David Duchovny …. Fox Mulder
Gillian Anderson …. Dana Scully
Mitch Pileggi …. Walter Skinner
William B. Davis …. Cigarette Smoking Man/CGB Spender
Nicholas Lea …. Alex Krycek / Michael
Steven Williams …. Mr. X
Don S. Williams …. Elder
Lenno Britos …. Luis Cardinal
Ross Clarke …. Pleasant Man
Tom O’Brien …. Sgt. Louis Frisch
Scott Bellis …. Max Fenig
Charles Cioffi …. Section Chief Scott Blevins
John Finn …. Michael Kritschgau
The early 1990’s were not a great time for science fiction on television. Star Trek was starting to fade, and many series that networks would try would get cancelled early on. So to many people’s surprise when The X-Files premiered in 1994, it was a pretty decent hit. The cult show featured FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), a conspiracy theorist, with a predilection for sunflower seeds and watching a lot of porn. With Mulder’s investigations into the paranormal possibly hurting the bureau’s reputation, he is partnered with Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a Field Agent that would put Mulder’s theories to the test of scientific proof.
Amazingly enough, the show would grow from its cult audience to a mainstream hit, even getting a big screen film half way through the show’s run. The X-Files featured a great array of creatures and boogeymen, but the driving force of the show came from about 60 episodes of the series’ run which featured a vast Alien conspiracy, called “The Project”. Ran by a small collection of the wealthy, “The Project” is a covert group that has a plan to stop an alien invasion. The problem is that the members of “The Project” have no scruples as to the lengths they will go to do so. The associates of the conspiracy will murder, kidnap, and ruin people’s lives for their own ends in the name of protecting the Earth from invasion. This is the group that Mulder hopes to expose for the entirety of the series. While the entire run of the show has been out on DVD for some time, for those looking to find out what happens in the conspiracy or Mythology episodes, these new box sets are perfect.
This is the second of the Mythology sets to come out, following the first DVD set, Abduction. This one, entitled Black Oil, picks up in season 3 and contains 15 installments from seasons 3, 4 and 5. The Black Oil from the title has to do with an alien entity introduced within these episodes. The entity appears to just be a conventional oil substance, but as it makes contact with a person, it assumes the person’s consciousness. From there the Oil can take control of a person and if incubated long enough can transform the person into an alien.
From the title, one would assume all the episodes in this set would deal with black substance, but that would be misleading. The 15 episodes here have a wide ranging subject matter, while still revolving around “The Project”. Each of the storylines here are very compelling and are some of the best of the entire show. For people that were fans early on and perhaps drifted away, it’s a real surprise how engrossing these episodes are.
The first two episodes, entitled Nisei and 731, involve the circumstances of a previous abduction that happened to Agent Scully. The duo learns that Japanese scientists were responsible for a microchip implanted into Scully’s neck that had already been removed prior to these episodes. A striking revelation happens when Scully learns that she is not alone in her situation, as a group of women contact her to tell her that they were also abducted. Scully takes little solace from the event as all the women are slowly dying from cancer contracted from the incident.
The Black Oil is actually introduced in the third of the set’s episodes. A French salvage ship falls victim to the Oil as it claims one of its crewmen and gives the rest of the sailors radiation poisoning. Mulder learns that the Black Oil had been at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, since its alien craft was shot down in World War II, until the unlucky crew of the Piper Maru happened upon it. The Oil leaps from person to person until finally possessing the body of perennial villain, Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea). Lea’s performances in all of the episodes he appears in on this set are exceptional. The FBI turncoat is a great foil for Mulder as Fox believes Krycek is connected into the death of his father.
From the Black Oil episodes the storylines shifts to the existence of a character simply called the Pleasant Man. In episodes Talitha Cumi and Herrenvolk, Mulder and Scully investigate a man with the alias Jeremiah Smith, whom witnesses report has the ability to heal people. The opening shootout scene is a fantastic example of the cinematic potential of the series, as a disturbed man shoots several victims, but is even revived himself by the Pleasant Man.
