When Quinn (Christian Bale) was a little boy, he witnessed the uncovering of a huge, hidden cave beneath London after a dig by his mother, which unfortunately contained a massive dragon - she would be its first victim. Now Quinn is a man, and a plague of dragons have ravaged the planet, bringing destruction to the cities and forcing the last surviving people to live in terror in the countryside. It looks as if there is no hope until one day, visitors arrive at Quinn's encampment - visitors from America... with big guns.
This unlikely fantasy was scripted by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg. It offers a land that has been blasted back into the Middle Ages by mythical creatures who breathe fire and pick off the remaining humans one by one for food when they're not razing their encampment to the ground. The tone is grim and earnest throughout, matched by the grey photography and convincingly ruined landscapes, a mixture of actual Irish locations and slick CGI performing the same function as matte paintings used to in the Hollywood of old to render what passed for realism in a concept that was pretty daft yet was treated with utmost, earnest solemnity.
Quinn is a kind of medieval king - he is compared to King Arthur at one point - living in his castle stronghold and doing his best to harvest meagre crops for his people. There is a mix of old and new here, because he also has various vehicles, flameproof dragon protection suits and a radio for discerning if there are any more survivors out there. When Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) turns up with his small army, the contrast between the impoverished Brits and American technological know-how is accentuated, leaving both groups to forge a special relationship, as it were, while they quarrel about how to beat the monsters. This leads to a mission to London where the alpha male dragon stays, spawning its female minions, though all credit to the script, that doesn't work out quite how you would expect.
Well, not first time around, anyway. Bale and McConaughey may not have seemed like the most obvious of action heroes at the time, this was before Batman in Bale's case after all, but by adopting gruff mannerisms and growing beards (Matthew shaved his head for the role, too), they manage to win you over. Gerard Butler was there as well, and he really did become an action hero. Even if you're not a big fan of CGI, the special effects here are nevertheless excellent, with the dragons (who helpfully turn up one at a time) being particularly effective, though too sparingly implemented for many who were not so keen on the film when it was initially released. Plentiful action sequences, such as the skydiving trap of one of the killer reptiles, help the story zip along at a fair old pace, with only a self-seriousness and pompous quality letting down what could have been a tone of dumb fun.
Reign of Fire may only have one idea, but the novelty is sustained throughout the running time. What it really needed was a sequence featuring an army of dragons facing an army of people, but they do well enough with the budget they have to turn in a good second division blockbuster with an original and carefully rendered post-apocalyptic world. In effect, this was a war movie with Van Zan's artillery harking back to the days of American G.I.s heading over the Pond to assist in the Allies' combat against the Nazis, yet the enemy here was one more accustomed to being seen in a context of centuries, millennia even, before Then again, it was effectively science fiction (the future year of 2020, therefore taking place in what amounted to three time periods at once. But where did the survivors get the fuel and ammunition from? Watch for: the re-enactment of The Empire Strikes Back. For some reason this ended up a staple late night television ever since its small screen debut, meaning millions of Brits must have had the pleasure of its company down the years, Music by Ed Shearmur.
American TV director and producer who worked on Star Trek TNG and The X Files before directing the movie version of the latter. Followed it up with dragon adventure Reign of Fire and comic book spin-off Elektra.