Thursday, January 28, 2016

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998)

As part of the introduction of a spin-off podcast focusing on the James Bond films, Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is doing an episode on the science fiction film The X-Files: Fight The Future based on the hit FOX television series. I was a major fan of the show when I was in later middle and early high school, so this was definitely a childhood favorite. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...

The Plot

FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have been reassigned from their usual job of investigating the X-Files (unexplained FBI cases involving the paranormal) to investigate a bomb threat against a federal building in Dallas. At the same time, a young boy in Texas discovers a cave with the skeleton of a Paleo-Indian who'd died in combat with an extraterrestrial...and the aliens' nefarious mind-controlling black oil. It turns out the bomb threat and the cave's contents are related, and our favorite FBI agents find themselves once more locking horns with the nefarious Syndicate and mastermind The Cigarette-Smoking Man...

The Good

*The opening scene where a pair of Paleo-Indians hunt down an extraterrestrial in Ice Age Texas was awesome when I saw it nearly twenty years ago and it was still a lot of fun. As Nick pointed out, this was before CGI became so all-encompassing. That's a real alien there, not a video-game creation. And the cave-men display some tactical sense--they're fighting an enemy with gigantic eyes in the dark, so they use their torches to disorient and blind it.

*There are some really good character moments. One of the most entertaining moments is Scully (a medical doctor) diagnosing her own symptoms as she goes into anaphylactic shock after getting stung by a bee. When we first see Mulder and Scully, their bantering shows a lot of what we need to know about them as people. We don't need to be told much if anything. And Mulder makes a great speech to Scully at one point.

*Per the above, the film was designed to appeal to those who weren't already X-Files fans. Mulder's back-story comes out in a drunken rant in a bar, for example.

*We learn some interesting stuff about the aliens and the Syndicate. I won't give away a lot of information for spoilery reasons, but there is a quote from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien I found appropriate: "It is difficult with these evil folk to know when they are in league, and when they are cheating one another."

*The movie is very 1990s. There are references to the Waco siege and the Ruby Ridge shootings. The Dallas bomb-threat is very reminiscent of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing in terms of both concept and visuals. I remember reading somewhere that the government conspiracies, aliens, etc. were what filled the gap between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the War on Terror and that's plain here. There're even references to the dangerous African "killer bees" and the all-powerful Federal Emergency Management Agency (here're some comments on FEMA from a conspiracist POV) that are very 1990s. Heck, the movie even has a character refer to FEMA as "the secret government."

*There's a really good cliffhanger "WHAM!" moment I did not see coming. Bravo.

The Bad

*If the aliens that the Syndicate is working with are that old and powerful, why the need for the conspiracy in the first place? The British were only a few thousand years' more advanced in terms of technology and organization than the Stone Age aborigines of Australia and they didn't need indigenous proxies to work for decades to prepare the way for them. They just swept in, took the lands they wanted, and wiped out most of the natives in the process. To cite the Dalek from Dr. Who, a conflict between them and us would not be war, but pest control. There's an in-universe explanation involving the leverage the early Syndicate had, but given the back-story revealed for the aliens, I don't think that would work.

*To that end, it would have been better if the prologue took place in the 19th Century or early 20th Century, using Comanche Indians or cowboys instead of cave-men. This would show the alien colonization scheme was only a few decades or a century old. The aliens would be a powerful and dangerous opponent, but weak enough that they couldn't just sweep right in and take over.

*Mulder manages to get to Antarctica at one point in 48 hours. That seems to be pushing it, especially given how he's likely being watched. It would have been better if the events in Antarctica took place in, say, Canada. It would be closer to the Syndicate's North American center of power and wouldn't take as long to get there. Mulder wouldn't need to buy plane tickets or anything else that could give away his location--just drive there.

*When a Syndicate base is collapsing, one of the minions asks about Mulder. Why do they even care about him? He's their enemy and the only reason he isn't dead is because he has allies with leverage on the Syndicate (I think in one episode Assistant FBI Director Walter Skinner tells The Cigarette-Smoking Man that if anything happens to Mulder, some damaging information is getting released) or because they don't want to make him a martyr ("kill Mulder and we take the risk of turning one man's quest into a crusade"). Him getting killed in a way that doesn't look like a murder would be good for their plans.

*A character is shot in the head at one point (but not lethally). We only see the wound intermittently.

