|Reign of Fire|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 19 November 2002|
Dragons and dinosaurs remain perennial favorites in the eyes and hearts of most movie audiences because of the audaciousness of their nature: things almost too large and terrifying to comprehend. Stephen Spielberg first pulled the stunt with dinosaurs off in “Jurassic Park.” Lately, “The Fellowship of the Ring” created a great frightening dragon. However, movies about dragons and dinosaurs tend to remain mostly within the realms of children’s and fantasy fare. Even in a movie, making a dragon or a dinosaur exist within the real world, or pulling an audience completely into a fantasy world so that we aren’t constantly reminded that we’re watching a movie, is difficult. “Reign of Fire” hurdles that difficulty easily.
The post-apocalyptic terrain in “Reign of Fire” lends itself to the story and to dragons. The present-day world has died in flames, not as the result of nuclear holocaust, but because the fiercest creatures that ever lived on the planet are awakened and once more set free to prey. In fact, the annihilation of dinosaurs gets credited to dragons in the movie instead of an Ice Age or a meteor hitting the Earth.
Chapter 1 opens up with a young boy, Quinn, arriving at a railway tunnel project in London, England where his mother (Alice Krige) works as an engineering supervisor. The scene comes across as an everyday occurrence, but young Quinn’s disappointment is evident. He’s got bad news, and the soundtrack indicates that things are only going to get worse. Quinn walks near a group of pigeons at the opening of the movie, startling the birds into flight, and the sound of beating wings thunders through the surround sound system, making us believe that we’ve crossed through the startled birds. The passing cars and motorcycles bleat and slush through the speakers as well, mirroring the movements on the screen. The workers greet Quinn cordially, and he responds in kind. The arrival of the elevator bearing a working crew sounds ominous as it reverberates through the subwoofer. Machinery screams, hisses, bangs, and clanks through the left front and right front speakers, making us feel that we’re walking through the area at Quinn’s side. Underground in the railway tunnel, all noise takes on a rumbling, echoing timber that lends credibility to the hugeness and the depth of the project. Quinn’s mother is called to the site of a void, a bubble of empty space in the bedrock that wasn’t supposed to be there. Impulsive and curious, Quinn goes to inspect the site and ends up challenged by one of the workers to enter the hole in the wall with a flashlight. Bravely, Quinn accepts the challenge and the flashlight and enters the void.
Prowling through the darkness, Quinn hears dripping all around him, carried throughout the surround sound system with enough authenticity that we find ourselves shifting unconsciously to avoid getting hit by the splatters. Then one of those pools of liquid ignites with a liquid hiss of flames that rushes through the front and back speakers, making us feel surrounded. Quinn looks up into the face of a monster in time to get a face full of liquid that burns his eyes. The monster’s breath rolls like a bellows in the trapped space. Then the dragon moves in for the kill, breathing a huge gout of flames that rolls along the length of the tunnel and burns everything in its path. The fireball thunders through the subwoofer. Seconds later, the dragon appears and climbs up the elevator where Quinn and his mother are trying to make their escape. The metallic slaps of the dragon’s claws against the elevator structure ring through the surround sound with chilling intensity. Quinn and his mother have no chance to get away. The images of the dragon and the boy’s haunted eyes stick with us.
A quick montage of news reports follows. The information is grim and comes quickly. In a few short years, the dragons burn the world, preying on every living thing and feeding on the ash of organic matter. The thud of picks and the yells of working miners in the year 2020 open Chapter 2. Quinn, now a grown man (Christian Bale), answers the call of one of the men and they discuss the water pipes that are being laid into the caverns. In the next breath, Quinn receives notification that some of his carefully guarded flock is choosing to leave the protection of the castle where he has established a home for them. The confrontation is tense and the stakes are survival of individuals against the need of the group. Quinn settles the dispute through force of will. Later, Quinn and his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler) put on a show for the children in the community. The show is a hit, a two-man presentation of “The Empire Strikes Back,” and the young crowd goes wild. The gasps of the young viewers echoes through the surround sound system, making the viewer feel as though he or she is sitting in the middle of them. Told of their bedtime, the children go through their Dragon Prayer as Quinn ingrains in them what they have to do if they see a dragon. Wind whistles through the drafty castle and energetically blasts through the surround sound system. The men that Quinn put on notice earlier in the day leave the castle by night and make their way down to the fields to gather food. A tethered hawk in a castle watchtower shrills a warning from the left front speaker that alerts a guard to the presence of a dragon.
