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Sunday, 15 May 2011

52 Dragon Movies Challenge – Reign Of Fire Review

This is the fourth week of my dragon movie challenge and, to end my first dragon movie filled month out of twelve, I thought I’d treat myself to a true Hollywood Dragon Movie Blockbuster, Reign of Fire.

Maybe the excitement of the challenge had worn off following the promising start of George & the Dragon, or maybe it was just the two weeks in succession of true amateurish acting that got me reaching for some main stream dragon action. Either way I’d never found myself more excited by a movie opening just because it started with an air of familiarity; The Touchstone pictures logo and the Spyglass Entertainment logo. These were things you saw at the start of normal films, the ones that you see in the cinema! I was happier still when the names started to appear, Matthew McConaughey (U571, Tropic Thunder, The Lincoln Lawyer) the true - love him or hate him - Hollywood Superstar Christian Bale (American Psycho, Batman Begins, Terminator Salvation, The Dark Knight, The Fighter) and even the action star Gerard Butler (Gamer, How to Train Your Dragon, 300), this movie was going to be fun!

The film had me instantly happy and instantly in the right frame of mind, this was going to be one cool dragon movie, luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. For a start, the movie’s 2008 opening sees workmen chilling Budweiser with fire hydrants. Nothing to do with dragons whatsoever I know, but I definitely want to try it out at the next BBQ I host!

So the movie starts as it means to go on, straight into the action, and straight into explaining just where the heck dragons suddenly appeared from. The 2008 set introduction shows that it turns out they were living in a tunnel under London City, trapped, until these workmen and this young cockney schoolboy frees them. As the little boy visits his Mum in the construction tunnels under London you instantly know there’s going to be trouble thanks to dialogue straight from a Ridley Scott Alien movie, “There’s a problem with number 4, it’s hit some sort of a void”. Shots of massive drills in dark tunnels with only torchlight to light the way is as ominous as it can get, especially when they’ve just uncovered a massive inky black underground cave.

Bad news. Let’s send the kid in there to see what’s going on! Oh crap, its dragons.

After a thrilling opening where we get to see a cool bit of dragon action after just 6 minutes, we get transported to the dystopian landscape of an apocalyptic London, 2020AD. We soon learn that regardless of the era, as long as this is a dragon movie, there will be castles. A useful voiceover (when will I watch a dragon movie that hasn’t got a voice over?) from Christian Bale doing his best London cockney (Captain Jack Sparrow) impression tells us that since this early attack, dragons have spread across the world, burning everything in sight. Nuclear war has taken place against the dragons but nothing can stop them, they’re real, they kill, and humans have struggled to survive.

So far so intriguing, it comes off a bit like Terminator Salvation with dragons, which is no bad thing. Bale mutters a pretty cool line, “ancient man made them into myth, but nature made them a horrible reality” and we’re then brought fully up to date to see just what state the human race is in. A combination of impressive costumes and apocalyptic style set design really sets the tone. We’re fully introduced to all of our survivors, huddled into a base camp in a Northumberland Castle.

What is really great is the definite UK feel to it all, grey skies, and UK castles, horses and vegetable patches. There’s no doubt we’re in England here, no matter when the film is set. We even get yet another Star Wars reference, (there have been SW references in all three dragon movies prior to this) where Bale plays Darth Vader and Butler plays Luke in a play for the kids in the castle. It comes complete with light sabres and fake sound effects, which made me smile!

The first real dragon action set piece comes pretty early in (20 mins). Some of our survivors aren’t too happy with proceedings and are up for pillaging some of the grub from the vegetable patch. There’s nothing like an apocalypse or a war of sorts to get people fighting over leadership and food rations! Cue one big unhappy dragon, (Or Wyvern really, as it has no front legs) who turns up in a thrilling attack which combines great misty suspenseful shots and sound before the big dragon reveal. At one point a crow flies overhead noisily making me jump a mile, and it isn’t too long afterwards before we see this guy:

Our first proper glimpse of a dragon in daylight, and he looks incredible!

Bale and Butler don fireproof suits and take to their fire trucks to rescue our veggie thieves in a great piece of action. Fire breathing dragon, flames everywhere and fire trucks smashing into each other, desperate to drive to safety. The scene is really thrilling, really well done, and makes a pleasant change in quality from the movies I’ve watched so far!

After another reminder of how dragons attacked the world (this time using the cool mechanism of a Time Magazine blowing in the wind, it’s pages gradually turning, showing us pictures from around the world of dragons burning New York etc.) Things only get cooler when we’re introduced to Matthew McConaughey’s character. For a start he turns up in an armoured convoy, with tanks and cannon equipped armoured vehicles, oh, and a helicopter. Forget the horses, this guy is ripped and is packing some serious heat. At this point I was crossing everything I had for a Tank vs. Dragon scene...

