A witness to the first ever modern-day dragon attack, Quinn leads a small community of survivors in the wastes of England. The whole world is at war with the fire-breathing, flying creatures.
The camera never lies, but you can't say the same about the poster. The buzz of anticipation that began with 'Reign Of Fire's excellent trailer, leapt with an electric jolt the first time Empire spied the movie's promotional artwork.
Fire-breathing dragons! Battling with helicopters! Trashing Big Ben! Put the popcorn on order and block-book the front row, we're ready to witness the best scenes of world destruction this side of 'Independence Day'. Or not, as the case turns out to be.
Instead of an apocalyptic special effects extravaganza, what we get is not one, but two scrapbook montages featuring newspaper clippings, Time magazine covers and archive documentary footage, as Christian Bale's Quinn recounts the years between the 2002 prologue and the 2020 meat of the movie.
Clearly the budget didn't stretch far enough to deliver on the poster's promise, and audience disappointment is inevitable. Bale, however, brings dramatic depth to his character, while McConaughey is a splendidly over-the-top, pumped-up, adrenaline freak.
Arriving on a tank turret with the gun sprouting phallically between his legs, Van Zan approaches this apocalypse as Kilgore, Chef and Kurtz rolled into one (note the dragonÆs napalm breath and Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack).
What the film lacks in a full-on city attack, it makes up for with a satisfying final confrontation between the stars and the father of all dragons. But even then, the impact would have been greater if we had a better sense of the enemy - unlike 'Jurassic Park's dinosaurs, the dragons here are a somewhat anonymous threat.
Likewise the rest of Quinn's near-medieval community, few of whom are developed beyond the status of extras, other than Gerard Butler's by-the-numbers sidekick. With a bit of luck, maybe someone will pump in some serious cash for a sequel that does the idea justice.
Reign Of Fire
Released: 09 June 2003
Two fairly interesting featurettes play to the film’s strengths, exploring the evolution of the creature design (influenced chiefly by the attack patterns of snakes and hawks), and tracking the fire-loving dude responsible for pyrotechnics.
An interview with director Rob Bowman is also engaging, as he laments the problems of shooting a monster movie without a monster on set.
Entertaining enough as summer fare, but not the jaw-dropping spectacle we'd hoped for. The dragons vs. humans concept is original, though, and tips the scales in the giant reptiles' favour.
Reviewed by Alan Morrison