Beyond the Slimy Wall: Reign of Fire
By Stephanie Star Smith
June 3, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Reign of Fire
When I first saw the trailer for this 2002 release, I was beyond excited. It was about two months out from its July opening, and I wanted to see the film right now! That's how great the trailer looked.
Once the film was released, however, people seemed to turn out in droves to malign the film. Reviews were pretty awful; even the positive ones made a point of saying the movie was basically lame, except for the dragons. But reviews mean little to horror-film fans; what disturbed me more was hearing from people whose opinion I respect that the film didn't even begin to live up to its advance billing. So sadly, I decided to avoid the possibility of spending nine bucks on something I might hate, and waited until the film came out on DVD to see for myself.
I'm here to tell you, gentle readers, that all the naysayers were dead wrong.
First and foremost, the dragons do live up to their advance billing. They look as realistic as a mythological creature can, and the fire effects are really cool. But one likely can't watch an entire movie based on effects alone - unless one is George Lucas, that is - so some discussion of the rest of the elements is warranted.
The story, such as it is, revolves around the releasing of a long-dormant pair of dragons by a work crew doing maintenance on London's Underground. The young boy seen in the opening sequence is followed throughout the film as a grown-up, and we learn that the dragons have multiplied exponentially, and that mankind is now something of an endangered species. A group of survivors is huddled in an old castle in the English countryside, trying to avoid getting BBQd by dragons whilst continuing to live what passes for a normal life in these times. Then along comes a group of American commandos, who claim to be able to wipe out the dragons. Fearing for the people under his care, but wanting to reclaim the Earth if it is at all possible, our young hero reluctantly joins up with the Yanks as they try and track down the male dragon and take him out, the theory being that since female dragons reproduce like fish - one male servicing a number of females - this will end the race.
Of course, this is all just a framework for scenes involving the dragons and humans as both hunter and prey at various times. And really, most of the backstory is so much blather; the real reason to watch is because of the dragons.
And splendid creatures they are. They fly, they track humans like any good predator, they're not averse to running people to ground in order to score a maximum kill in the lair, and the fire effects are spectacular. In fact, there are times it's hard to root for the humans, because the dragons are so much more fun to watch. It also doesn't help that many of the humans are not the sort that sane people would want to associate with for any length of time, particularly Matthew McConaughey's Van Zan, leader of the American dragon-slaying squad. Not that Christian Bale's Abercromby, as the adult version of the young boy who witnessed the dragons' release, and his mother's fiery death, is much more appealing; he's a bit too much of a wimp for anyone to really believe he would be the leader of a ragtag band of human survivors. In the end, however, mankind does conquer all, but not without some huge casualties along the way. Oh, and a grand-slam final confrontation that displays the dragon effects to awesome advantage.
All in all, Reign of Fire works best when it's concentrating on its main antagonists, the dragons. And while some of its just-over-90 minutes drag a bit, that is more than made up for when the dragons take to the skies and commandeer the screen. It's a classic popcorn movie with some fantastic special effects.
Yes, here there be dragons, and boy, are they loads of fun.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.