*There's a scene that I described as "the alien water-slide of doom" that should break a character's legs (or at least hurt him rather badly), but it really doesn't.

The Verdict

It's an entertaining film that you should go see, especially since they're reviving the series. 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Redgum, Or More Aussie Rock Courtesy of YouTube

Here're another couple of cool songs from Australia that I found via YouTube. The first is "I Was Only Nineteen," by Redgum.

I'd known that there were Australian soldiers who'd fought beside Americans in Vietnam since I read Peter F. Hamilton's second Reality Dysfunction novel in high school. That one featured a dead Australian Vietnam veteran possessing a living convict in the distant future.

(It's a long story.)

Something notable about this song is that the Australian protagonist has an experience very similar to that associated with American Vietnam veterans (and veterans in general, although Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder became more well-known in the Vietnam generation). He can't sleep at night due to the nightmares, the news helicopter frightens him, and "the rash that comes and goes" might be caused by Agent Orange.

And thanks to "I Was Only Nineteen," I found "Poor Ned," which is about the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

The song conflates Kelly with the Eureka Rebellion ("hoist the flag of stars"), in which a bunch of Australian gold miners rebelled against the unpleasant British colonial government. Imagine the Battle of Bunker Hill, only if the Patriots got crushed immediately after inflicting little damage on the enemy but were found innocent of any crime due to jury nullification and ended up getting into elected into the government.

Eureka was many years before Ned Kelly, but Kelly did release a manifesto denouncing the government and calling for justice for the Australian poor. The song lyrics tie in heavily with the manifesto, including defending his shooting of some police (he claims self-defense) and claiming mistreatment of his family by the police. I haven't read Eric Hobsbawm's Bandits, but I do know what a "social bandit" is and Kelly seems to fit the description.

YouTube For You: "I Am Australian"

Awhile back I found "I Was Only 19," a song told from the perspective of an Australian Vietnam veteran, while doing research for another project. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I soon came across another song, "I Am Australian."

It's by a band called The Seekers. iTunes, at least in the U.S., does not have the song, or else I would buy it. It's a beautiful song that does justice to the difference cultures that made Australia (the Aborigines, the convict settlers, the gold prospectors, and others) while at the same time promoting a united Australian identity. Although I'm not familiar with Australian political culture, I do know a little bit about the country's history and it's somewhat similar to our own--they're a British settler colony, but the population is not exclusively British in origin or in culture and the country has attracted immigrants from all over. Like them, "from every land on Earth we come."

I wonder if a similar song could be written about the United States? "We are one, but we are many" applies to the U.S. too. Heck, it's our motto and its on our coins--e pluribus unum, "out of many, one." You can acknowledge the contributions of different groups (and marginalized ones) without indulging in rootlessness, anti-patriotism, and cynicism.

*Instead of the Aborigines, you could start with the Native Americans. Perhaps a specific individual like Squanto, or the tribes who helped the Pilgrims in general?

*Instead of the convict laborers, perhaps poor (European) indentured servants or African slaves. It parallels the convicts who "fought the land" and "endured the lash" and acknowledges that things weren't always great for everybody without wallowing in self-flagellation.

*We had our Gold Rush too, so instead of "the daughter of a digger,"a 49er? Alternatively, since they would have come at the same time and to emphasize the "freedom from political oppression angle" that's so strong a part of our identity, we could have those fleeing the repression of the European revolutions of 1848? It was liberal Germans who played a major role in abolitionism and the defeat of the Confederacy. Perhaps they could be combined--a German political refugee who becomes a gold miner and later fights the Confederates at Glorietta Pass? I'm sure someone like that existed.

*The song references several well-known Australians, including the outlaw Ned Kelly and the Aborigine artist (and trailblazer in many ways--he was the first Aborigine to get Australian citizenship) Albert Namatjira. I'd rather not glorify the Confederate die-hard Jesse James, but perhaps one of the Founding Fathers instead? They certainly stuck it to The Man, in that case the British Empire. Not sure about an artist analogue to Namatjira (although Emanuel Leutze did paint the iconic "Washington Crossing the Delaware"), but if you want to go with the civil-rights angle, Martin Luther King?

Apparently a lot of Australians want to make the song their national anthem. I'm disinclined to change ours from "The Star-Spangled Banner," but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate other songs like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA." An American version could rise alongside it.