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Posts Tagged ‘Reign of Fire’

From the Hootoo Archive. Originally published September 19th, 2002:

Regular partakers of this column may well feel a twinge of déjà vu as for the second week running we look at a film in which the aforementioned Texan thesp shows up as a nutter with a big axe [the previous week featured a review of Frailty – A]. This time it’s Rob Bowman’s Reign Of Fire, an odd but rather entertaining aspiring blockbuster…

Reign Of Fire kicks off in contemporary London as schoolboy Quinn Abercrombie (Ben Thornton) – yeah, like that’s a real name! – visits his mum (Her Cybernetic Majesty Alice Krige), a site engineer on the London Underground. The transport authority clearly don’t have a clue about proper health and safety procedures as not only is Quinn allowed to wander about without even a hard-hat, but they also have no idea what to do when they accidentally disturb one of your actual giant fire-breathing dragons from its hibernation. Obviously one of the irritable-when-roused type, the dragon toasts the place and flies off, leaving Quinn the only survivor.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the now-grown Quinn has turned into Christian Bale and developed a terrible Cock-Er-Knee accent. The dragon and its spawn have crushed civilization as we know it and Quinn is leading a small community of survivors, holed up in northern England. The people are starving (though Bale’s pecs look well-nourished enough), and the isolation and lack of contact with other groups is wearing at them: ‘we haven’t heard from Norwich in two years,‘ someone says, if nothing else proving that even the worst post-apocalypse is not without the odd silver lining.

But then who should appear to save the day than barmy US army dragonslayer Van Zan (McConaughey) and his army of followers (‘if there’s one thing worse than dragons, it’s Americans‘), who inevitably include beautiful pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco – a rare example of an ex-Bond girl getting to play the love interest in a big studio release). Van Zan’s in Britain because he has a plan to solve the dragon problem once and for all – and Quinn’s going to help, whether he likes it or not…

Reign Of Fire is kept from being a really first-class piece of hokum by its script, which is a bit perfunctory and poorly paced, and by its budget, which obviously isn’t as expansive as the writer and director had hoped for. A film can overcome one of these problems, but not both together. The most obvious example here is in the sequence linking the present day prologue with the main part of the film – we’re told, through voice-over, graphics, and stock-footage, that the dragons destroyed all the existing governments and systems of authority, despite the vast military arsenals which would surely have been employed against them. It’s asking a lot of the audience to make this a fundamental part of the film’s background, and what’s worse is that we don’t even get to see the dragons torching any major landmarks or otherwise actually doing it. I’d prefer sense to spectacle, but I would like at least one of the two to make an appearance. The end result is perhaps too much post- and not enough apocalypse.

There are other problems in Reign Of Fire, of course, but they all stem from one or other of the two flaws mentioned above. The CGI is a bit iffy, resulting in some rather manky-looking dragons, and the climax is a bit of a damp squib (the money appears to have been running out). But there’s still a huge amount to enjoy here, if you can suspend your disbelief: it’s engaging played, with solid performances from most of the cast (Bale and Krige’s accents excluded). Gerard Butler is pretty good as Quinn’s best mate, and sharp-eyed Trekkies will spot Alexander Siddig in the crowd from time to time. But McConaughey steals the acting honours with a marvellously looney turn as Van Zan.

It’s not all in the acting, either – post-apocalypse England is rather well put on (excepting some of the CGI, as mentioned above), and for all its weaknesses the script serves up some very nice moments – my favourite being a wonderful scene where Quinn and his mates entertain the community’s kids by re-enacting scenes from The Empire Strikes Back by candlelight. Bowman’s direction is solid enough, and the whole thing has a rather bleak and sombre mood, a refreshing change from most blockbusters. I enjoyed Reign Of Fire a lot – worth seeing, if you’re willing to cut it some slack.

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