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Rob Bowman
Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Izabella Scorupco, Gerard Butler, Alice Krige, Alexander Siddig
Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg

Fight Fire With Fire
Box Office:
Budget $95 million.
Opening weekend $15.632 million on 2629 screens.
Domestic gross $43.06 million.
Rated PG-13 for intense action violence.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 11/19/2002

• “Breathing Life Into the Terror” Featurette
• “If You Can’t Take the Heat...” Documentary
• “Conversations With Rob Bowman”
• Theatrical Trailer
• Sneak Peeks

Score soundtrack

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Reign of Fire (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Most films that feature dragons tend to take place in Ye Olden Dayes. With flicks like Dragonheart and Dragonslayer, we head back to medieval times. 2002’s Reign of Fire takes an alternate approach, however, as it presents those beasties in a future realm.

Initially set around the turn of the 21st century, we meet 12-year-old Quinn (Ben Thornton) as he goes to visit his mom Karen (Alice Krige). She works in an underground London construction site and Quinn likes to check out different parts of the dig. He finds a recently opened void, and to the surprise of everyone, dragons emerge from it.

Fire then moves through a montage to cover the ensuing decades. We watch as the dragons spread rapidly and largely decimate human life; they leave only scattered groupings of survivors. We eventually end up in the year 2020, where an adult Quinn (Christian Bale) acts as the leader of a small clan. They maintain an underground community in this charred wasteland and struggle to survive. Basically, Quinn adopts basic survival as a goal; he hopes that the humans will be able to simply outlast the dragons.

Not all the folks agree with Quinn, however, and some want to strike out of the camp, mostly to find other sources of food. A small group attempts this with unpleasant results. Before too long, an outside group of American soldiers arrives. Led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), this clan just wants some refit and refuel time, but Quinn seems very suspicious of them.

Denton provides enticing information when he reveals he and his group actually kill dragons. He discovered a visual weakness that allows them to use a small time window of opportunity to slay the beasts. Denton’s master plan results from a theory that all but one of the dragons are female. If they kill the single male, they can end the “reign of fire” and finish off the critters. Denton wants to take some men and head to London to do this, but the cautious Quinn opposes it.

The rest of the film follows the battles with the dragons. Actually, prior parts of the flick show those fights as well, though Reign of Fire might not offer as much action as fans might like. When the dragons appear, Fire works quite well, but the other moments seem less compelling.

On the positive side, Fire boasts a very cool concept. As I mentioned, most dragon flicks go back to prior centuries, which makes many of them seem a lot alike. Fire doesn’t place the creatures in a recognizable modern setting, as the desolated landscape doesn’t look like our society. While it’d be cool to see dragons attack a contemporary place, I still like the fact that Fire brings the monsters into the future, which means that the combatants go after them with guns and helicopters instead of the usual arrows and horses.

Though I usually dislike computer graphics in live-action flicks, but the work seen here seems pretty solid. The dragons integrate nicely with the action and show relatively few of the telltale CG signs. It helps that director Rob Bowman restricts our viewings of the critters. He doesn’t overexpose them, and via a combination of shadows, distant shots and quick cuts, we don’t get the time to see the flaws that likely would appear. This allows the dragons to come across as more believable than normal, so they work quite well.

Fire’s action sequences also seem fairly satisfying. None of them appear absolutely scintillating, but they largely deliver the goods. Again, the satisfying effects work allows them to succeed, and Bowman makes these moments reasonably lively and compelling.

Unfortunately, when Fire strays from the action, it tends to drag. The characters and performances seem average at best. We get little development of the personalities, and while the actors come across as perfectly competent, none of them bring much life to the parts. In general, the flick appears somewhat slow-paced and indistinct when we don’t see the dragons.

Overall, Reign of Fire provides a reasonably entertaining experience, but its various weaknesses make it less than terrific. When it focuses on action, it becomes lively and exciting. When it delves into characters and exposition, it tends to fall flat. Fire offers enough interesting material to make it worth a look, but it seems a little less consistent than I’d like.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A (DTS), A- (DD)/ Bonus C

Reign of Fire appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Fire provided a positive picture that showed a few small issues but didn’t display anything significantly problematic.

Sharpness appeared excellent. The movie appeared nicely crisp and distinct from start to finish. I noticed virtually no examples of softness or fuzziness in this tight and detailed image. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did notice a smidgen of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I noticed a few marks and some small grit. Otherwise, the film remained quite clean.

