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REIGN OF FIRE

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Reign of Fire
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REIGN OF FIRE
!!!THE SCIENCE MOMENT!!!
REIGN OF FIRE - 2002
Touchstone Pictures
RATED: UK: 12 / USA: PG-13


"How did they go from one to a million in a single year?" she asks in the TV ad, but not in the movie. Is that a good sign or a bad sign?

REIGN OF FIRE was directed by Rob Bowman (WEREWOLF [TV], M.A.N.T.I.S. [TV], THE X-FILES [not TV]) and written by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg (HALLOWEEN H20, THE PROPHECY II). It opens with a young boy arriving at a subway construction site in modern London. He walks in like he owns the place and takes an elevator deep underground to where a new tunnel is being dug. The reason he has such access, it turns out, is that his mother (played by Alice Krige: GHOST STORY, SLEEPWALKERS, STAR TREK: First Contact) is in charge of construction. A problem is reported and this 12-year-old boy runs off to check it out and is stopped by no one in spite of not wearing a hard hat and being, like I said, just a boy.

The problem is a tunnel-digging machine has broken into a large cavern. The boy investigates only to discover a sleeping dragon! He runs for his life and tries to warn the workers but it's too late. The beast is awakened and comes roaring out of the tunnel. The boy and his mother try to take the elevator back to the surface but the fire-breathing behemoth climbs up the elevator shaft and escapes into the world.

Cut to the year 2020. Not the year 2084, as stated in the TV ads for this movie, but 2020. A brief montage and narration explain that not one but millions of dragons appeared all over the world, burning everything in sight. We see magazine covers and newspaper headlines implying that civilization is being destroyed. The narration tells us that this is the dragons' life cycle: they awake from dormancy, burn the world to ash (which they eat), and then either starve as everything that can be burned is burned or go dormant again. It's also stated that humans had survived such a cycle before, which is why we have legends of dragons, and that this cycle has been going on for millions of years. In fact, it was a dragon feeding frenzy that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. (Oh, man, is that asking for a science moment or what?! Stand by.)

The boy is now a man. His name is Quinn (Christian Bale: AMERICAN PSYCHO) and he leads a standard-issue bunch of ragtag post-apocalypse survivors. They live in a castle and constantly watch the skies. In fact, they teach their children a prayer that contains the chorus: "Keep one eye on the sky."

Quinn's plan is to survive until the dragon's all either starve or go dormant, which he thinks should be soon since as far as they know everything in the world has been burnt to ash. Some of his followers disagree, however. They are slowly starving as well (planting crops being an invitation to dragon attack) and don't see the point in rationing food since they're going to die anyway.

Not all is grim, however. There is a fantastic, hilarious scene as Quinn and a friend put on a play for the children. The play involves a fight between the White Knight and the Black Knight who are unmistakably Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader! They do the part from the end of Empire Strikes Back where Luke and Vader are fighting it out and Vader reveals to Luke, "I am your father!" The children are shocked and I was delighted, to experience the surprise of that moment through their wide eyes. Amazing! If only the whole movie was that inspired.

The day to day grimness is interrupted not by another dragon attack but by the arrival of what one character says is, "the only thing worse than dragons: Americans." (Like most Americans, I found that amusing rather than insulting). What he's talking about is Denton Van Zan (Mathew McConaughey: RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FRAILTY), leader of a small unit of American troops. Their caravan includes tanks, APC's and (much to Quinn's surprise) a helicopter. Nobody has dared to fly for about 20 years, since dragons took over the sky.

Van Zan (who is so far over the top as the shaved-headed, tattoo-covered, medieval-ax-wielding, cigar-chomping American dragon slayer that you almost can't see him from here) tells Quinn that the Americans have discovered the key to the Dragon lifecycle. You see, all the millions of dragons that burned down civilization were and are female. There's only one male, a big bull dragon that lives in London. He's getting ready to start fertilizing eggs to make ready the next generation. Take him out and the cycle stops. Woo hoo!

Hoo boy. I desperately need a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
First, and foremost, there's just no way (unless you invoke magic, which the moviemakers do not) that an animal bigger than an elephant can fly by flapping its wings. I'll spare you the equations but trust me. The wings would have to be many times bigger than pictured in this movie, which makes the muscle and bone strength requirements quite impossible. Only magic dragons can fly.

Continued at SCIENCE MOMENT: REIGN OF FIRE

Speaking of outflying them, there's a woefully unexplored subplot here that involve several members of Van Zan's team whose job is to capture dragons while skydiving! That part was very cool and could easily be a movie by itself. ("Dragon Catchers!", followed by "Dragon Catchers II: The Reckoning"). But we see it very briefly and then the story moves on.

And speaking of seeing it briefly, the same applies to the dragons! One thing that would have made this a much better movie is more dragons. There were long boring stretches where I was thinking, "Man, I wish a dragon would show up, or something!"

And finally, to answer the question I asked at the beginning about the disconnect between the movie and the TV ads being a good or bad thing: a definite bad thing. My guess is that there was a lot of last minute editing and the marketing guys didn't have time to make the changes. One more thing mentioned in the ads that wasn't here was a line about dragons being "smarter than man". No dragon (or actor) in this movie displayed above normal intelligence. Too bad, because that line made me imagine a dragon like the shark in JAWS, who turns that tables on his hunters and … Hmmm, now where'd I put that screenplay software?

REIGN OF FIRE gets two shriek girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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