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June 12, 2008 |

By TK Burton | | June 12, 2008 |

Gentle readers, we are gathered here today because a crime has been committed. A crime that has affected us all, a crime of epic proportions that cost millions of dollars and cheated you out of hours of your life, not to mention your hard-earned money. A con job, a scam so insidious, so deceptive, that even the brightest and cleverest among us has been fooled. Through deft misdirection and parlor tricks, you have been duped, my friends. Well no more, I say. The time has come to cast off this veil of ignorance that so many of you unwittingly wear, and see how you have become accidental accomplices in a crime against cinematic humanity. The accused? Rob Bowman (already found guilty of other atrocities such as Elektra and Airborne). The crime? Reign of Fire.

These are the facts laid before us in its defense:

1) Reign of Fire has, without question, the best dragon special effects we’ve ever seen. This is indisputable. The special effects are so remarkable that at no point do you have trouble believing that there are real, living dragons interacting (and occasionally devouring) the people on the screen.

2) It managed to assemble one of the more impressive (not to mention visually… um… stimulating) male casts in recent history — Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler.

3) The scene at the beginning of the movie, where a young boy visits his mother in the underground tunnel that she works in (we’ll ignore the idea that a 12-year-old boy is allowed down there) and accidentally awakens a hibernating dragon, is one of the most remarkable action sequences you are likely to see. As far as setting the stage, it is top-notch. When the boy is frantically ascending in a rickety elevator, and the massive dragon climbs up the sides and explodes out into the daylight — simply a breathtaking sequence.

4) It is quite possibly the best dragon movie ever filmed.

Technically, all of these things are true, my friends. Each of these facts is irrefutable. Yet despite these truths, Reign of Fire is a total fiasco. What’s worse, however, is that not only is a failure, but that it somehow managed to convince people otherwise. It is the intention of the prosecution to show you why each of these facts is nothing more than deception, and that Mr. Bowman is nothing more than a snake oil salesman. By the end of this, I hope you can see through his clever ruse, and I pray that you will forgive yourselves. However, in order for us to understand these things, allow me to briefly summarize the story.

Twenty years after the sequence detailed above, dragons have essentially reduced human society to smoke and rubble. The premise is that dragons have always been on Earth — in fact, they are responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs — and for millennia have been hibernating. After the boy wakes them, they begin to repopulate and there are now literally millions of them, destroying everything in sight. Humankind is reduced to small, tribe-like societies, living on scraps and trying to survive. One of these communities is in an ancient British castle, where Quinn Abercromby (Bale) has become their de facto leader, teaching them all sorts of anti-dragon prayers and maintaining a sense of order and discipline, such as, “don’t eat the tomatoes.” His faithful Scottish sidekick is Creedy (Butler), and together they put on little Star Wars plays for the wee English moppets who for some reason all dress like pajama-wearing cult members. One day a team of dirty Americans in tanks and helicopters shows up, asking for lodging for the night. Led by the completely ridiculous looking Van Zan (McConaughey), they are swaggering, walking stereotypes - lovers of violence and warmongering fanatics. They show off their method of hunting dragons - something to do with triangulation, motorcycles, parachutes and good ole’ American know-how. Eventually, however, another dragon attacks the castle, destroying most of it, and Van Zan, Quinn and Van Zan’s pilot Alex (a terminally bland Isabella Scorpuco, of Goldeneye and Vertical Limit) traipse back to London, where it all began, to kill the father of all the dragons.

Sounds like fun, does it not? Surely, with a cast like that (minus the zombie Scorpuco), exciting dragon effects, the movie should be a slam-dunk! Alas, my friends, I cannot lie to you. The truth is, Reign of Fire is terrible. A failure on almost every level. With the exception of Bale and Butler, the acting is horrendous. McConaughey’s Van Zan is so overblown, so over-the-top, it’s not even fun in an ironic sense. His shaved head, giant beard and silly dragon tattoos are all just a bit too much - we get it. He’s the Ugly American. You made your goddamn point. There’s no need to turn him into some sort of John Wayne on steroids meets Snake Plissken meets Mr. Clean. His Texas drawl is so exaggerated that it sounds like he’s got Jell-O in his mouth, and for whatever reason, he walks like he’s on a boat in the middle of a storm while suffering from severe chafing. Scorpuco - I can’t say enough about how dead-eyed and wooden her performance is - in fact, let me stop before I start having fits.

