Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Whose breath is worse? A fire-breathing dragon or Matthew McConaughy

Of all the disasters we imagine will bring on the apocalypse, man-eating dragons is by far the least cinematically explored. C’mon Hollywood: flesh-eating viruses and nuclear holocausts can’t be that much more bankable.
According to 2002 Reign of Fire, they probably are.
Quick Plot:
English miners awaken a long dormant race of fire-breathing dragons, a hibernating prehistoric gaggle who spend the next 20 years eating humans, burning their food sources, and driving drably dressed survivors underground where they must entertain themselves with live reenactments of The Empire Strike Back.

Wait, this is a negative future?
Having survived the initial attack, a grown post-Newsies, pre-John Connor Christian Bale plays Quinn, the leader of the apparently incredibly fertile survivors who are slowly growing tired of such meager portion sizes. Assisted by a still handsome and not yet greasy Gerard Butler, Quinn tries his darndest to keep surly English folks alive and their kids prepared to hide when the inevitable attacks happen. Ho-hum life gets a twist with the arrival of a bearded American (aka the star of the modern classic Tiptoes ) and his military cohorts, a gung-ho gang eager to destroy the entire species of fire-breathers by killing the only male.

Yes, only male. The world has been taken over by dragons--that of course we can all accept. But of all the millions of flying carnivores, only a single creature has sperm to offer? Sometimes one can only suspend disbelief so much.

Ah who am I kidding? Made at a strange time in cinema when nobody was really investing millions into dragon slaying, Reign of Fire is a bizarrely attempted blockbuster that despite its post-apocalyptic setting, is rather fun. The monsters look no better than what you see on your average SyFy original and the attacks are nowhere near the gruesome joy as something like Starship Troopers, but this is the kind of film that makes for an enjoyable drunken or errands-around-the-house riddled Sunday afternoon.

At the same time, there definitely is something missing from Reign of Fire, a kind of false grandeur that never quite rings victorious. Perhaps it has something to do with Quinn's oddly unheroic mama's boy of a hero or the anticlimactic final attack, but for all its incredible possibility to be the kind of Doll's House favorite best served with cheddar, Reign of Fire falls a little short.
High Points
Though I’d still prefer to watch his nude bongo performance on pot, Matthew McConaughy is a rather ridiculous joy to watch

Low Points
Do we blame this film and the influence of a grizzled McConaughy for creating the surly monster that is Growling Bale?
Some of the grown men relationship stuff feels dull and simultaneously underdeveloped and too prominent. We came to this film (or didn’t, as it was a box office dud) to watch McConaughbeard fight dragons. How many shouting matches do we need?

Lessons Learned
What’s a great way to show an apocalypse without spending more than $5 of a budget probably reserved for Matthew McConaughy’s sweat buckets? Photoshop and Time Magazine

Dear medieval or post-apocalyptic societies: just because you have one minor victory after decades of hardship does not give you the right to have a free-for-all party. If there’s one thing monsters like Grendel and dragons hate, it’s 

The only thing worse than a dragon is an American...particularly a McConaughbeard

Reign of Fire isn’t the flaming ball of cheese I was hoping to relish, but it’s enjoyable in its oddness and well worth a lazy viewing. As both a Netflix Instant Watch and constant TV airer, it’s easy to catch without investing any capital into. 


  1. This is one of those odd movies that slipped under the radar years back, yet when I finally saw it I quite enjoyed it. There was a great cheese-factor with McConaughy’s performance that I liked. And the dragon battles were pretty kick-ass, all on their own.

    And after I see "Dragon Wars" in the next week or two, I'm sure I'll appreciate this film even more. :)

  2. It may be the stereotypical "guy" side of me, or maybe it's also due to my seeing this movie during the height of my OBSESSION over the Fantasy genre, but I remember enjoying "Reign of Fire"... but still being disappointed from lack of dragon battles. I may have to revisit it, at the very least, for the reason of seeing Christian Bale pre-Batman redux acting style.

  3. Rabid: I've yet to see Dragon Wars but it sounded positively atrocious, which means I really should see it soon. I think that I let years of 'holy shit there's a dragon movie with McConaughy in full craze mode' overhype the film a bit, but it was still a good time.

    Mikey: I really do think Bale shaped his Batman after McConaughy in this movie. The dude should sue.