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Fire Effects Light Up a Weak Plot

  • Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
  • 2002 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
<I>Fire</I> Effects Light Up a Weak Plot

Reign of Fire - PG-13

Best for: Mature teens and adults.

The plot: The story begins in the year 2020, in Northumberland, England, where 12-year-old Quinn is visiting his mother, a construction engineer, at her job site. The crew unearths an enormous fire-breathing beast that had been dormant for centuries, but Quinn's mother is killed and he comes eye-to-eye with the dragon. Twenty years later, the beast and its offspring have destroyed much of the world. As a leader of the people, Quinn (Christian Bale) is now responsible for protecting a small community (composed mostly of small children) that desperately tries to survive with little food and the constant threat of death. Into their midst (literally) rolls the American cavalry with a few ragtag American soldiers, tanks and a helicopter, led by dragon slayer Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), who has discovered a new way to kill dragons. Izabella Scorupco is the chopper pilot and love interest.

The good: This sci-fi action movie, directed by Rob Bowman (X-Files: The Movie), is an unusual 21st-century post-Apocalyptic approach to the old-fashioned monster movie genre, but this time the monsters are dragons. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for these kinds of movies because of the make-believe element. There are thrilling and intense scenes showing dragons swooping down on man and an impressive and amazing "air war" with parachuters diving after flying dragons. The special effects are impressive, with incredibly detailed and realistic dragons, and there are some unique moments that keep it interesting.

One of my favorite scenes has Quinn and his friend performing a skit for the children, and as the skit progresses, it becomes clear that it's an "ode to Star Wars" between Luke and his father (complete with heavy mask breathing). It was an original and clever touch.

McConaughey is perfectly cast as the rough and rugged American leader who wants to be a hero to the people. He proves he can handle the action roles with ease. Bale equally portrays a man who wisely fears what they are up against and only wants to protect his people. A pleasant surprise for me was a scene where Van Zan holds up a dragon tooth and describes the first time he saw and fought a dragon. He refers to a small little town in Kansas called Coffeyville and goes on to describe how the town is famous for being the place where the Dalton brothers were killed by some local townspeople. He then uses the townspeople as a metaphor for their battle. The reason I enjoyed the scene so much? I was born in that little town of Coffeyville, Kansas, and was surprised to hear it used in a movie about dragons.

The bad: My main complaint is that there weren't enough scenes of dragons. These intelligent creatures, who are swarming all over the planet killing humans, have devastated the world. Yet we only see a few of them chase after humans, and we never really see them stalk or toy with their prey. I expected it to be a scarier sort of Jurassic Park 21st-century style, but it wasn't. There's no real sense of an epic situation, except for one scene with lots of dragons perched on London's tall buildings. The dragons take over the world in a two-minute synopsis. Although it probably would have cost more to feature extra dragons, it's what the movie really needed.

The dialogue is weak; the star power should have been used to better advantage. Unfortunately, with these kinds of movies there are various questions, implausible material and easy plot holes to shoot away at. One of the biggest is that there's only one male dragon fertilizing all of the females. But if there's only one dragon that was unearthed, was it a male or female, and where did all the other ones come from? And why would killing a male dragon stop the attacks if females presumably still live for years after that? And where does all the fuel for the helicopter and tanks come from when they have only a few bullets left? Not to mention, where do they get their electricity? I know, I know . . . I'm a spoilsport and it's just a movie. But those kinds of details are sort of important when you're trying to make the audience believe the unbelievable.

I also had a problem with the ending. Without giving it away, I can safely say that I wish scriptwriters would steer clear of giving the hero (in this kind of movie) macho/stupid/suicidal behavior as a solution to the dilemma and instead, opt for brains and brawn with believable heroic behavior. It would have made the movie better, and I would have enjoyed the ending much more. The violence is minimal, and there is some language. Because of the dark story, this one's best for mature teens.

Offensive language and behavior: Mild language (that includes British slang) is used, but there are several uses of religious profanity. A boy witnesses his mother's death. A father sees his children burned up by the dragon.

Sexual situations: No sexual situations, but there are several scenes of gorgeous muscles from a bare-chested McConaughey.

Violence: Various people and dragons are killed in some violent encounters, but many of the human deaths take place off camera or are seen from a distance. A skydiver crashes into the ground and dies, but we only see this on a radar, rather than the real thing. A bloody fistfight takes place between Quinn and Van Zan. Most of the human victims are burned rather than eaten or graphically devoured by the dragons. A couple of times that a dragon does eat a victim, nothing is really shown.

Parental advisory: Violent dragon attacks, scenes of the children being scared and screaming, people trying to run for their lives and the sight of the huge and very scary-looking dragons swooping down on people might be upsetting or scary to younger children.

It's a wrap: Despite the plot holes and lack of better dialogue between characters, I still enjoyed this movie because of the unusual premise, incredible special effects and Matthew McConaughey, who makes a great action hero.