Reign of Fire


‘…bags of action, great physical effects, and an original concept…’

‘Only one thing worse than a dragon… Americans!’ mutters Gerry Butler to Christian Bale as Matthew McConaughey looks on; one thing you can’t fault Rob Bowman’s fantasy epic for is star power. It’s something of a coup to capture one major star on their way up; Reign of Fire has three, plus plenty of other recognisable faces, from Alice Krige to Izabella Scotupco to Alexander Siddig, plus bags of action, great physical effects, and an original concept. So why isn’t Reign of Fire a bigger deal?

Set in the futuristic year of 2020, things have gone downhill fast. People live in the dust, huddled in shattered enclaves, casting their minds back to happier times, and in particular the first Star Wars trilogy; Quinn (Bale) and Creedy (Butler) stage scenes from the George Lucas films to entertain the little ones, who gather under their protection to escape the attentions of fire-breathing dragons which rule the skies above the desolate English countryside. Into the mix comes US import Denton Van Zan (McConaughey) who has a brutal plan to take on the beasts, but disagreement breaks out on tactics; Dragon Battle Strategy Disagreement would be a more accurate title for this film.

‘Look out that window, Eden isn’t burning, it’s burnt…’ snarls Denton, but that’s just one example of the oodles of over-the-top tough-guy dialogue captured here. With these three stars, everything is conducted in a low, base grumble, and if you like macho posturing, look no further. The CGI of 2002 isn’t quite fit-for-purpose to render hot dragon action, although there’s more than a few great shots, and the physical effects, with tanks, helicopters and fireballs centre stage, are more than up to stuff; the UK’s Artem effects team contributed the impressive dead dragon sighted here.

What more do you want from a Saturday night movie? A Jimi Hendrix track? Castles aflame, impossible leaps and jumps, some neat satirical touches and an international message of US/UK co-operation? Take the lot, and rent Reign of Fire. While none of the cast will have this film at the top of their CV, they all give solid, committed performances that make Reign of Fire something of a treat. And with call-backs to Arthurian legend, there’s also a few cool sci-fi concepts to conjure with; if anyone asks me what 2020 looked like, I’d be happy to send them in the direction of the international carnage and balls-to-the-wall heroism featured in Reign of Fire.


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  1. Seems apropos for 2020 shenanigans… this was one of the movies I tried to rewrite in my head, not real fond of Director Bowman. It has a Hammer film vibe, but something’s not jive. One male dragon and 1000 female spawn? Zealot Van Zan has a plan, and confides their eyesight’s not so good at dusk (and dawn). Imagine sleeping for 1000 years, then waking to find food far and near. Just fire up the natural napalm, humans beware. CGI dragons rendered atavistic, seems rather weird. As does the thinking the male is most feared. Or is it Americans, fair Saturday night fare? Give me a pen, I’ll fix the script, tart up the quips, give the fire breathers a voice and full lips. And I know a dragon or two; a few would like to sue…

    • And my legal team will be ready! I’d pay to see your version, and yes, when they started referencing Arthurian legends, I wondered if you’d seen this one. I think this movie was intended as a tribute to American know-how, and hands across the pond. But I take your point, I’d imagine that a 1000 makes and one big boss female would have made a bigger impression…but as a film, it certainly turned out to be quite accurate in predicting the hard-scrabble lifestyle that we’re sinking into circa 2020…Bale says he’s up for a sequel, so get writing!

    • And the CGI is variable, not always terrible, but not up to today’s standards. But the physical stuff is terrific, and the cast is one of the best in 20 years. I’ll save my DVD for you!

    • With that cast and this subject, my guess is that you’re not alone in missing out, this is a fun, exciting and accessible film for all to enjoy!

  2. It’s been years since I watched it, but I remember it being a lot better than I’d heard it was. I don’t think it was very well received when it came out, right? Like Bookstooge, I think a re-watch is in order. Plus, I’m a fan of McConaughey.

    • And he gives it his all here! It’s got a bad rep, but we’ve gotten used to plastic blockbusters, and the hard, physical action here makes it a stand-out for returning too. It was up against Men in Black 2 at the box-office, and posed something of a marketing problem at the time. The seriousness and the physicality were out of synch with what people wanted at the time, but are much more in tune with what we might like now. Well worth another spin!

  3. I remember when this came out on dvd and my gang rented it one weekend. I had very high expectations because of the SFF elelments while most of the others were more interested in the star power (our group had about a 1-3 male to female ratio). I was SO disappointed. I think part of it was the trailers portrayed a kind of movie that this simply wasn’t.

    Of course, this is all based on 17+ year old memories. This review, and all the positive comments, have made me wonder if I need to give this a re-watch some time. I do like Christian Bale.

    • Oh, I think you’ll find this one worth another spin! It was missold at the time, but looks much better now. And Bale is great here, really suits his character…

  4. Having seen this one in ages. It’s part of my DVD collection, and I remember seeing this in Theaters on day one. Macho posturing, and tough guy clichéd dialogue aside; it was a great night out.

    • Same here…have the DVD, and saw it back in the cinemas back in the day. Whatever the flaws were, I still enjoy the action, making it pefect for a night in!

  5. Just looking at the trailer, with that breathy voiceover and all the cliches (“Let’s rock and roll!”) i could only think how it might have played well as a parody. Looks like Bale had been working out. Who flashes the best pecs among the leads?

    • Matt, with his shaved head and ridiculous pecs, is the big winner here, but there’s stiff competition….I think you’d dig it!

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