Some Mulder and Scully fans were dubious when the title for the new movie based on their favorite TV show was announced: "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."
How, the skeptics wondered, could the two former FBI agents be anything but true believers after years of encountering aliens, monsters, ghosts and everything else that might go bump in the night?
But so-called X-Philes want to believe in this franchise that started way out on the fringes and eventually brought the creepy and paranormal into the mainstream. The feeling among its creators is mutual.
"We want to believe in the audience," said David Duchovny, who reprises his role as Fox Mulder, the guy with boogeymen on the brain, co-starring with Gillian Anderson as his soul mate and doubting Thomas, science-minded Dana Scully.
Devoted as fans might be, it's a leap of faith for "The X-Files" to return after such a long absence in an era when so many franchises compete for audiences' attention and sequels tend to come every two or three years.
It's been a decade since the first "X-Files" movie and six years since the series went off the air after nine seasons.
The keepers of "The X-Files" figure the long wait has only fired up fans even more for a new adventure. In an interview with The Associated Press alongside Duchovny, Anderson and producer Frank Spotnitz, series creator Chris Carter described the reception he got at a fan gathering in Chile, where he had no idea the show had such a following.
"It was wild and warm and enthusiastic. They had an expo where they re-created Mulder's desk," said Carter, who also directed the new movie and co-wrote it with Spotnitz. "It was just amazing to be sitting there eating sunflower seeds (Mulder's favorite snack) at Mulder's desk in Chile."
Anderson recalled a similar reaction when they appeared earlier this year at New York Comic Con, a fan convention.
"The response that we got from the audience was almost, it was crazy. That was kind of the beginning of my realizing, people do still care," Anderson said. "I also think it's gotten passed down through the generations to kids of people who first watched it on TV."
"The X-Files" debuted in 1993 and quickly won a loyal cult audience. Strong word of mouth gradually drew more and more fans to the weird show with its ongoing story arc about alien visitations to Earth and clever stand-alone stories that one week might deal with life-sucking bugs unleashed from old-growth timber, and another week might touch on monstrous humans resulting from generations of inbreeding.
At the heart was Mulder, a brilliant FBI agent convinced his sister was abducted by aliens. Nicknamed "Spooky" by derisive colleagues, Mulder handled the X-Files, cases involving unexplained phenomena the bureau would prefer to sweep under the rug.
Scully, a medical doctor, was assigned as Mulder's partner, mainly to debunk his work, but she eventually became his comrade in arms, the two complementing each other's talents and maintaining a deep but chaste romantic longing.
Spotnitz said when he joined the show in the second season, "none of my friends knew what it was at that point. But by the end of season two, people were writing fan fiction. I remember distinctly somebody saying to me, `Oh, you've got them. Once they're actually making it their own, you've actually captured their imagination.' And it's true. They're still writing fan fiction 15 years later."
The 1998 big-screen film was immersed in the show's dense alien mythology. "I Want to Believe" is patterned after the stand-alone episodes, requiring little prior knowledge of Mulder and Scully.
Drummed out of the FBI as the series wound down, Mulder has been living in exile, collecting news clips of strange happenings and hurling pencils at the ceiling out of boredom.
Scully, now a practicing doctor at a hospital, is approached by FBI agents (Amanda Peet and Xzibit) as an intermediary to bring Mulder in to consult on a case in which a defrocked-priest-turned-psychic (Billy Connolly) claims to have visions about a missing bureau agent.
And they're off and running on a trail that leads them to a stash of severed arms buried in the snow, more missing persons and some ghoulish medical experiments worthy of Frankenstein.
"Chris had a Border collie when we started and I had a half-Border collie, and I always thought of Mulder like a Border collie. He needed a job, so when you see him at first, he's like a Border collie who's a lapdog," Duchovny said. "It's not right. And the movie's a little bit about him getting his job back. That's where his heart is."
His heart also clearly remains with Scully. They spar just like old times, but they share the most explicit moments of affection in their 15 years together, though still restrained by Hollywood romantic standards.
Many fans always wanted to see Mulder and Scully in an all-out love affair, but Anderson said it was wise for Carter and Spotnitz to steer the show clear of that.
"They ended up playing the parents of the fans who thought they knew what they wanted, but if they had gotten what they wanted, I think they would have been sorely disappointed," Anderson said. "It would have had a negative effect on the series. But what was given to them was so electric and so long-lasting that it helped to carry through all the way to the end."
Cast and crew are game for more "X-Files" movies if fans still believe strongly enough to convince distributor 20th Century Fox that the audience is there.
Now that Mulder has his foot back in the door at the FBI, the alien mythology that obsessed him on the job could be resurrected for a future film, Carter said.
"There's a looming date in 2012 which is part of the literature, if you will, on a Mayan calendar. It's supposed to be when the aliens do something," Carter said. "We've mentioned that date a number of times in the series, so it's something that we certainly would be looking at. I'm not sure exactly how yet, but if there is a next movie, we would consider doing it then."