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Jay Kirell @JasonKirell
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Okay, let's do a deep dive of the criminally underappreciated film "Reign of Fire."

*Mute this thread now if this doesn't interest you*
Just some background before we begin, Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic fantasy film that was released in 2002.

You might not remember it because it came out the same year as another high profile fantasy film, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
For a seemingly forgettable B movie, the cast is bananas.

Christian Bale, 3 movies removed from American Psycho and 3 movies before Batman Begins.

Matthew McConaughey, stuck doing rom-coms, one film from The Wedding Planner and one film from How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.
Gerard Butler, who at this point in his career was still a supporting actor at best. It would still be four years before he would go on to star in 300.

And Alexander Siddig, fresh off his run on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and a few years before his lead in Kindom of Heaven.
The film was a commercial flop, costing $60m to make and only bringing in $80m at the box office.

One thing it is notable for, besides the cast, is that it is widely considered the first film to get the visual effects right for large-scale creatures.
Prior to this film, the only other dragon movie with comparable visual effects was Dragonheart.

Dragonheart's sfx were considered groundbreaking at the time, but they hardly are the model for realistic dragons nowadays.

Reign of Fire took dragon effects to the next level.
So, if you liked how Smaug looked in the Hobbit trilogy, or how the dragons on Game of Thrones look, thank Reign of Fire.
And now onto the film...
The story picks up with Christian Bales character Quinn as a young boy in London.

The first scene is him walking through a deserted public square, surrounded by a bunch of pigeons flying around him in slow motion.

The boy is off to visit his mother, who is the foreman on a project to expand the underground railway tunnels.

He arrives on site, goes down to where the diggers have just come upon a void in the rock underneath London.
One of the workers, upon discovering the void, urges young Quinn to GO IN THE HOLE AND EXPLORE WHATS INSIDE.

Apparently Britain did not have workplace safety rules back in 2002.

Of course, boys being boys, Quinn decides to crawl in.
The boy starts to walk around the giant crevice until he comes upon a wall that doesnt seem to be made of rock. He touches it.

Just then he's startled by a small fire that forms out of nowhere on the floor next to him.

The boy notices flames seeming to drip down from above.
Quinn looks up and sees a bright light and movement.

Then the head of a dragon appears and spits goo on his face.

Seriously. It just spits this clear liquid on him.

The boy runs out of the cave and back to his mother.

His mother looks at him. The boy's eyes are dark red.
His mother takes him to the aid station and pours water in his eyes while some of the other diggers go over maps just outside the hole.

One of the diggers attempts to light a cigarette. A gust of...wind?...blows out his match.

Nope not wind. Dragon breath.
The digger turns around just in time to see a giant wall of flames heading towards him.

He dead.

Quinn and his mother see the flames and immediately head for the elevator to escape. They get most of the way up before the dragon crawls up after them.
It's massive. Almost completely takes up with width of the excavation tunnel.

Quinn and his mother scream. The dragon peers into the elevator cab before continuing his climb out.

A bunch of jumpy cuts and we see the cab is partially crushed from the dragon squeezing past it.
Quinn's mother is dead, crushed in the elevator.

Cut to a grown up Quinn providing a voiceover for a letter he's writing, presumably to anyone left alive after he dies:
"I've kept this for years, because some day it'll be up to you. I don't want you to be afraid. I want you to understand. Knowledge is the only weapon we have left. In the beginning it was ignorance that destroyed us. I saw the first, but soon the world saw millions...."
"No one knew how they spawned so fast. They swarmed like locusts, burning everything in their path. Driven by one purpose - to feed. Even then we couldn't believe they were real. Ancient man had made them into myths, but nature had made something far more terrible...."
"Too late our scientists had discovered their true identity, an ancient species that had turned the dinosaurs to dust, whose ash had brought on ice ages. Who, in eons past, had scorched the earth & slept, waiting for the earth to replenish itself, to start their cycle anew...."
"Our weapons shot fire back at them, but for every one of them killed a hundred took It's place. They seemed invulnerable. We could only look on as our leaders used their greatest arsenal to destroy them. But in the end we only helped them. So the world burned...."
"The few of us that survived fled the cities, found shelter where we could. You have to understand our past, bc you will decide our future. They're starving now & they're more dangerous than ever. We have to outlast them. Only one species is getting out of this alive."
That was just the voiceover narration telling us how we got here.

Obviously, in this movie and many others, dragons are an allegory for nuclear weapons.

So @NuclearAnthro you still wanna hate on this film?
The film transitions to current day, which is the year 2020, 18 years after the dragons were discovered.

A shirtless Christian Bale is digging underground and seems to be in charge of a bunch of people.
Bale is pretty buff in this film. This was right around the time he did radical body changes for his role in this film, then the Machinist and then Batman Begins.
Quinn is alerted to some disturbance outside. It's not dragons, but one of the men under his protection, who wants to go off and harvest food with his family at a garden a few miles away.
Bale stops him before he can take a truck to go off, saying the vegetables aren't ripe yet and picking them now before the plants germinate will leave them without seeds for next year's harvest.