Christian Bale is far less impressed than I was by McConaughey’s entrance and is even a little scared, but he’s soon convinced after Matt shows him his kickass dragon tooth necklace and tells him he’s a dragon slayer. Matt’s allowed to stay for the time being, if he can help.

Things really get going now when we have our first proper dragon attack where the good guys have something to fight back with apart from water hoses. Tanks + artillery + ammo + helicopter = kickass dragon fight!

Objects in your helicopter rear view mirror are closer than they appear...

Matt reckons he can kill a dragon and Bale needs convincing, so us viewers get treated to a really great dragon set piece involving a helicopter, motorcyclists, a horse and some skydivers! It’s a strange combination and has to be seen to be believed but it really is edge of the seat stuff and our dragon is out for some skydiving meat!

Dragon Vs. Turret. I vote dragon

The “capture the dragon” plan doesn’t exactly go to... er... plan... but Matt shows us all how wicked he is with his fat piece of cannon and his unflinching attitude towards oncoming fire breathing dragon!

Yanks 1 – 0 Dragons

Matt tells us all of his theory about the dragons in this story. He reckons that there is only 1 male dragon in the entire species of dragons on the planet (that’s one busy dragon) and he lives in London. Yep, London. So Bale, ever the sceptic, checks the sex of our recently deceased dragon and, yeah, finds a dragon egg. So at least he knows that dragon was female.

Bale discovers that most dragons are females...

However, Matt’s theory of one male dragon acting like a fish and fertilising all the dragon eggs that are laid by female dragons across the globe just isn’t going to wash with Bale. So Bale stops at the castle whilst Matt heads off to London on his own for what’s definitely going to be one heck of a climactic showdown.

Thus far into the film it’s worth mentioning just how cool the special effects are. These Wyverns really do come to life in this movie. Even though they’re used as nothing more than a creature feature (action/horror monster), the dragons do look and sound incredible, and the acting is intense too. Ultimately it comes down to one thing, story. It’s actually interesting! I’m captivated the entire time and the final show down in London is yet to happen. I find myself on the edge of my seat time and again, waiting for the big dragon battle I just know is going to happen. This movies only let down is the dragons as creatures situation, but there will be movies to come like Dragon Heart and Eragon to get our intelligent, dragons with heart, fix.

Before Matt’s army of 200 men even get to London we get an unexpected dragon attack:

The misty skies hide many dragons and the attack literally comes out of nowhere, destroying all but McCanaughey, the helicopter, and his helicopter pilot. Better get back to Bale and ask for help! However, this dragon isn’t finished yet, after turning the entire army to dust he continues by beating Matt back to Bale and destroying the castle too! Fortunately this means Bale has no choice and we’re off to London. Bale dons his crossbow and joins the fight. Hurrah!

London: “Well this town’s gone to hell”

28 Days Later, I Am Legend, The Book of Eli and The Road are all great films showing apocalyptic city landscapes. But did any of them have dragons? Nuh uh. The picture above is what makes this movie so cool! Tons of dragons are living in London and that includes one badass male (just about to fly over the houses of parliament in the picture). Apparently the UK parliament is still full of dragons even after Margaret Thatcher!

McConaughey has a plan to use the failing light at dusk to confuse the dragons. Apparently their eyesight isn’t up to much at dusk and the dragons struggle to maintain focus on their prey. This tactic should even the odds. The battle is one you can’t help but look forward to as 3 humans take on 1 big, bad dragon in central London.

London’s burning:

I love St. Pauls dome in pieces on the right and Tower Bridge in the background, and, oh yeah! A massive dragon flying right at the screen! Pity it’s not 3D!

The special effects continue to impress

The climactic battle really doesn’t disappoint as our three plucky heroes (Bale, McConaughey and onetime Bond girl from Goldeneye, Scorupco) take on the male of the species. If they succeed, no more dragon babies and a chance for survival, if they fail, dragons win and they’re the dominant species on the planet forever. Cue fight!

The final scenes are pure dragon action excitement

With incredible special effects, edge of your seat tension and excitement, intense, great acting from an all-star cast, and captivating story, this is one dragon movie that is definitely a must see. I was not disappointed by any aspect of this movie. It isn’t even one that just dragon fans would enjoy, (like DragonQuest and Fire&Ice) but any blockbuster loving action fan will get a kick from this movie.

Final Score: This Dragon Movie gets 10/10.

Incredible action, awesome sets, an engrossing, believable futuristic world, great action set pieces and great “action star” acting. Did I mention how cool the dragons were.....? Watch this now!

Next week I’m subjecting myself to more straight to DVD dragon movie fun with, Dragon Hunter!

If you live in the UK, you can purchase the DVD of Reign Of Fire from our preferred DVD retailer, Play.com, at the link here

All Images featured in this blog are Copyright of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Inc. and Spyglass Entertainment Group, LP. All Rights Reserved.

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