In his review of the standard DVD, John J. Puccio wrote, "'Reign of Fire' might more appropriately have been titled 'The Road Warrior Meets Dragonslayer,' but without the charisma of Mel Gibson or the appeal of old-fashioned sorcery." That's certainly the way Rob Bowman's film struck me: as a recycled mish-mash that introduces nothing new visually or conceptually to the genre of post-apocalyptic films.
The basic idea for the movie is kind of fun, but it all comes across as being not thoroughly enough thought through (say that three times fast!). The filmmakers' indecision is even reflected in a rather major discrepancy between the trailer and the film. Either this story begins in 2084, if you believe the trailer, or 2010, if you go by the subscript on the film. Whatever the year, a young boy visits Mum while she's on the job, and Mum isn't exactly a secretary. She's apparently in charge of a blasting/drilling project beneath the streets of London. So kids can just walk through a dangerous hard-hat area, and everybody's all casual about it? Never mind. At least it gives us the best exchange in the film, as one of the workers says, sarcastically, "And what brings you to the asshole of the world?" The boy, Quinn, responds, "You passing through it."
That comes early in the film, and combined with the premise--that their drilling unearths a dragon/dragons that escapes, procreates like bunnies, and begins to unceremoniously destroy Earth as we know it--it makes us think that we're in for a clever 102 minutes of filmaking. Unfortunately, that's as clever as this film gets. From that point, it's a downhill descent into movie familiarity.
After the opening sequence we jump in time to where Quinn (Christian Bale) is holed up in a medieval castle, trying, like some feudal lord, to protect a band of people who have sought shelter there from the dragons. As in the old Flash Gordon serials, we've been shown plenty of newspaper headlines indicating that every major city in the world has been destroyed by legions of fire-breathing dragons who seem to be the ultimate in self-perpetuation. They eat ash, and so being fire-breathers all they have to do is barbeque a few things and chow down. Except that the sets that Bowman gives us look exactly like "Road Warrior": bleak and color-denuded landscapes that are littered with twisted metal and stone/concrete ruins.
It's an interesting idea to have dragons from medieval times emerge from underground, only to drive surviving humans underground and into a lifestyle that's positively medieval. But the script doesn't do much with the concept. Rather than going off in new directions, we get, as John put it, Dragonslayer, only played without charm by Jesse Ventura . . . I mean, Matthew McConaughey. But you get the feeling that he got the inspiration to play the part of the American dragonslayer leading a tank division with one helicopter for support by watching professional wrestling. He's ripped, he's tattooed, he's . . . a cigar-chomping, posturing cliché.
And now, a word from our sponsors, the Center for Twenty-first Century Logic. As you watch "Reign of Fire," here is a study guide of questions not to ask: How is it that the dragons survived centuries underground by eating ash without eating the world from inside out, kind of like the enter of a Tootsie-Roll pop? Where does Van Zan and his equally stoic and posturing female helicopter pilot, Alex (Izabella Scorupco) get their fuel? There's not a building standing, much less a petrol station. And what about ammunition? They never run out of bullets, though, again, society has been so decimated that there's NOTHING around, let alone a munitions factory. Or gun shop. And where does everyone go to the bathroom?
There's a scene in "Reign of Fire" that will undoubtedly remind people of "Planet of the Apes." A few humans are breaking ranks and have gone into the tomato vineyards in order to grab some fruit before harvest time. And they look up, sensing dragons. Then, over the mountains comes the flying dragon in a dramatic moment, and chows down on one human and torches the vineyard. So, if this was their only food supply, what do they do now? And here's a question for all you gardeners out there. How long does it take for YOUR tomatoes to grow from seed, before you get how many? But I digress to another commercial. Back to the review.
Van Zan and the Americans are so cartoonish that it's as if two people wrote the screenplay (not three) and decided not to show the other one what they came up with. The British survivors have a tone and style that's so totally different from the American loose cannons that it skews the film badly off-kilter. What's worse, the script serves up lines that are nothing but clichés or bland exchanges, and there simply aren't enough cool scenes of dragon demolition derbies to make up for it. In the end, you almost wish Sean Connery were around to give voice to one of them, as he did in "Dragonslayer."
There's nothing wrong with the 1080p High Definition picture, which is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Even though the color palette is drab and the atmospheric cast dingy, there's plenty of detail and good contrast. Is it a showpiece disc? Nope, but that's because there's nothing really eye-popping about this film.
The featured audio is an English PCM 5.1 uncompressed (48kHz, 16-bit) that sounds pretty good, with the usual spread of Fx across the speakers--though "swishing" sounds, like the flapping of dragon wings, seem quieter than they ought to be, given the menace and dynamics involved.
The dragons must have scorched the bonus features, because there's not much here--just as there wasn't much on the DVD release. Nothing comes close to 20 minutes, they're so brief and seemingly token. A "making of" feature is really little more than an expanded trailer, whle another short feature on creating fire is just as scant. Aside from the trailer and "Movie Showcase" (which takes you to the primo hi-def scenes) the only other extra is an interview with director Bowman, who talks about the project without as much passion as you would have assumed.
It's fresh to see a post-apocalyptic vision that doesn't involve nuclear holocaust, but this dragonscape doesn't do enough with an interesting premise. "Reign of Fire" degenerates into clichés almost quicker than you can say, "DRAGON! RUN!"