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REIGN OF FIRE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupo, Gerard Butler
Director: Rob Bowman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: November 19, 2002

ôLET'S GET READY TO ROCK N' ROLL! WE GOT A DRAGON TO KILL!"

Film ***1/2

AH, now this is the kind of summer slam-bang entertainment I've been yearning for such a long time! Reign of Fire is a gloriously crafted, in your face, proud to be junky post-apocalyptic adventure that assaults every possible sense of the human body with its enormous scope and endless action. Before I go into all of the rich details of the movie's qualities, I should state there is absolutely no character development or a lot of memorable dialogue to push the heavy-thinking viewer, and in this rare case, none of that is needed. The movie has something big going for it by the time the presence of the ferocious monster is first seen on the screen. This is the movie that the 1998 Godzilla tried to be, and I even find it better than any of the Jurassic Park movies.

The setting is England in the year 2020, when the land has been reduced to nothing but burning ash, thanks to a re-evolution of deadly fire-breathing dragons. The limited supply of humans reside in underground-refugee camps, attempting to rebuild a human-driven society while steering clear of the mighty beasts that control the sky and can strike at any given moment. The leader of this camp is Quinn (Christian Bale), who is more driven than any to protect fellow humans from flesh hungry dragons, since he witnessed his own mother killed by one as a boy.

Soon enough, though, the underground survivors are suspicious upon the arrival of a fully loaded American military arsenal, led by mad-dog mercenary Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). Van Zan has survived what many would consider the unthinkable; he has slain many a dragon and lived to tell it. Quinn, however, is put off by their arrival, fearing that they will do nothing but harm to the camps-people by luring the beasts onto their homeland. Nevertheless, Van Zan recruits a few extra needed men, as they head off to the dragon's central feeding ground, downtown London.

The CGI dragons created for the movie are very, very astonishing to look at, especially in scenes up in the air. Take a particular scene, involving a dragon battling it out with a maneuvering helicopter. It uses its head to knock the chopper out of the way, just like a bull in Spain would gladly knock any human being. Out of the chopper go three of Van Zan's soldiers, known as the Angels, who sky dive their way downward as a way of setting a trap for the beast. This is a mind-blowing sequence that has to be seen to be believed. My jaw was dropped the entire time with sheer awe. The visuals alone in this scene are worthy of an Oscar.

For a junky-popcorn flick that merits an apocalyptic look likely inspired by the Mad Max movies, the acting and directing are also a sheer plus. The director is Rob Bowman, a veteran director of The X-Files television series who also directed the feature film of the show, Fight the Future, in 1998. Bowman is a master craftsman, and does a remarkable job of making the viewer engrossed in this story and setting. I can seriously say that if there was ever a need for a Jurassic Park 4, and I doubt that there will be, Bowman would make an excellent substitute for Spielberg. And as for the acting, the two leads are top-notch as ever. McConaughey, a gifted actor who also makes a believable action hero, sports a buffed up look, along with a bald head and a goatee, making him unrecognizable but thoroughly convincing as the cigar chomping Van Zan. His climatic dual with the head of the beasts defines true gutsy heroism, in my opinion. And Christian Bale, who blew audiences away with his revealing performance in American Psycho, is well-suited as the sympathetic Quinn.

Most of the time when a movie of this sort is made, it rarely gets made with the level of quality and performance. Reign of Fire is just such a movie. A monster movie that I will truly cherish for years to come. It unfortunately got lost among the summer releases this year, but hopefully people will discover what they missed with this underrated gem.

Video ****

Next to Attack of the Clones, this is by far the grandest video presentation I've seen all year. Touchstone has delivered a masterful anamorphic transfer to a movie that merits almost every ounce of visual brilliance, given the eye-gazing setting and visual effects that surround it. The picture, shot in mostly dark blues and grays, is thoroughly clear and sharp as one could hope for it to be, with the given colors, even in darkly lit scenes, delivered a hundred percent in every high aspect of a DVD presentation. Kudos to Touchstone, for you have delivered one of the best looking discs of the year.

Audio ****

The 5.1 audio mix is absolutely ear-shattering, and I mean that in a good way! Touchstone has delivered one of their all-time finest moments in the audio field with this presentation for Reign of Fire, which hardly contains a minute without a ferocious sound presence, whether in action sequence, music score, or the simple bark of a fire laden dragon's breath. This is one audio presentation where you will definitely feel the need to crank up the volume on.

Features ***

Included on the disc are three featurettes, "Breathing Life into Terror", which is your basic 5-10 minutes featurette, "If You Can't Stand the Heat", which covers the work of pyrotechnics for the movie, and "Conversations with director Rob Bowman", which includes bits on the director's inspirations for making the movie, as well as distinctive purposes. Also featured is a trailer for this film, as well as other Buena Vista releases Bad Company and The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the newly released Reign of Fire video game.

Summary:

Reign of Fire is definitely the best monster flick to come out in quite sometime, and is backed up by jaw-dropping action sequences and visual effects. This is a true must see for fans of all out action packed extravaganzas!