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Reign of Fire
Reviewed by Mark Finn, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Rob Bowman (director)
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   July 12, 2002
Review Date:   July 11, 2002
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13

When I first saw the trailer for this film, my crusted-over D & D heart gave an anticipatory quiver. No matter how many times I watch classic film noir, explore cerebral foreign film, or absorb stirring historical dramas, nothing floats my boat like big honkin' monster movies. I'm thrilled beyond words that Hollywood has finally gotten CGI together enough so that it has replaced stop-motion animation completely and totally by giving said overgrown menaces personality and a range of expression and movement. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, check out The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Ray Harryhausen's Cyclops is the best actor in the movie.

Dragons, though... the monster of monsters. Our oldest mythical enemy. Who among us didn't watch Jurassic Park the first time and know that it was only a matter of time? Who saw Dragonheart, even though you knew a Di Laurentis produced it and Dennis (Enemy Mine) Quaid starred in it? Who watched Dragonslayer when it ran on HBO like, a thousand times in the early eighties?

Well, apparently, most of the young kids who worked on Reign of Fire. That's right: If you liked Vermithrax from the 1981 movie (starring Peter MacNicol as the young apprentice), then you will recognize the dragons of Reign of Fire as real close kissing cousins, from the foreclaw and wing attachment to the way they draw back to breathe fire and fly with tattered, membranous wings. From the walk to the talk, these dragons are a direct swipe, only in full-blown super CGI rather than Go-Motion. I was surprised to see that it was a totally different SPFX crew that worked on Reign of Fire, because, see, it's okay to steal from your own body of work. But that's all right, because there's not much of this movie that hasn't been taken from somewhere else already. It's one-third The Road Warrior, one-third Dragonslayer, and one-third pick-your-least favorite-Roland-Emerich-and-Dean-Devlin-movie and-insert-it-here.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the movie. It was big fun. But frankly, all I really wanted out of this film was for the dragons to be impressive; for them to fly around, eat people, and breathe fire. That's it. And they do that, sure enough, but Reign of Fire ups the ante by throwing in some genuinely thrilling visual scenes. You won't believe the archangels! Trust me on this; that scene will almost be worth the price of admission (what are movies these days, a hundred dollars?) alone.

So, with my expectations in the basement, I watched the marvelous eye-candy and counted the plot holes. Nothing spectacular, mind you, just the standard stuff that the writers didn't pay attention to or got cut from the movie in the interest of time. Where'd the gas for the tank and chopper come from? Why use the fire suits in one scene and then never again? Why don't the military use the fire suits? Where'd the horse come from, and why haven't the starving villagers eaten it yet? Stuff like that. If you were the guy in the Godzilla audience who was incensed by the multitude of technical and scientific implausibilities, you might want to give this one a pass. Your heart isn't what it used to be, you know. All those fatty foods.

I frankly don't get the appeal of Christian Bale. As actors go, he's capable of memorizing his lines and saying them when the scene requires it. This movie, he does the same thing. His grunge, however, is artfully applied so as not to mar his roguish good looks. Matthew McConaughey is off the chart as Sigfrieó I mean St. Georgó I mean, Van Sant, the dragon hunter. He tried his level best to ugly up for the role, but it just didn't take. Together, the two of them are enough to pack the theater full of young kids, I suppose, and that seems to be the target demographic, even though I saw an inordinately large percentage of 'my people' there; geeks in their thirties. (And ye shall know them by the T-shirts they wear...) They did a lot of shrugging when the lights came up, but I saw the young'uns chattering excitedly about the movie.

All of you super-size monster fans, if you can turn off enough of your brain to just enjoy the dragons and stuff blowing up real good, then Reign of Fire is going to do it for you just fine. If you want your dragon movie with a little more substance, I suggest re-renting Dragonslayer on VHS (it's not on DVD yet, so don't bother looking) and making a night of it.

I'm just glad that dragon is still getting work; he was overlooked at Oscar time in 1982.

Mark Finn is the author of Gods New and Used and Year of the Hare, available from your local bookstore or from www.amazon.com.

Mark Finn can also be found at www.clockworkstorybook.com.

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