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DVD Review:
Reign of Fire
By Brian Jacks

One of the more interesting films of the past year was Reign of Fire. Directed by X-Files alumni Rob Bowman and starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale, the movie was one-part Dragonslayer, and one-part Mad Max. With nonstop action and an absolute window-shattering soundtrack, Reign of Fire breathed new life into the long-stagnated genre of post-apocalyptic films. With Buena Vista seeing fit to deliver the fantasy blockbuster to DVD, you can now openly flaunt your home theater system with the screams of burning Englishmen.

In the world of Reign of Fire, a London tunneling project inadvertently unleashes a slumbering beast from centuries of dormancy. Cut to twenty years later, and fire-breathing dragons dominate the world’s skies, burning the land, and feeding on the ash. Nations have fallen, cities destroyed, the world’s population forced either underground or in reclusive, scattered settlements. Set amongst the English countryside is one such group, headed by Quinn (Bale), a gruff, no-nonsense leader who witnessed his mother killed during the dragon’s London debut. Content to do nothing more than his keep his dwindling faction alive, Quinn’s world is upset when Van Zan (McConaughey), a hotshot American militia leader, shows up with a ragtag group of slayers on a crusade to hunt down and destroy the beasts. And so the countdown begins to an increasingly intensifying battle of the species.

At a point in cinematic history where doomsday films such as Waterworld and The Postman have faltered in remarkable fashion, Reign of Fire is a spectacularly entertaining film. The oft-seen-on-movie-poster term “nonstop thrill ride” is usually complete hyperbole, but nowhere is it more appropriate than Reign of Fire, where a sudden swooping dragon can launch a fiery and violent battle at a moment’s notice. Director Rob Bowman, who also helmed the X-Files movie as well as many classic episodes, has a palpable sense of how to work tension into a scene. A calm sky with a lazy breeze will suddenly erupt with the loud flapping of a dragon’s wings through the rear channels, while the guard on lookout will sound the call to arms. It’s exciting, and it’s continuous, and that makes for a great film.

For their part, the interplay between McConaughey and Bale drives the film as much as the dragons, and both seem destined for their roles. McConaughey, who has had a rough time shaking his sweet Southern guy image, plays a very convincing tattooed and incredibly built warrior, while Bale emanates the aura of a true leader struggling to lead a community in desperate times. Reign of Fire allows the audience to understand these two men and the desolate situation they exist in, and that only adds to the film’s already high quality.

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Reign of Fire is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As is customary with a major feature film, the transfer is pristine with no noticeable print blemishes or compression artifacts. Presumably to add to the depressing nature of the film’s environment, there is a slight darkened haze throughout the film. As one would imagine for such a movie, an extensive amount of special effects were used throughout the picture. Thankfully, enough time and money was spent on the dragons to make them incredibly realistic and downright frightening, with gushing fire shooting from their mouths as they dive upon their prey. A final climatic battle features an impressive amount of CGI work intermixed with life action shots.

On the sound front, the film is delivered with two distinct audio tracks: DTS 5.1 Digital and Dolby Digital 5.1. With deeper bass and an overall encompassing feel, the DTS track will arguably be the preferred one to listen to. Much like the print transfer, Reign of Fire’s audio is impressive, with full use of all channels. As mentioned, the decreasingly faint flapping of a dragon wings will erupt from the rear channels, interrupting the proverbial “calm before the storm.” The actual attacks are almost reference quality, with shouting and crying filling the room from all sides as a dragon’s flame quickly envelops a victim. For apartment-dwellers, lowering the bass is almost essential, as the many booming sounds have noise complaint written all over them.

The DVD features an assortment of supplements, headlined by three featurettes. “Breathing Life Into The Terror” is a look at the creation of the dragons. It’s always interesting hearing from special effects guys, particularly as they strove to create a realistic dragon, or as real as one can make a mythical creature. We gain a look at the computer models of the dragons themselves, and how they were incorporated into the film. Also seen are behind-the-scene shots where dragons will later be included. Next up is “If You Can’t Stand The Heat,” which is an extensive look at the pyrotechnic angle of the film. Obviously, due the subject matter, an extensive amount of thought went into how to create the “dragon’s breath,” and we hear from all of the major players involved. Anyone who’s a fan of Backdraft will find it fascinating to hear how the special effect crew put together the fire shots. We also see what type of materials went into the fire itself, as well as how it was controlled.

Lastly, an interview with Rob Bowman is included, which finds the director speaking about how he approached the film, and how initially he didn’t wish to do anything approaching a “monster film.” Fans of X-Files will find the interview of interest, as Bowman often references back his time on the series as he describes his work on Reign of Fire.

Rounding out the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer.

The Movie: B+. An original storyline with convincing performances make this one of the best fantasy films ever.

The Look: A. A flawless transfer combined with impressive visual effects make this fun to look at.

The Sound: A. Full use of all channels puts you right into the movie.

The Extras: B. Although not overly remarkable, the included featurettes are interesting, particularly given the amount of special effects used.

Overall: A. Reign of Fire is a blast.


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