Reign Of Fire Review
Whilst dragons had been man’s most feared foe in many films over the past fifty years, rarely had they taken centre stage, and become the pivotal plot device that drove the narrative. Here director Rob Bowman took on the challenge of bringing these mystical creatures to life, and while he borrows from a few films of the past, he largely succeeds in creating an engrossing look at a future world where ‘Dragons’ have become the top of the food chain.
The year is 2020, England. Quinn (Christian Bale) is leading a small group of humans who had so far survived the dragon’s fiery onslaught on the world. Many others had not survived after countries around the globe had fired their most powerful weapons at the beasts in order to destroy them but eventually just added to the problem, before virtually everything was wiped out. Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), an American ‘dragon slayer’, arrives at Quinn’s castle-like base with his band of military personnel and armoury offering ‘hope’, in that the dragons can once and for all be destroyed.
First and foremost, Bowman and his writers have created a believable story, to root the world they have built, in. There is never the feeling that what is out there, terrorising these people, is an unbelievable creation that lacks any plausibility. As an upshot from that, the dragons pose a real, unrelenting threat that echo the brooding terror of the shark swimming the shores of Amity Island in Jaws, and the stinging menace of the alien in Alien. Bowman, to his credit, keeps the pace boiling slowly over, giving the characters a chance to interact and create interesting dynamics, from friendship to disloyalty, providing a reality check on the fantastical events that surround them. It should be said that the film is hardly an action-movie and relies on the superb interplay between the two leads and the desperation and ultimate heroism of the people involved. It is the few ‘action’ scenes however, where Bowman struggles most, with frenetic editing and scrolling, jittery handheld camerawork mandatory, but they have a forced longevity, and he doesn’t give the dragons enough onscreen time to give us an idea of their size, strength and impending power. The over-use of character reactions to display this information doesn’t work in the long run, and you begin to wish the action-orientated scenes were set out on a much more grand scale.
The two main leads in the movie are excellent with Christian Bale standing out. He can give a character so many levels which was effortlessly shown in American Psycho, and here he never lets up displaying sorrow and sadness with an emotional core, and giving his ‘I can be hero’ character brain rather than brawn. His gritty performance easily lifts the film beyond it’s summer blockbuster rivals, and helps set the film apart from the old clichés of no plot, no characters, no direction that plagues many a summer’s movie releases. He is ably supported by McConaughey, whose verging psychotic is a sign of his desperation, brought on by heart and courage, rather than any menace.
As mentioned the film does borrow from other films so it’s to its discredit that it lacks a little originality. Some framework details have been lifted from the likes of Predator and Pitch Black, while some story elements are a reminder of Aliens and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. There is also a very notable scene that either pays homage to Jaws or unknowingly copies it.
Overall, this is a well-made science-fiction film and one of the better finds of 2002. There is a lot to enjoy here, as long as you don’t go into it expecting wall-to-wall extravagance in the way of action. Two brilliant performances from the two leads, solid direction, a good script and some superb cinematography from Adrian Biddle set the film in good stead.
The image is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and anamorphic enhanced. Biddle’s cinematography is bleak and has a bleached look at times, which tests the format in its ability to reproduce with clarity, but the disc has no problems in this area. Throughout, the picture is clear from any print blemishes and has a good level of sharpness and detail. Interior shots have good depth and contrast, with colours true to the cinematographer’s original intentions.
Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks are present on the disc, and each excels. The Dolby Digital track utilises the sub-woofer to great effect, creating a low-end undercurrent through dialogue-based scenes and a crashing, thundering roar through action scenes. Dialogue is clear and well separated, with good use of the frontal spectrum and ambient sounds fill the rear speakers creating an enjoyable, enveloping sound. The DTS seems to be slightly more separated, with the sub-woofer appearing to be a little louder and the rear speakers being more active.
Breathing Life Into The Terror - A promotional-based ‘making of’, running for around 8 minutes. The director and leading actors, plus other production staff pat each other on the back and speak of what a wonderful job they did. There is some interesting stuff to see here though, mainly with the CGI and the conception of the dragon’s look and movement.
Below The Line: If You Can’t Take The Heat - A 15 minute behind-the-scenes featurette that has some good footage and bits and pieces of interesting information, but it is poorly edited making the viewing experience a tough one.
Conversations with Rob Bowman - The best added feature on the disc has Rob Bowman talking about making the film, and his thoughts on horror movies in general.
Theatrical Trailer - Presented in letterbox widescreen.
Reign Of Fire disappointed many, not fulfilling certain expectations, but the film is enjoyable nonetheless and sports terrific sound and picture quality. The disc’s additional features won’t entice many buyers, but for those that like the film, this release will satisfy demand.