Reign of Fire
review by Gregory Avery, 26 July 2002

Those looking for a good-'n'-scary apocalyptic fantasy may want to go to the video store and check out the 1953 War of the Worlds. Reign of Fire turns out to be, as Judith Crist would have put it, "fiasco time." But big.

The filmmakers take a promising idea -- ancient dragons swoop down on modern-day civilization and burn it to a crisp, while the survivors are forced to retreat into Medieval-like strongholds -- and run it right into the ground. The film lacks scale, sweep, and spectacle; the pacing is such that an hour goes by before much of anything seems to happen; when something does, the characters approach each other and speak in tones that barely rise above that of a whisper (this film has some of the most inaudible dialogue sequences since Angelina Jolie muttered her way through Tomb Raider); questions are left dangling merrily in the air (if the dragons have burned everything up, where do the characters get gasoline to run their motor vehicles?).

Christian Bale (who makes a fine, empathetic heroic figure, here) plays the leader of a huddled community in a gray-on-gray setting that is supposed to be what's left of Northumberland, in the U.K. -- his mother (Alice Krige) was an engineer in the London Underground excavation that accidentally unearthed the dragons from their slumber in the first place. Enter a group of American military men, with tanks and a helicopter, lead by Matthew McConaughey: with his bald, singed head, curly whiskers, and glassy eyes, he chomps on a stogey butt, acts pugnacious, and takes one look at the beleaguered Britons and says, "People, you disgust me!" Then he asks for volunteers. (Nice incentive pitch.) The filmmakers must have had one look at the rushes, panicked, and sent the scissors flying, rendering some of the main action and dramatic sequences (including one where three of the characters make the journey into the remains of a long-since scorched London) incomprehensible. McConaughey's character also manifests some Captain Ahab-like traces in his character, but that seems to have been snipped to bits, too.

The dragons themselves, when you can see them (the film plays a lot of on-screen hide-and-seek with them), are sinuous and graceful in a rather unnerving, barracuda-like way -- the way in which they imperiously sweep through the air makes you understand why they would want to get rid of all those pesky, ground-hugging humans, although the film also makes clear that these malevolent beasts are doomed to a self-destruction of their own making. But, for some reason, nobody in the film ever makes any reference to the slaying of dragons in days of yore. Or, if they did, I and the rest of the audience couldn't hear it.

Directed by:
Rob Bowman

Starring:
Christian Balei
Matthew McConaughey
Izabella Scorupco
Scott James Moutter
Alice Krige.

Written by:
Gregg Chabot
Kevin Peterka 
Matt Greenberg
Gregg Chabot
Kevin Peterka

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some matrial may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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