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Reign of Fire

The overall impression of Reign of Fire can be summed up with this rather odd fact. Have you seen the trailer? Go ahead, go check out the trailer at (you'll need Quicktime 5 to play it). Check out the opening of the trailer. That shot that says, quite clearly, "London, 2084." See it?

Right at the beginning. London, 2084. That's all I'm talking about. Simple enough, right? Problem is, the movie takes place in 2020. It starts in 2008, moves to 2020 and ends. 64 years before 2084.

So, like, what gives?

In and of itself, the fact that the film takes place in 2020 and not 2084 is unimportant. It could take place whenever the heck it wanted to take place. Dragons flying around and burning everything in their path can happen whenever you want it to. No biggie.

But how does a major studio summer blockbuster wanna-be end up with a 64 year gaffe? Do the people who make the trailers even see the movie? Did they just guess? Who's in charge here?

Which is what you end up wondering about the film.

Here's my take, and it's just a guess, but I'm a critic, and they pay me to make a guess. Okay, they don't pay me, but they should. Anyway. I'm betting someone pitched an idea to make a movie about dragons burning the living daylights out of the world in a modern day setting. I'm betting they wrote a script that took place, arbitrarily (although they probably had a reason in some really, really early draft) in 2084. I'm thinking they went ahead and shot the film, all along thinking it took place in 2084. Then they cut a trailer or two, and at the time, the film took place in 2084.

And then the suits saw the first cut of the film, didn't like it and went about 'repairing' their big budget investment.

I have no idea what the suits cut out or added. But at one point, one of the suits said "You know, nothing the humans have is all that advanced from what we have now. You mean to tell me that in 80 years we won't have more futuristic hardware? Screw that, this needs to take place a lot sooner, or everyone will wonder where all the advanced technology is. I mean A.I. was only 2051 and they're light years ahead of what our boys have. Change it."

And the filmmakers tried to explain that, see, maybe the humans did, in fact, have more advanced weaponry. But you see, 6 billion people have been killed by the dragons and the Earth is pretty much toast so they're digging at scraps to even come up with what they've got.

And the suits didn't care. They didn't get it. Change it.

Another movie bites the dust.

I don't know what else they torched, although one line in the trailer that for me was almost a signature line "How did they go from one to a million in a year?" is nowhere to be found within the movie, which begins to make you wonder if an entire sub plot, or even, God forbid, the plot itself, was altered radically.

The end result is a movie that doesn't quite fire on enough cylinders. It's one of those huge "The World Has Been Effected" epics that ends up feeling small and simple because we don't travel the world, and in the end three people save the day with not much more than spit, guts and verve. Bummer it took 6 billion people dead to find the three that can save the world, huh?

See, here's the story, as we get it. In 2008, a little boy discovers a dragon in a tunnel under London. 12 years later, that boy has gone all Mad Max, leading a rag-tag team of humans holding up in a big castle outside of London. Humanity has been more or less destroyed by millions of dragons. Along come a rag-tag team of Americans, who are all hot stuff, as Americans usually are. The leader of the rag-tag Americans joins up with the leader of the rag-tag castle folk and, with the help of a pretty cute chick, they save the world.

Or what's left of it, anyway.

And how do they save the world? I don't really want to give it away (yes I do) so I'll just say that they save the world in a way that leaves about a million or so dragons still roaming the world, burning everything in their path. Didn't make much sense to me either. It's kinda like if in Return of the Jedi the rebels had managed to kill the Emperor but not destroy the Death Star. It'd have been a quick victory celebration.

"Luke did it! He killed the Emp--"

One Rebel Command Ship down, seventeen to go.

Reign of Fire wants to be really cool. Sadly, it isn't. It's almost cool. The dragons are pretty cool, but they would have been a lot cooler about five years ago. Now, they look a little green-screened. There's even a shot of Matthew McConaughey which is nothing but him and sky that is obviously a green-screen shot. Why did they green-screen that shot? There are no dragons in the picture, no burnt buildings, just Matthew and the sky. Give me a digital video camera and five minutes, I can get that shot for you.

The performances are all fine and dandy. Nothing anyone's gonna be putting on their Oscar reels in years to come, but they certainly don't embarrass themselves. The dragons do a good job as well, I know how hard it can be to work with animals.

But the movie doesn't want to take any risks. It takes place, for most of the movie, in all of one spot. The castle. Then there's a short bit on the road to London. Then a final sequence in London. That's it. Three locations. Dragons have destroyed the world and we get three locations, all within about 70 miles of one another.

That's nice and all, but this movie really seemed to be begging to be larger. You wonder who did what to it and when.

I'm giving Reign of Fire 2 Babylons. It's no Dungeons and Dragons, thank God, but it isn't Dragonheart either (an underappreciated film, in my opinion.) It ends up somewhere around Dragonslayer. Which, by the way, is so much funnier now if you watch it and think about Peter MacNicol's Ally McBeal character the whole time.

Editor's Note:

Anyone else notice how these reviews, more often than not, end up referencing Star Wars? How geeky is that?

Reign of Fire
Rated: PG-13
Directed By: Rob Bowman
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler, Alice Krige, Alexander Siddig and Sean Connery as the voice of Big Daddy Dragon. OK, he doesn't talk, but if he did, they'd have used Sean if they had any idea what's good for them.

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