the rest of the show. If you look at those first three, you'll see connections to what you're going to see in the movie. We're trying to scare the pants off of you. It's not a mythology episode but it owes to the character's lives, what they've been through, the relationship and the arc of the show."
As a result, this level of intimacy with the characters means scaling back on locations and not going as global as the first film did. "[The story] comes from the heart and who these characters are," Spotnitz reinforces. "That is part of why it's such a pleasure to do, we were freed of the complications and the machinery of the plot which had gotten quite complicated over nine years. We didn't really have to service a lot of that, we could just tell a really good scary, stand-alone story and go deeper into the characters of Mulder and Scully and their relationship than you could in a weekly series. Mulder and Scully bare a lot of scars from their experiences and you can't do a movie like this without recognizing that ."
I'm allowed to sit in on a scene featuring Duchovny and Anderson. Naturally, Fox has me bound from talking about specifics. It's a key moment and the actors are chewing it up, especially Duchovny who hasn't lost his dry edge after all of these years. Minutes earlier, Carter recalled the first table reading of the script. "I felt a wistful moment, something came over me. It was like no time had passed and a lot of time had passed. Our lives had moved on and we've all come back together, it felt like family again, it felt right."
As my day on set wears on, my search for lycanthropic evidence becomes a joke. Carter merely grins with a, "I can't say anything." when asked about it. I mean, seriously - who better to ask than the man standing less than five feet away from the creature in the photo? But then I have a slight breakthrough.
On the far end of the ice rink-cum-soundstage, an on-set photographer is snapping away at actors dressed like priest. One by one they file in, stand before a burgundy curtain. Click. Another priest moves in. Click. And another. Click.
Curious, I saunter over and ask what the pics are for. The photographer tells me they'll be used as set dressing for a sequence set in a rectory. She and I carry a decent conversation about the production, working in Vancouver, past shows she's been on, then, none too smooth, I drop the question: "So, what were those werewolf pictures all about anyway?" (Think Griffin Dunne's delivery - "Excuse me, what's that star on the wall for?" - in An American Werewolf in London. It's that abrupt.) Unnamed photographer smirks and doesn't miss a beat.
"What are they saying on the internet?" she asks me back.
"People think it's a hoax."
"You know, to throw off us nerds from trying to ruin Chris' Christmas surprise."
She looks away. "I was there that day," she whispers. "I took the picture."
"I'm not saying," she smiles as another priest poser steps up to his mark.
Sheesh. The truth is out here, but I'll be damned if I can find it. Time may have passed, but it seems things never change. Good luck, Mulder.