29 – Reign of Fire

reign_of_fire_xlg Envy the country that has heroes, huh?

I say pity the country that needs them.


Reign of Fire, like the fire-breathing dragons, is a strange beast of an apocalyptic film, but one I fell in love with from the first time I saw it. As you have seen from this blog I do have a real passion for the apocalyptic genre, and perhaps it was this was one that was set in the UK, (even though it was filmed in Ireland) that drew me into it. This was an apocalyptic film set in my world, not in the United States, or in Australia, but it had fields and a big castle, it was my landscape, it’s what the apocalypse would be for me, however then there was the fire-breathing dragons. Reign of Fire certainly brought a new way of ending human civilization on earth.

Reign of Fire opens with a young boy called Quinn visiting his mother, and engineer on a construction site, he accidentally disturbs a fire-breathing dragon which has been sleeping below the earth, waiting for the right time to emerge again, The dragon proceeds to kill everyone at the site except for the young boy Quinn.

 Twenty years later, Quinn has grown up to be Christian Bale ( Batman!) and the leader of a small settlement in the North of England. We have the usual apocalyptic trope when he explains in voiceover while writing in his diary, the story of the apocalypse, that  the dragons reproduced with astonishing speed. Within months, there were millions, and they began laying the world to waste and feasting on the ash left over from the conflagrations they caused. The militaries of the world took up the gauntlet, of course, but there were a fuck of a lot of dragons, and they were extremely hard to kill. In the end, with most of the Earth’s land-surface already reduced to a tremendous ash-field anyway, those nations that had them resorted to nuclear weapons. Even that wasn’t enough, and by 2020, there is hardly anything left of the world we know at all. The only bright spot is that the dragons’ numbers seem to be falling off; having burned up everything in sight, the creatures are now beginning to starve to death.

     It’s that last part that is the lynchpin of Quinn’s survival strategy. He and the people he leads— something less than 100 men, women, and children— have set themselves up in a medieval castle (stone being damned hard to burn), beneath which they have dug out a network of insulated tunnels served by an ingenious water-cooling system devised by a man who once made blast furnaces for a living. Quinn’s village is more or less self-sufficient, growing their crops in fields too small to attract the dragons’ notice , and Quinn’s hope is that they will be able to hold out until the monsters’ self-created famine drives them back below the surface— as has apparently happened repeatedly in the distant past. (Among the none-too-useful insights into dragon biology that the old world’s scientists were able to arrive at before the apocalypse cranked into high gear was that the dragons had caused the Cretaceous extinction, along with other similar events.) The trouble is, Quinn’s people are hungry, too, and it is a very open question which species will outlast the other.

     Then one day, the castle receives a visit from a band of extremely heavily armed men riding a motley collection of military vehicles, up to and including a helicopter and a main battle tank. These men are, in the words of Quinn’s friend Creedy (Gerard Butler), the “one thing worse than dragons— Americans.” Specifically, they’re the “Kentucky Irregulars,” ex-military men under the command of one Denton Van Zan (Academy Award winner now, Matthew McConaughey) who have set themselves on a seemingly quixotic quest to eliminate dragons from the world. And to be fair, they really have enjoyed a tremendous amount of success as dragonslayers. The mere fact that they managed to fly across the Atlantic in one piece proves that. The day after their arrival at Quinn’s castle, the Kentucky Irregulars get a chance to demonstrate their dragon-killing technique, when one of the creatures attacks a tomato field. In the great tradition of the American military, it involves equal parts advanced technology and seat-of-the-pants improvisation, and despite an understandably high casualty rate, it gets the job done.


 But Van Zan is playing for higher stakes. As he scornfully points out to the Brits who are so riotously celebrating his victory that night, killing off one dragon here and another there isn’t going to do the human race a bit of good in the long run. But he and his top lieutenant, Alex the helicopter pilot (Izabella Scorupco), have come armed with a theory that casts the battle against the monsters in entirely different terms. You see, neither the Kentucky Irregulars nor anyone else they’ve been in contact with has ever seen a male dragon, and Van Zan is willing to bet that Quinn and his people haven’t, either. Van Zan figures that’s because there’s only one, that dragon society is in effect a mirror image of a bee hive. He and Alex have used computers back home to analyze the dragons’ movements across the globe, and they believe not only that the creatures first appeared in London .


 Reign of Fire makes a strong showing for itself. Its premise gives it a leg up to start with, and this is then reinforced by excellent casting and a few bits of really accomplished writing. The antagonism between Quinn and Van Zan, for example, is the best kind, the kind in which both characters have entirely valid reasons for behaving the way they do, and in which neither can claim to be entirely right about the decisions those reasons lead them to. Quinn’s wait-the-dragons-out approach really does seem to be the product of sheer wishful thinking, but he’s absolutely right in believing that Van Zan is about to bite off much more than he can chew. And though Van Zan’s is the only strategy that holds out any meaningful hope for humanity, the miscalculations he makes in carrying it out have an enormous cost which is borne principally by people who are essentially innocent bystanders. Bale and McConaughey do an excellent job with this material, so much so that it hardly matters that theirs are the only characters in the movie with any depth to them.reign-fire_l

The third act of the film is a pure homage to the final act of Jaws, just substituting Sharks for dragons, Dont get me wrong Reign of Fire has its flaws, but it is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine, and also an apocalyptic film you may well get away with talking a girlfriend into watching………. Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler, just don’t mention the dragons.



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