Released in 2002, directed by Rob Bowman and starring pre-Batman Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey; Reign of Fire is a movie set in the not too distant future (next year coincidentally) where the world has been taken over by a race of incredibly powerful Dragons. Whilst released over a decade ago, to me it remains one of my fondest and most memorable movies.
Reign of Fire begins with a small boy named Quinn who after school visits his Mum (Alice Krige) at her work, digging tunnels for the London Underground. Sent into one of the tunnels by a less than reputable colleague (Dessie Gallagher) of his mother’s, Quinn discovers a long dormant and now fully awake Dragon. His Mum dies whilst they both tried to escape. A few decades later, Quinn (Bale) is now the leader of a group of survivors at a castle in Northumberland. Then one day, a troop of Americans arrive in a Tank!
I fell in love with Reign of Fire the first time I saw the movie’s poster at my local cinema. It was a picture of the House’s of Parliament on fire, with a giant dragon, as big as the building hovering above, and loads of attack helicopter’s in the background. As a fan of Monster Movie’s, that poster just spoke to me, and it was a film I just wanted to see so much. Well, sadly I didn’t get a chance to see it at the cinema, but many months later, I was able to rent a copy of the film on VHS (remember those?) from Blockbuster Video (remember them?). I saw it, and I absolutely loved it, it was a film that I just enjoyed so much. Less than a few months later, I received a copy for my Birthday (once again on VHS).
Reign of Fire in many regards, is something of a weird film. One thing which should be noted ahead of time is that the poster doesn’t necessarily speak much truth. Yes it is set in the UK, yes there is a massive Dragon and yes there is at least one Helicopter, but only one helicopter. If you look at the original poster, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Reign of Fire was going to be one big action movie with London on fire, and Dragons fighting waves of attack helicopter’s. It isn’t! Reign of Fire is a dystopian setting, but it mostly takes place after those things happened. Quinn does provide a bit of back story as to how the events of the film ended up in the distant future and the events preceding it, but Reign of Fire is more of a survival deal with some action, but not necessarily all guns blazing action. There are sections of combat between Dragons and Humans, but really for the most part, it’s more a drama than an action movie.
Moments of action are still pretty rife, but they are different from what you may be expecting from your own ideas. The first moment of action is two-sided. One, a Dragon appears in the early morning, so the community batten down the hatches. On the other side of that coin is a group of those survivors who have gone apple picking, now finding themselves face to face with the Dragon, so survivors from the camp turn up in fire engines to come save them (I said it was weird). Then there are moments of the camp gearing up to greet an invading party, a fight to take down a dragon, and so on.
The drama part of this film though is kind of interesting, but possibly weak plotted. You need to realise that this camp believe they are the only ones left in the world; as such, the drama element comes from the day-to-day lives of the survivors, and creates questions as to whose ideas are the best. Do the best intentions meet with the preferred outcome? It then moves onto a choice of beliefs, one belief being that maybe it would be best just to keep out of the Dragons way and try to live for as long as you can; whilst alternatively comes the idea that instead of hiding, maybe they should be fighting back. These ideas are in here, but can be a bit hidden at time which means they don’t stand out too much at times when they should. It’s the balance the film is struggling to juggle. Action and Drama can work if balanced correctly, but in this case, they can sometimes find themselves lost in situations where neither is welcome. Basically, they don’t hit home at points when they should and it can be easy to see them glazed over.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it just makes it a little weird. Reign of Fire is actually a pretty unique film and definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. It takes a major fantasy element and whacks it straight into the here and now, at a time when the world was in a new midst of terror and war. The film may have it’s glazed over moments, but it sort of packs a punch and more than makes up for it everywhere else. It’s drama may be lost to some moments of action, but the action is still pretty good, plus it’s a little toned down. It features moments of quiet pacing in some scenes, and creates imagery not seen before, such as the parachute scene. The action also features moments more akin to stealth than all guns blazing, creating their own little level of uniqueness as the characters work their way around obstacles trying not be noticed by a massive Dragon.
The film for me though stands out in many other respects too. For one, it was actually my first experience with many well known actors. Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey were big names before hand of course, but before this film, I had not heard of them (nor have I seen a film since with a bald McConaughey). Another major mention was an actor who at the time was still growing in experience but hadn’t broken out on his own yet: Gerard Butler. His part in the film standing as best friend of Bale’s character is actually pretty nice and believable, making this role his stand out role for me, as from this moment on I came to spot him more regularly in future films. Not to mention of course the incredible well put together cast of supporters; including (but not limited to) Alexander Siddig, Scott Moutter, Ned Dennehy, Izabella Scorupco, and Terence Maynard all having vital parts to play in some truly memorable performances.
Reign of Fire has good moments of banter with many of these characters, but also has some great scenes including the final fight, the appearance of the male Dragon over the Houses of Parliament, The arrival of the tank at the castle, and the subsequent appearance of the helicopter. Not to mention there are some really cool looking Dragons too. The Dragon design is really well done, and the visual effects really work well at not only bringing them to life but also making them as scary as they can be. The dragons in the film are meant to be terrifying, and their design really speaks to this effect, also their biology back story is quite menacing too, especially the parts about the napalm.
While all this is going on, you also have some really cool pieces of soundtrack (composed by Edward Shearmur) too that work on many levels. You have your serious tones, your stealthy moments, your heavy action pieces, as well as pieces that can sometimes be loud as well as quiet, while doing something else too; accenting. The filmmakers take scenes and punctuate the moments with the right feel of music, and then in moments of surprise punch in a piece of music to make the scene stand out to you as best they can; and in the process creating some really memorable moments.
Reign of Fire is a bit weird in spots, but altogether is a film I have very fond memories of watching. It’s a film I love to get out once in a while as it’s a truly unique experience. It’s different from everything else, and its great clash of styles all mixing into one another making some truly stand out moments which I am just able to easily pick out in my head, almost more than several other films I like. Reign of Fire can be seen in many different ways as you try to pick out your own experience from it, and while it’s poster may have promised more than what it turned out to be, it doesn’t detract from what it provided either. For me, it’s just a really engrossing and enjoyable movie.