Reign of Fire Review

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
July 16th, 2002

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: An idea that could have been intriguing but
    was mishandled avoiding showing the most interesting
    scenes of the story. There are nice moments in REIGN
    OF FIRE, but there are is also a lot of comic book-ish civilization on the slag heap plotting that the viewer has to wade through to get to it. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), high 0 (-4 to +4). A minor spoiler section following
    the main review contains my deductions about aspects of dragon biology as it might be to explain facets of the plot.

One can see why some of the people who worked on REIGN OF FIRE might have been enthusiastic about the project, and also why a lot of the viewers seeing the film are not. This is a film that has a few diamonds in a lot of rough. The film combines the over-used cliches of the post-holocaust barbarian society film with some impressive dragon special effects.

In the prolog to the story we see that the digging of a train tunnel in London opens an ancient chamber and releases on the world real dragons--a species more virulent and dangerous than any other that has ever lived. Previously they brought the downfall of the dinosaurs. In this release they multiplied in the millions and quickly spread worldwide to bring the downfall of human civilization. By the year 2020 the remnants of humanity are living in holes in the ground and have been reduced to being a species rapidly going extinct. Quinn (Christian Bale) was present when the first modern dragon was released. Now he leads a diminishing band of humans who seem to be valiantly soldiering on, defending their small bunker system some place that used to be Northumberland and is now little more a tunnel system under a rock heap. They keep their stiff upper lips as their members slowly become dinner for the dragons raining from the sky in rabid attacks. Along come a militaristic band of Americans led by the macho tough guy Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). The Yanks are crude and violent and step on Quinn's people's rights, but plan to take the fight directly to the enemy. Van Zan himself is a Sgt. Rock stereotype with a shaved head, tattoos, bare arms, military vest, and an inch of grubby cigar between his teeth. He's a human weapon, but at least he is pointed in the direction of the dragons. Quinn fears the aggressive element that has joined his people. In return Van Zan is disgusted by Quinn's overly defensive strategy. Can they defeat the dragons and save humanity? (Does a square have four sides?)

In the moments when there are no dragons on the screen, this is an unpleasant film to watch. It is mostly claustrophobic scenes in tunnels and shots on rock piles. Limited color is used to create an oppressive atmosphere. Scenes with dragons are an entirely different story. The dragons are majestic beauties who seem to quite naturally take to the air. Their design was strongly influenced by that of the dragon Vermithrax Pejorative from the film DRAGONSLAYER. When they fly overhead we are surprised to see how battle-scarred their wings are. Some of the scenes of the dragons look like they come from fantasy book covers. The early dragon conquests which would have been the most impressive part of the film (as acknowledged by the poster) are quickly glossed over to get to the more economical but less interesting action filmed on the slag heaps.

The screenplay is full of unanswered questions, though many could be answered in a more intelligent script. The availability of limited amounts of petroleum and electricity could be explained but are taken as a given. Aspects of dragon biology that drive the plot could be consistently explained but generally are not. What could have been an interesting premise is wasted on a dull story with uninteresting flat characters. Perhaps an allegory was intended comparing American confrontational foreign policy with a European style which is much more reserved, though if so it was not fully developed.

The dragon effects are the best thing about this film and whatever is second is a distant second. Somehow effects are just not enough to make this a recommendable film. I rate REIGN OF FIRE a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Minor spoiler...

There has been some discussion about the science behind the dragons being poorly considered. This need not be true, but explanation of what is happening with the dragons may have been avoided to alleviate the need for cumbersome exposition. Actually the way I figure it, much of the female dragon's biological energy is devoted to reproduction which they do very, very fast. This means they live a relatively short period of time and must ingest a great deal of food much of the energy of which goes into creating baby dragons. Like sea lions, one male services a large harem of females. Males are larger, at least equally fierce, and are extraordinarily long-lived not expending as much energy in reproduction. Making things even harder on dragons something has gone wrong with the reproductive system and the one remaining male is producing only daughters. (There are, I believe, biological precedents for this disorder.) This means the species will die out shortly after the death of the last male just from the inability to produce more males and from inbreeding, but the dying human race may not live that long.

There is no way I can rationalize the concept that the dragons subsist eating ash. Perhaps it was meant figuratively.

    Mark R. Leeper
    [email protected] Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper

More on 'Reign of Fire'...

Originally posted in the newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.