The plot… yikes. It hurts to even talk about it. Never again will you find such a moronic confluence of coincidence and utterly implausible bullshit in one movie. Look, believe me when I tell you that I’m the King of Suspended Disbelief. I have a gold medal in gullibility, as well as a PhD in Being Completely and Totally Ignorant of All Things Scientific. My knowledge bas essentially consists of local sports trivia, the Marvel Ultimate universe, obscure hip-hop or punk music, and detective fiction. Anything else, I pretty much just buy it wholesale and assume that people did their research. When it comes to movies, I question nothing. Reign of Fire changed all of that. This is a movie that actually takes itself relatively seriously. The tone is not comedic or ironic; instead it wants to be a Serious Action Movie about dragons. Except for one problem: It makes no fucking sense, makes logical leaps that your average village idiot should be able to see through, and is completely dependent on the such outlandish coincidences that it strains all credibility. Allow me to elucidate:

1) Quinn Abercromby, the main character, happens to also be the little boy who discovered the hibernating dragon 20 years before. He also gets to be the one who kills the Papa Dragon.

2) That Papa Dragon is actually the Father of All Dragons. ALL OF THEM. There are apparently literally thousands of dragons, all over the planet, and every single one of them is female, and they are all spawned from Papa Dragon, who is apparently quite the Dragon Pimp.

3) Despite the Papa Pimp Dragon spawning thousands of dragons for his now-incestuous dragon harem, he never apparently left London - despite the theory that he flies around and fertilizes all the dragon harem eggs.

4) The Papa Dragon hibernates for thousands, if not millions, of years, but somehow wakes up fully formed, fully-abled, and immediately fertilizes… what? A million year-old egg? That’s somehow still good? Folks, I don’t know if you know of the delicacy known as the Century Egg, but it is quite possibly the vilest thing I’ve ever heard of. A million years old? Really?

5) The dragons apparently feed on ash. Yes, ash. Yummy, nutritious, vitamin-packed ash. I fucking hate you, Rob Bowman. Between this and Elektra, you have officially used up your X-Files goodwill.

So just so we can fully understand the chronology: Dragons rule the earth. They destroy the dinosaurs. They go into hibernation. A young boy accidentally wakes Papa Dragon. Papa Dragon decimates London, goes on humping spree. Dragons repopulate exponentially somehow. Destroy the earth. Same boy becomes man who goes on to destroy the Papa Dragon who is the SAME dragon that killed his mother (and the Daddy of every dragon on the planet), thereby saving the world. I think I’ve proven my point regarding the stupendous, punishingly idiotic inanity of Reign of Fire.

Honestly, one of the things that made me angriest was its marketing campaign. I don’t know if you’ve seen the poster in a while or not, but here it is:


Looks pretty fucking sweet, right? London on fire, attack helicopters in dogfights with scores of dragons? How fucking cool is that? Except that none of that ever happens. London is shown modern and intact at the very beginning, and at the end it looks like the aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad. You never actually see it under attack. Also, the helicopters are used basically for transporting people around - no dogfights or ‘copter-on-dragon goodness. In fact, until a 30 second scene at the very end, there is never more than one dragon shown at any time. Am I being childish about this? Perhaps. Does that make it any less disappointing? Absolutely not.

I meant it when I wrote that Reign of Fire is possibly the best dragon movie ever made. And that’s what makes the con so insidious. You see, we’ve been cursed time and time again with terrible dragon movies - a genre that, especially in this day and age, should be a no-brainer. But instead we’ve suffered through Dragonheart, Dragon Slayer, D-War, and God knows how many awful, awful Sci-Fi Channel dragon movies, including one with Dean Cain that actually made me cry tears of blood. So yes, stacked up against those travesties, it quite possible is the best… but that’s akin to being the proud owner of the nicest, loveliest, most beautifully formed pile of shit. At the end of the day, you’re still left with a pile of shit. That’s essentially what Reign of Fire is - the prettiest pile of shit in your DVD collection. Do yourself a favor - put it in a plastic baggie and throw it away. You can thank me later.

TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him raising the dead in preparation for world domination at Uncooked Meat.

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Reign of Fire / TK

June 12, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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