Reign of Fire is an action film released in July of 2002 by Touchstone Pictures and directed by Rob Bowman (whose previous credits are mostly TV shows, most noteably many episodes of "The X-Files" and the series' film). The story takes place in the near future (2020C.E.) where dragons, which had been in hibernation in large underground caverns for millions of years, have awoken and decimated the planet, turning entire cities to ash and feasting on the remains. The film focuses on Quinn (Christian Bale), leader of a small community somewhere in England just trying to survive, and Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), an American national guardsman leading what remains of his troops to find a way to stop the dragons once and for all. Quinn and Van Zan's conflicting philosophies add some thought to this mostly action-filled movie.
Reign of Fire fits into the category of summer blockbuster action flick, though it is quite entertaining and doesn't suffer from many of the drawbacks most action films do. The acting in Reign of Fire is good, the audience is spared any lame subplots designed to widen the target audience (no goofy sidekicks, unrealistic romances, etc.), and the film isn't dependent on special effects. Despite this, the special effects are very good and not overused. The audience is never given footage of the dragons flying or attacking just to show off the studio's computer graphics department. Each dragon attack serves a purpose in the story.
The suspenseful and grim, post-apocalyptic mood of the film is excellently portrayed. The skies are often misty and overcast, leaving the characters (and audience) to wonder what may be about to come flying out of the clouds. The countryside surrounding Quinn's community of survivors is almost completely barren and scorched. A scene in which Quinn and Van Zan end up fighting each other illustrates this best as their movement pushes around and kicks up the thick ash where once dirt and plantlife may have been found. At times the film seems to draw inspiration from medieval tales of dragons, with Quinn's community living in a castle, Van Zan sometimes sporting an axe rather than a gun, Quinn and Van Zan using crossbows at one point, and, of course, the dragons themselves. Nevertheless, Bowman manages to mix this with a modern and post-apocalyptic feel with Van Zan's tanks, the 3D mapping technology and skydiving the soldiers use in slaying dragons, and Quinn's rifle's scope.
The look of the dragons is another plus. The beasts come across as dangerous and agile without the human-like personalities or facial expressions they might have had in another movie. There's nothing magic about them, as Van Zan says at one point. The creatures flight is made possible with massive wingspans. The fire they "breathe" is created by two glands in their mouths which mix chemicals that react to each other explosively when the dragons push air out through their mouths. Articles written about the film before its release point out that director Rob Bowman wanted the artists and special effects people to create dragons that would appear realistic. The artists responded by using the look of other, real reptiles found on Earth and basic skeletal structures found in birds.
Reign of Fire isn't without its drawbacks. After the audience is shown the awakening of the first dragon, the movie flashes foward to 2020 with a well-put together but not too developed montage of newspaper articles and pictures of ruined cities while Quinn rushes through a narrative of the history of the world after the dragons begin their reign of fire. The end of the film seems to come too quickly as well, though perhaps this is merely because the audience is spared dull filler material many action movies include. Despite this, the film is enjoyable overall. Not something to see if you're looking for gripping drama or deep character development but definitely one of the better action flicks out there.
Reign of Fire
Directed by: Rob Bowman.
Written by: Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka, and Matt Greenberg.
Starring: Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, and Gerard Butler.
Released by: Touchstone Pictures in 2002.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for "intense action violence."