It turns out the man known as Jeremiah Smith (Ross Clarke) is an alien/human hybrid, that can shape-shift at will to look like anyone he wants. He is apparently a runaway from “The Project” as the group sends another alien to assassinate him. The Pleasant Man ends up taking Mulder to a special farm in Canada where the agent learns of a colony where a world wide plague is being hatched. Both of these episodes are some of the best of these discs.
After these episodes the finest installments on Black Oil have to do with the building tension within Scully and Mulder’s lives. In Memento Mori, Scully learns that she has cancer and that the women that had contacted her earlier had all died. In Gethsemane, Redux and Redux II, Mulder learns of an alien corpse that may prove his theories about the paranormal are correct, but before he can come forward with the information, the alien is stolen. On top of that, a Department of Defense employee named Michael Kritschgau (John Finn) comes forward to say that Mulder has been a tool of the Military Industrial Complex, who are using UFO stories to shield the public from their intent for world domination.
The episodes build and build from Mulder faking his own death to Scully lying in a hospital dying of cancer to Mulder even possibly joining “The Project” in order to save both their lives. The final moments of Redux II are a whirlwind of excitement that escalates to a climax reminiscent of The Usual Suspects.
This box set is superlative entertainment for casual fans of the show. After nine seasons some fans grew impatient to finally get some resolution, and it’s nice that Fox is offering these DVD’s as a chance to catch up with what happened on the series without having to wade through “freak of the weeks”. Both of the leads are excellent here and show a real passion for the series. Duchovny gets an absolutely heartbreaking moment in Redux II, and Anderson shines in Memento Mori where she comes across as a woman desperately trying to fight her cancer.
The supporting characters here are fantastic as well. William B. Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man is an amazing character. No character on the series has as much screen presence as Davis is able to completely overshadow anyone he is on screen with. Steven Williams as Mr. X and Don S. Williams as “The Project’s” #1 Elder also have great moments on screen. Other guest star fair very well in smaller roles as everyone seems to take the proceedings very seriously.
For beginning on the Fox network (a channel typically known for comedies at the time) in the early 90’s, The X-Files had a tremendous dramatic weight to it. The special effects and cinematography is all top notch for its time and the writing is better than remembered. For those looking to for great science fiction and found the series too labyrinthine to deal with, these Mythology sets are the way to go.
The transfer here looks great. Some of the earlier sets tended to be a little grainy, but the picture quality here is really nice. The show is presented in 1:33:1 Fullscreen, which I know is the original format, but it’s just too bad that the show isn’t on today, because it would probably be in Widescreen.
The sound quality is just as good. There doesn’t seem to be any degradation from the original broadcast as Dolby digital 2.0 surround is crisp and really detailed.
SPECIAL FEATURES:Audio commentaries on episodes Talitha Cumi, Memento Mori, and Max, Threads of Mythology – Black Oil Featurette
Audio commentaries: All three audio commentaries here are pretty detailed and entertaining by the director of each episode. R.W. Goodwin’s commentary goes into specifics about how he tried to make the opening shootout as chaotic as possible, while slowing the camera down if The Pleasant Man was in frame to show his inner calm. Director Kim Manners tells about how difficult it was to shoot his episode, Max. Much of the installment takes place in a plane that is hijacked by an alien craft, and the director goes into specifics about what a complicated shoot the episode was as the extras had to spend hours inside a cramped plane set.
The best of the commentaries comes from series veteran Director Rob Bowman, who also shot the movie. Bowman details how he had to pull back on the emotion of the episode even though it is about one of the main characters contracting a fatal disease. The X-Files typically is not an overly emotional show and having one of the characters suddenly become overly expressive would be totally uncharacteristic for the show and take away from the episode.
Threads of Mythology – Black Oil Featurette: This is a really interesting 30 minute Featurette about the timeline presented in this set. Production staff from Creator Chris Carter, to producers, directors, writers, and cast members all try to explain the show’s evolution during this time period. Each episode is also showcased explaining how many of the different special effects and other story aspects were achieved.