Reign of Fire displayed an exceedingly restricted palette. Really, the movie looked nearly monochromatic most of the time. What tones we saw appeared fine, as they seemed appropriately saturated and clear, but no one will mistake the film for a Technicolor extravaganza. Importantly, black levels came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail appeared nicely distinctive and appropriately opaque. Low-light sequences seemed well composed and were easy to discern. Overall, the image of Reign of Fire lost a few points due to some small blemishes, but it generally worked well.

Reign of Fire also offered most impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. For the most part, they seemed fairly similar, but I ultimately preferred the DTS mix. I’ll discuss it first and then briefly relate the differences I discerned between the two.

The film’s soundfield seemed wonderfully active and involving. Music displayed solid stereo imaging, and the track used effects to create a terrifically convincing environment. Elements popped up in logical places and moved between channels quite smoothly. The surrounds added a fine sense of place and took the mix to another level. The dragon sequences provided easily the best aspects of the track; the creatures flew around the spectrum and breathed fire in such a way that really brought the film to life.

Audio quality also appeared excellent. Speech came across as natural and warm, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music sounded bright and bold and displayed solid dynamic range. Effects worked best of all. They always seemed accurate and clean, and they packed a real punch at times. Bass response appeared deep and tight, with no boominess or looseness to mar the presentation. I expected a terrific soundtrack for a film such as Reign of Fire, and the results didn’t disappoint.

So how did the DTS track improve upon the Dolby Digital edition? It offered the usual upgrades often seen with DTS. Bass response came across as somewhat richer and more concise, and the soundfield presented a better-integrated and smoother experience. The Dolby version also seemed slightly shrill at times, a concern that the DTS one lacked. To be sure, the Dolby mix worked quite well, but the DTS track made the program a little more involving and exciting.

One odd note about the audio: it looked like the tracks might have lost a line. At about the 71:30 mark, the subtitles read “One pass – he flew over just once”, but neither the Dolby Digital nor DTS mixes included that dialogue. I never saw Fire prior to the DVD, so I don’t know if this represented an omission from the original release or if the subtitles added a non-existent line, but I thought I’d mention this weird discrepancy.

Though not stuffed with extras, Reign of Fire includes a few decent supplements. We start with Breathing Life Into the Terror, an eight-minute and 27-second featurette about the film. In reality, one should consider this to be a six-minute, seven-second program, for the first 140 seconds just shows the movie’s trailer. Once it ends, we get the standard mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews with director Rob Bowman, actors Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, visual effects supervisor Richard Hoover, creature supervisor Rob Dressel, co-visual effects supervisor Dan DeLeeuw, technical supervisor Hank Driskill, compositing supervisor Blaine Kennison, CG animation supervisor Eamonn Butler, digital effects supervisor John Murrah, and producers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum.

Clearly created as a promotional piece, “Life” doesn’t offer a lot of real information. To a certain degree, it just tells us about the story and how great everything is. However, it does provide a fairly decent look at the design and creation of the dragons. It runs through that topic pretty efficiently and adds some good material. “Life” certainly doesn’t excel at anything, but it generally seems interesting.

For a look at the film’s practical fire effects, we move to If You Can’t Take the Heat.... This 15-minute program offers commentary from special effects supervisor Dave Gauthier as well as footage from the set. We watch the creation and execution of all the fire elements as Gauthier informs us about them. The program also uses text at the bottom of the screen to give us definitions of terms and other useful information about the effects. I like the behind the scenes video and think this show works pretty well. Gauthier’s remarks get a little dry at times, but overall “Heat” contributes an interesting piece.

Our last program offers Conversations With Rob Bowman. This 11-minute and 52-second show gives us exactly what it states: an extended interview with the director. He comments on a lot of subjects; we get notes about his influences, his work on the X-Files, ideas about the dragon/monster genre, working with the actors, and a few other areas. The piece doesn’t substitute for an audio commentary, but Bowman seems chatty and engaging as he provides some nice insight into the production.

Finally, Reign of Fire includes some ads. We get the film’s theatrical trailer, presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Oddly, the trailer mistakenly states the movie’s set in 2084. In addition, the Sneak Peeks area offers promos for The Count of Monte Cristo and Bad Company plus the Kingdom Hearts and Reign of Fire video games.

Though it fell flat at the box office, Reign of Fire offered a reasonably entertaining experience. The movie provided an erratic piece of work but enough of it worked well to make it generally compelling. The DVD featured positive picture along with excellent audio and a small but mostly interesting roster of supplements. I didn’t like Reign of Fire enough to strongly recommend it, but folks who like this kind of flick should get a kick out of it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5227 Stars Number of Votes: 44
9 3:
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