Dir: Rob Bowman. US/UK/Ireland. 2002. 101mins.
Despite the obvious expense lavished on the CGI-created dragons, the enjoyment of Reign Of Fire comes from its cheesy heroic values and cheerfully hammy performances by super-muscly actors Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. More reminiscent of old-style Ray Harryhausen movies than the post-apocalyptic epics like Terminator or Mad Max which it clearly emulates, the film is strictly for teenage boys who will respond to the machismo and mayhem or maybe the odd teenage girl who wants to see Bale flex his arm muscles. That constituency has already turned out in sufficient numbers to ensure the film registered $15.6m from 2,629 sites during its opening weekend in North America. International teens will respond likewise.
It's curiously bracing to watch an action movie in which the cast take the dialogue seriously: there's not a tongue in cheek in sight. Rob Bowman, who made his feature directorial debut with The X Files Movie, keeps the action going at a brisk pace, or at least briskly enough for the audience not to question the nonsensical plot. However, he lets himself down with an decidedly unexciting final confrontation between man and beast.
Don't be fooled by the one-sheet of London's Houses Of Parliament on fire with dragons swirling around the sky. The lion's share of Reign Of Fire takes place in a remote country fortress in Northumberland, northern England, with only the finale taking place in the already-burnt-out capital, a set which clearly lost out in the effects budget devoted to the dragons.
The film begins in present-day London where 12-year-old Quinn (Bale) awakes a fire-breathing dragon from its centuries-long slumber. Twenty years later its offspring have taken over the world, feeding on the ash of the demolished cities and millions of incinerated humans. Quinn has grown into Christian Bale and is harbouring a ragtag group of humans in a remote fortress which has so far eluded dragon attack. He dreams of saving civilisation and maintaining the human race, but the battle seems to be a losing one, for a single dragon can wipe out his vegetable gardens with one breath.
Into the picture walks crazy American Denton Van Zan (McConaughey) and a motley troupe of vigilantes arrived in England to wipe out the one male dragon who resides - apparently - in London. Van Zan demonstrates his methods of killing dragons to the cynical Quinn and crew, but they are unconvinced and plan to remain hidden in Northumberland.
However, when the male itself destroys the castle, Quinn realises that the progenitor of the dragon species is the very dragon he awoke 20 years ago. Remembering where its lair is, he teams up with Van Zan and his female soldier Alex (Scorupco) to go to London and kill him once and for all.
Bale is a serious presence as an action hero, if not brimming with charisma, although he has little humour to work with aside from one amusing scene where he replays the story of Star Wars to a bunch of children. Bald and ear-ringed, McConaughey hams it up to comic levels as Van Zan, while Scorupco smolders as the token female member of the cast.
Prod cos: The Zanuck Co, Spyglass Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures
US dist: Buena Vista Pictures
Int'l sales: Buena Vista International
Exec prod: Jonathan Glickman
Prods: Richard D Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum
Scr: Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka, Matt Greenberg, from a story by Chabot, Peterka
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Prod des: Wolf Kroeger
Ed: Thom Noble
Music: Edward Shearmur
Main cast: Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler, Scott James Moutter