The man is unconvinced, saying there isn't going to be a next year's harvest.
They haven't heard from surrounding groups of survivors in months. For all they know they could be the last humans left alive.

The man has already lost his wife and two children. He is determined not to let his three remaining kids starve.

Bale takes the keys out of the truck.
They seem about ready to throw down when Gerard Butler appears, telling the man that if he leaves he s never going to be allowed to return and will have to spend his days outside of the castle.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention they're all living inside a castle - because castles are made of stone and don't burn easily.

That kinda makes sense.

How they have electricity and running vehicles 18 years after dragons decimated the world makes significantly less sense.
This is one of those aspects of post apocalyptic movies you just have to roll with.

No, vehicles won't be able to run almost two decades after the last gas stations were around. Even if they scrounged for gasoline the gas itself would have gone bad in a few years, if not months.
You just gotta roll with it. So let's roll with it.

The guy seems to accept that he's not going to be able to leave, but looks up at someone standing watch in a tower. The two share a look.

Afoot, a plot seems to be.
We transition to later that evening with an excellent scene, probably the only one played for laughs in the movie.

It's Butler and Bale putting on a live reenactment of Star Wars for the 20 or so children who live in the castle.

It truly is a wonderful scene.
Since the children have never seen a movie, let alone Star Wars, they believe it's just a story Bale made up. They recreate the "I am your father" scene and the look of astonishment on the children's faces is amazing. The kids are so into it.
The kids want another story before bedtime, but Bale says no. Before sending them off he makes them recite a prayer:
"What do we do when we wake?"
"Keep one eye on the sky."
"What do we do when we sleep?"
"Keep one eye on the sky."
"What do we do when we see them?"
"Dig hard. Dig deep. Run for shelter and never look back."
That's a heavy sort of prayer to have children recite before bed, but in a world with dragons it's probably good to teach them lessons early.
Moving on, the dude from earlier who tried to take the truck actually ends up stealing it while everyone else was asleep. The watchtower guard helps sneak them through the gates.
The next morning we see the dad and his three kids still driving towards the garden. They're all dressed in black cloaks. They come upon the garden, which appears to be a few hundred tomato plants. They start picking the tomatoes, eating a few as they pluck them.
Back at the castle, a hawk - which serves as the castle's dragon early warning system - starts to cry out. An alarm is sounded. The children are gathered and taken to the deepest underground part of the castle for protection.

One of the children tells Quinn the dude left.
Back at the farmers market, the dude and his kids are still picking tomatoes when the hawk flies overhead. A few rocks crumble over at a nearby ridge and they know a dragon is close.

A second later a dragon appears. He roasts one of the guy's sons and a large portion of plants.
The dragon circles overhead and shoots fire all around them, burning their vehicle and even more of the food supply.

The family is trapped, flames all around them. The father doesn't know what to do.
Then at the last moment, through the wall of flames walks Quinn, in full fire protection suit. The truck he came with has water cannons attached to it and it sprays down a path so the family can escape.
Three trucks are sent and they line up in a convoy to head out. Just as they start to roll the dragon drops down right in front of the lead truck.

He opens his mouth wide and it's here we get our first real good look at the dragons and how their physiology works.
Later on in the movie it's explained that the dragons aren't really breathing fire. What they're doing is secreting two different chemicals from glands in their mouths that, when they react with oxygen, create a napalm-like substance.
Also, the design of the dragons in this movie is really interesting. They look dirty. They look beaten up. When they extend their wings you can see rips & tears & holes from where they've been shot over the years.

These are dragons that have been fighting humans for 20 years.
Just a little detail in the design that tells a story itself.

Anyway, the other two trucks back out and managed to escape. As they're heading away they see the dragon walking around the burned tomato field.

It makes no attempt to chase after them.
"He's not worried about us, he just wants the damn ash off that field," Quinn says, as they head back to the castle.

Maybe it's because the dragon already ate one dude and he was full. I'm not sure why supposedly starving dragons would just let potential food escape like that.
Note - these aren't giant dragons like on Season 7 Game of Thrones. These are smaller. Think the dragons from season 5 or 6, whenever Danerys locked her two other dragons in the crypt in Mereen. About that size. Maybe 20/25 feet long.
Back at the castle, Quinn and Butler share a drink of post-apocalyptic moonshine and discuss how they're going to survive with half their crop destroyed.

The camera pans over to an old copy of Time magazine with this cover:
I hope whoever took that photo won a Pulitzer or something.
The film pans over Bale looking at old newspaper and magazine stories, chronicling the dragons' destruction of New York, LA, Paris, etc.

Cut to Alexander Siddig's character, who mans an old CB radio, listening for anyone. He hears someone for the first time in years.
He tells a sentry to scan the roads. The guard puts on binoculars and notices a freaking tank and a convoy of trucks rolling down the road towards them.

