So the X-Files are back. I’ve watched most of the new season, despite never having watched the original series, and I think it is a bunch of fuckery. I know so little about the show, yet I was painfully aware that the resurgence was nuking nearly half of the show’s lore, just because it didn’t know where to restart. The first episode of the new blood felt like a bad joke, mixed with a betrayal of all affinity built for Joel McHale, by forcing a Fox ideologue into the world of questionable pseudo-science. Again, as a non-fan I felt these things were heavy-handedly incorrect; watching them, while with actual fans, made me feel like I was in the presence of the goddamned Devil. Point being: fake Bill O’Reilly has no place in the grey area between abductions and implausibility, and revealing big impressive CGI proof negates all themes of Faith for a narrative built on supporting both reality and the phantasmagoric.
tl;dr New X-Files is bad for everyone except Kumail Nanjiani. Maybe that’s reason enough to make it.
But this steered me back toward the first B-Film of my childhood, which I understood was shooting for B-Film status: Evolution. If you want to play along at home, it’s up on HBOGo right now.
Evolution paired a conspiracy beleaguered academic (David Duchovny) against a flirtatious over-reacting girl’s volleyball coach (Orlando Jones), who attempt to use their community college students to reclaim an alien artifact from a military cover-up. Aided by a bumbling Seann William Scott and a bumbling Julianne Moore and a bumbling Michael Bower and a bumbling Ted Levin…. Ugh. Nevermind. There are equal elements of scientific response to alien invasion mixed with a solid act’s worth of Caddyshack-esque shenanigans.
Point being, this is the most 1996 movie you could possibly release in 2001.
All of this would seem laughable, except for the involvement of Ivan Reitman as director, who shockingly ties this all together. Duchovny had been on X-Files since 1993 and was ready to break into films; Reitman was realizing that a third Ghostbusters would never happen — so the two got slammed together.
Evolution gets shit on as this garbage outing that was never comparable to its individual elements, and — that’s fair. It isn’t. Especially now. There’s a lot of joy to see a young Ty Burrell being a smug prick this early and also watching Julianne Moore literally trip over her own feet, instead of having a personality, because we hadn’t clearly defined the manic pixie dream archetype yet. But you also see flashes of the hilarious action sidekick Orlando Jones was born to be, and you get to watch a movie that is both spoofing direct references to locations and characters from X-Files, while also doing them bigger and better.
Ivan Reitman is 69 now. We’ve lost a bunch of cool 69 year-old creators this year, and I feel like — not to curse him, too — but let’s appreciate so much of what he brought to the table. And honestly, maybe better than any entry in the Ghostbusters franchise, Evolution sums him up as a creative force. It mixes a science fiction/paranormal element with degrees of faux-action that still builds toward a surprisingly fireworksy conclusion. But this is also the guy who brought us Animal House, Stripes, and Beethoven’s 2nd. And that same sense of humor based in class-warfare and capitalistic excess shines through here.
Let’s also pour one out for the fact Duchovny’s character, who dares to proclaim that the U.S. military is engaged in pre-planned fear-mongering campaigns, based on an accidental chemical warfare device deployed against our own troops as a false flag. This film was released in June of 2001, if you need another reason for why it’s been erased from history. (I’m referencing 9/11. It was a very bad day for movies. It made Donnie Darko and Zoolander disappear.)
Perhaps the greatest disappointment of Evolution is that it painfully satirizes the careers of its leads, but also flawlessly sets up a franchise that could’ve grown into something real. In 2001, no one else was making an over-the-top Blues Brothers mall-wrecking sequence that also contained Jurassic Park-style dinosaurs and Orlando Jones shrieking about a monster doing butt-stuff to him while Seann William Scott does karaoke.
Evolution is a big sad film now for so many reasons, and I’d like to pull it out of the fire. Sure, most actors associated watched their film careers implode, but they also made a big, ridiculous thing that had no more or less reason to catch on with the zeitgeist than when Bill Murray ran his fingers back-and-forth between the highest keys on the piano. Reitman put everything he was good at together in ninety minutes, and the end result is undeniably better than both X-Files movies, although it offered no escape route for the star.
In June, we’ll hit the 15th anniversary of Evolution, and while everyone else is clamoring for more Gilmore Girls or now Harry Potter, I think we should at least get this cast back together to celebrate what could have been.