Keep them coming, contributor Raffi Nakashian. Take on our sci-fi and fantasy re-views as often as you want. Here’s his newest on Rob Bowman’s post-apocalyptic dragon actioner Reign of Fire.
I really wanted to like Reign of Fire. While it’s not always the case that a film turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts, Reign of Fire had some amazing parts. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale (sweet) about a group of survivors that live in a world devastated by the return of dragons (super-sweet) starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey (talent!). How could I not pay to see that? It was a recipe for awesome.
Well, apparently the chef screwed something up somewhere, because even though it was a recipe for awesome, what came out of the oven was decidedly not.
Reign of Fire left my teenage self disappointed, despite it having come out during the height of my obsession with all things medieval and fire-breathing. I was a big fantasy nut, and still am to this day. Given the trend of increased tolerance for my choice of lifestyle over the last few years, and as it is Comic Con weekend, it seems an appropriate occasion to publically come out of the closet and admit that I was a Dungeons and Dragons geek. Dragons captured my imagination at a young age, and I rolled with it (that one’s for you fellow D&Ders). This film really should have hit the spot for me. But it didn’t — and that makes me sad.
I haven’t seen Reign of Fire since. I’d like to figure out where it all went wrong.
Reign of Fire is about a man that runs a nursery in a castle sometime in the near future when dragons have been awakened from a thousand-year hibernation, which follows a period of worldwide devastation in which they feed on the ashes of all they destroy. A group of ragtag Americans come along and shake up the British isolationists who have been perfectly happy starving to death and cooped up in their castle waiting for the whole end-of-the-world thing to blow over.
The premise is engaging and easy to grasp, but what ends up making Reign of Fire a mediocre film are all the little things it gets wrong. The screenwriter decided to give Christian Bale (Quinn) a childhood trauma backstory which is completely unnecessary given their circumstances. His mother died underground when he stumbled on a dragon as a young child. I’m assuming he woke them as well, since he was the first person to be in contact with them, but the movie never touches on any guilt issues he may have about that. They only bring up his mommy backstory later when Armygirl asks him why he won’t go to London to kill the last male dragon. “Why don’t you want to go there? What happened?” He says that the dragons killed his mother there. Well, sure… dragons killed everyone, and burned everything ,everywhere. I think that’s a good enough reason not to want to leave your castle. He also has a brood of children that he looks after — that’s a much more compelling reason to stay where he is. Right off the bat, we could have skipped the overly long and uninteresting opening scene and gotten right into the action. Kids are great, I love kids — but everyone hates kids in movies. Unless their name ends in Fanning, they usually can’t act and it’s impossible to relate to or care about their trivial problems because they complain about everything. You know how it sucks to hear kids crying in a movie theater? Imagine hearing kids cry during every action sequence in this film. Because you’re going to.
I can’t complain about the adult performances. Bale and McConaughey do a decent job despite the corny dialogue, and I had a nice little “what the!” moment when Gerard Butler showed his mug on screen for the first time. I had no idea he was in this film, and he did a good job in his comedic role. It just makes it that much more upsetting when (SPOILER) the comic relief is consumed in hellish dragonfire. It’s dramatic and all, but it’s too much of a bummer. I mean, C-3PO was put back together at the end of Empire Strikes Back, because you don’t want to make grown men cry on the way out of the theater. Gerard isn’t the only one that ends up as dragon-chow, either. Hey, movies — let’s have a one death limit on the characters we’re supposed to like, if you please.
I would like to take a moment for you to imagine the combination of Gerard Butler’s Scottish accent, Bale’s Welsh, McConaughey’s Southern American, and Izabella Scorupco’s… Eastern European (?) all combined in a single scene to create a nightmarish assault of unconventional accents on a coastal American’s ears.
While we’re on the subject of sound, I think Reign of Fire would have benefited hugely with a better composer. Music in a film sets the tone of a scene and is generally the unsung hero of a picture (heh… wordplay). It tends to only stick out when the music’s either really good or really bad. In Reign of Fire’s case, it is not the former. It contributes to the overall problem with the tone of the movie, where it seems to want to be both a Hollywood thriller as well as a gritty, realistic picture of a dark world of the future. I wish it ended up as more of the second, but I could see it going either way. It just bothered me how there was constantly a swell of generic action music every time someone moved at a brisk pace, or every time the alarm went off in the castle (which was quite often). There is a scene in which a renegade family is stealing fruit from the crops, and they realize that they are being stalked by a dragon. Almost immediately, the music is generic action designed to make you excited for a thrilling, fast-paced sequence. However, the characters are covered in cloaks and hiding for their lives between tall fields of vegetation. It seemed to me that the scene would have been much tenser with something more minimalist, or no music at all — just the sound of their nervous breaths and the rusting of their footsteps. That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’m right.
The film culminates in classic Deus Ex Machina fashion when they reveal that there is only one male dragon in the world, and that it’s just a day’s ride to his secret lair. My incredulity at this convenient plot point might have been what turned me off about this movie so hard the first time around, and it’s much worse upon second viewing. It’s just a moronic concept. These monsters, which hibernate for thousands of years, all rely on a single male for reproduction, and their life spans are so short that the species goes extinct in the amount of time it takes Christian Bale to grow a beard? I know they decided to make a movie about dragons in the future, but I’m confident that there’s a way to do that without insulting my intelligence.
Before I call it a review, I do want to say that the dragons look great. They look just like how I imagine dragons to look, and the effects haven’t really aged much in ten years. If nothing else, I can turn the part of my brain off that enjoys good writing and film-making and enjoy Reign of Fire as my go-to dragon fix and not have to suffer through Dragonheart’s miserable Sean Connery voice-over. Why does the dragon sound like Sean Connery? How does a creature that size, with a maw shaped like that, make a Sean Connery sound come out of its mouth? So kudos to you, Reign of Fire, for not making your dragons sound like Sean Connery. Just for that, I give this movie 3 out of 5 crispy corpses of Gerard Butler. Graphic pending.
It just makes me smile when someone on screen says “You wanker” in a British accent. I guess that’s the only way anyone ever says “You wanker.”
“Only one thing worse than a dragon: Americans.” Hey, come on, man…
Van Zan may be the best dragon killer in the world, but he might also be the best party killer in the world, too. They were just trying to celebrate the first dead dragon they’ve ever seen, he didn’t have to crash their party just to make them all feel like crap.
“When I’m running for my life, I don’t stop to look at the plumbing.” — Christian Bale, on whether or not he’s ever seen a male dragon.
There’s an odd scene where the kid wants to go fight the dragon and Quinn reluctantly lets him go. In the very next scene, the kid comes back. In the very next scene. Come on, movie, you know how to demonstrate passage of time — remember how you made Quinn grow a beard at the end?
If you don’t like hearing kids cry while you’re watching a movie, try listening to thirty of them cry during the most emotional part of the film. And one of them is Prince Joffrey. God, I even hate him retroactively as a child.