The dragon alarms rings out in Chapter 3. The population in the castle goes into a defensive posture. The children are quickly guided down into the tunnels beneath the castle. When the dragon attacks the men out in the field, the sound of the engulfing flames explodes from the subwoofer. The crackling, roaring burn of the fires rolls from the surround sound, placing us directly in the path of the deadly flames. The horrendous beat of dragon wings echoes like a dirge through the surround sound system as the battle against the monster continues. Modified fire-fighting trucks pump water over the burning fields to rescue the survivors. Water cascades through the surround sound as the engine noises rip along from left to right. Later, the water cannons are used as weapons against the dragon.
Quinn and Creedy regroup in Chapter 4. More of the history of the world is revealed through clippings and conversation. The true hopelessness of the human situation comes through, nearly breaking Quinn’s spirit. The next morning, a group of tanks arrive at the castle, bringing to mind roving bands of marauders that have preyed upon those weaker and more helpless than they are. The noise of the tanks rattles through the left front speaker, mimicking the placement of those battle vehicles on the screen. The castle populace rallies as they prepare to defend themselves. The music score is driving and intense, going silent as the tanks and armored vehicles come to a stop at the castle gates. The clank and whirl of the armored vehicles echo in the sudden silence. Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), the American military commander, steps out and asks to speak to whoever is in charge. Van Zan states his case, asking for brief shelter while they refit their vehicles. He says that he is a dragon-killer, but Quinn doesn’t believe him. Van Zan goes on to claim that the dragons have a weakness: they can’t see in the failing light.
After Quinn allows the military units access to the castle, the helicopter Van Zant commands rips through the sky, surprising everyone and lending credence to the American’s claims. The thunder of the arriving helicopter rips through the subwoofer and the surround sound system. The pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco) tells Creedy and Quinn about the archangels, the men who jump from the helicopter with steel nets to capture attacking dragons.
Chapter 5 focuses on a dragon attack on the castle. Van Zan and his team roll into action. Motorcycles whip by through the front and center speakers in both directions. The helicopter also roars across the screen from left to right, thundering through the subwoofer. The high-tech radar grid that Van Zan and his team struggle to erect is a grim reminder that everything the armies of the world had to throw at the predatory dragons hadn’t worked.
With one of the motorcyclists down and the attack waiting desperately on the grid components to be assembled, Quinn goes out on horseback to finish the job. The horse’s hooves beat against the ground, echoing through the surround sound system. Five thousand feet in the air, the dragon butts against the helicopter and the deep basso bong of contact explodes through the subwoofer. Once Quinn gets the third component of the vertical radar in place, the archangels dive into action. When the men rip through the air, firing their net-guns and releasing the chain nets from their backs, the biting ring of the links punctuates the sound of the men falling. On the ground, Quinn has to act as bait for the hunting dragon, leading the beast into the trap Van Zan has set.
Later, at the victory battle at the castle, which Quinn feels somewhat uneasy about, Van Zant arrives and verbally attacks the castle population for celebrating. In the morning, after Van Zan has unveiled his plan for eliminating the dragons, the military leader asks for volunteers from the castle populace. When there are only a few, he drafts others into his service. Quinn fights Van Zan, telling all the people that if the tank commander is allowed to leave, he will only bring the dragon down on them.
The DVD extras are decent, but little more than that. Most interesting is the “If You Can’t Take The Heat” featurette that talks about how the fires throughout the movie were created and used. The conversation with director Rob Bowman is candid and intruiguing.
“Reign of Fire” qualifies as a nice addition to the monster movie/science fiction movie wing in a collector’s DVD library. The sound is great and the special effects are awesome. At PG-13, the movie is a good rental for a night with the kids or as a gift for a young member of the family who is interested in the creatures and/or the genre as a whole.