Film (2002). Touchstone Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment. Directed by Rob Bowman. Written by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka, Matt Greenberg from a story by Chabot and Peterka. Cast includes Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey, Scott James Moutter and Izabella Scorupco. 102 minutes. Colour.
Underground works in Near Future London wake a long dormant dragon, and soon the world is swarming with them. Twenty years later the monsters have hunted humans to near extinction. Two groups of survivors, an English community led by Quinn (Bale) and a roving American military unit commanded by Denton Van Zan (McConaughey) meet in the English countryside. The Americans have discovered that the dragons, in an implausible evolutionary step, only have one male to fertilize the entire species, and he lives in the ruins of London. Quinn and Van Zan team up to destroy the creature, and thus the world is saved.
Made by director Rob Bowman (known for his very competent television work on THE X-FILES), Reign of Fire was a commercial flop. It is surprising that it was ever made at all; it is resolutely downbeat until the very end, highly unconventional and devotes much of its running time to skulking in tunnels. It is however, a more literary style of science fiction than most big-budget Disaster movies.
Reign of Fire is not an apocalypse film as such, more of an essay in Post-Holocaust reconstruction. The destruction of civilization is back-story, covered by a voice-over, and the film's real focus is survival and rebuilding society. Much of the enjoyment of the film stems from the conflict between peaceful English builder Quinn and American borderline psychopath Van Zan. One minor character remarks "Only one thing worse than a dragon: Americans". Bale and McConaughey give commendably straight-faced performances, just as well, since each of them has to stand as metaphor for an entire culture, in a clear but sometimes crude social comment on the relationship between their countries.
The scientific logic has a surface plausibility that does not bear thinking about, but the film has enough clever moments to keep it interesting. The dragons are not on screen much, but when they do appear they are quite well designed and animated. The film is visually somewhat oppressive, being shot with a drained, minimal use of colour. [JN/PN]
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