In Reign of Fire, the world goes to shit soon after a hibernating dragon emerges from London’s “asshole.” Years later, a group of ashen Brits led by the aptly named Quinn Abercromby (a muscley Christian Bale) are paid a visit by a group of rogue American warriors commanded by cigar-muncher Denton Van San (a thoroughly disgusting Matthew McConaughey). Director Rob Bowman puts the ash machine to good use here though he’s far more successfu0l at evoking the film’s isolative, post-apocalyptic milieu via gently rolling hills as buffers against fire-breathing beasts. The film’s funniest (read: scariest) gag tips its hat at spoken history when Bale’s Abercromy reenacts a Star Wars father/son moment for his community of impressionable babes, suggesting that Lucas’s pop mythos is the roach set to survive our own global annihilation. Less dumb than shamelessly simple, Reign of Fire’s ideological implications (its alternative thoughts on food gathering and child rearing recall B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two) have been seemingly trimmed for efficiency’s sake. No matter, the film’s scares are genuinely terrifying and deliriously unironic (no peek-a-boo dragon attacks to be found anywhere). Audiences used to novelty scares will surely be disappointed by the genuinely anti-climatic finale though the failure of the film’s second half has less to do with befuddled expectations than Bowman’s dubious time lapses. That the film works best when its dragons are off-screen says more about Bowman’s impressive use of landscape as terror mechanism than the quality of the perfectly serviceable CGI effects. The story is all-cheese but the film’s set pieces (see the killer skydiving sequence) more than deliver, as does McConaughey. Overacting his heart out, he’s seemingly convinced that when the world’s going to shit you might as well go with it.
Though blacks are solid on this DVD edition of Reign of Fire, this digital transfer lacks the vibrancy of the film’s theatrical release print-edge enhancement is noticeable throughout and some scenes are overblown while others lack texture. Far better is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, which I prefer to the optional DTS 5.1 track. Though not quite as expansive as they could be, the surrounds are nonetheless impressive, especially when a dragon or helicopter roars into frame.
First up is a "Breathing Life into the Terror" featurette, a standard making-of documentary most notable for its glimpse at the computer effects that built the film’s dragons. The more successful "If You Can’t Take the Heat" features a conversation with the film’s Special Effects Supervisor Dave Gauthier on the film’s safety measures and intricate fire effects. "Conversations with Rob Bowman" should appeal most to "X-Files" junkies. Bowman discusses how his "Night Stalker" influences and his work on the "The X-Files" informed his storytelling techniques. Also included here is the film’s theatrical trailer and a Sneak Peeks section featuring plugs for this year’s The Count of Monte Cristo and Bad Company and the Reign of Fire and Kingdom Hearts video games.
This not-so meaty DVD package for this nifty B-movie creation is a major let-down.