The alarm is sounded. The children are sent away. Bale reaches for his gun and goes to get ammunition.
He spills out an ammo can and about eight measly bullets fall out. That's probably why they didn't take any guns on the rescue mission. They don't have the ammo to spare.

In fact, most of the weapons they do have in the castle are hunting rifles.
This is a nice touch. The folks in the castle aren't warriors, they're not military. They're just regular people who found a way to survive.

They're not armed for battle. Maybe a handful of men live inside the castle who could fight. The rest are women and children.
That makes Quinn's decision in the upcoming scene much more understandable.
They start to man the walls, watching the convoy of five or six trucks mounted with .50 cals roll up to the front gate.

The lead vic, the tank, stops at the gate. The hatch pops open and out emerges Matthew McConehey, going full on Apocalypse Now:
"There's only one thing worse than dragons," Gerard Butler quips. "Americans."

McConehey plays a character named Van Zandt. He asks who's in charge. Quinn goes down to meet with him.
Van Zandt says he was with some, I assume, National Guard sort of outfit, the "Kentucky Irregulars."

He said he and his men flew from America to Britian, lost 122 men and is looking for a place to hold up for a day before moving on.

Quinn doesn't trust him.
Quinn doesn't want to let them through the gates.

"Don't be stupid," Van Zandt says. "We can do this easy, or we can do this real easy."

Probably the best line in the film.
Van Zandt shows Quinn a tooth he claims to have pulled off the first dragon he killed. He explains how he discovered dragons have great vision during the day and even better vision at night, but at dusk their eyes can't focus. That, he says, is when they're most vulnerable.
Quinn eventually let's them inside and as Van Zandt and his men are disembarking Quinn and Butler loom up to see a freaking helicopter fly over the castle.

Quinn starts to believe this guy might be the dragon slayer he says he is.
Van Zandt steps off the tank and tosses a fresh apple to one of the kids.

The helicopter pilot steps out, she's introduced as "US Cavalry" and she's not wearing one of their stupid hats, so points for that.
The pilot is played by Izabella Scorupco, who was the Bond girl in Goldeneye.

She's basically a poor woman's Charleze Theron.

She also speaks with such a noticeable Polish accent it's almost distracting, and I never pay attention of accents.
She introduces the three men behind her as archangels, a group of dudes who jump out of helicopters to chase dragons and shoot them with nets in midair. She says they last an average of 17 seconds once they leap out.
Later on Great Value Charleze Theron shares a cup of tea with Quinn. They discuss his past and how he got here.

Then the alarm sounds. Another dragon has appeared.

Van Zandt has his men kit up and head out to kill it.

How they go about hunting dragons is very cool.
They have these vertical spikes that act as a 3D mapping system. Three guys on motorcycles head out in different directions to set up the verticals so they can triangulate the location of not just the dragon, but the archangels as well.

The first two get set up right away.
The third is handled by a redshirt named Piscatella, whose name gets more screen time than the actor who plays him as McConehey repeatedly shouts "C'mon Piscatella" roughly 345 times in the span of about a minute.
Eventually Piscatella gets killed killed on his way to set up the third vertical.

In the air the helicopter is climbing to 50,000 feet and gets set upon by the dragon. The archangels jump out. Quinn realizes they won't be able to see the dragon unless they get the verticle up.
Quinn takes a horse (where tf did that come from) and sets out to retrieve the third verticle.

Quinn sets it up and they have a 3D field of view.

The dragon then attacks the dudes who jumped, chasing after the one who jumped out first.
The two other jumpers are trailing behind the dragon and shoot their nets at it. It catches the dragon and the first jumper starts to fan out to slow his descent.

Then we see the nets fly past the two rear jumpers.
The first jumper looks back and sees the dragon on his tail. He shoots fire at him, forcing the jumper to straighten out and fall faster.

The camera pans back to the dragon, who slows down and pulls back.

The jumper looks forward again, just in time to see the ground.

Back in the air the other two jumpers are still falling. The dragon swoops up and gobbles up one of them while the other is able to open up his parachute and land safely.

Van Zandt then gets in the radio & tells Quinn to ride his horse into a quarry as bait, bringing it to him.
Quinn does so and just as he appears over the ridge Van Zandt gets on top of a truck and fires a gigantic harpoon.

Quinn ducks and the harpoon strikes the dragon in the chest. It lets out one final blast of fire that Van Zandt dodges before it crashes to the ground, dead.
Van Zandt goes over to inspect the beast, which is pretty mangled after that landing.

He hacks into its face to rip out a tooth.

(these are not bad sfx at all)
You can see the influence this movie had on the Game of Thrones dragon designs.
Later on in the evening the inhabitants of the castle are having a celebration, playing Jimmi Hendrix and drinking and having fun.

Van Zandt and his men walk in and shut that shit right down.

McConehey's speech is pretty good:
"Envy the country that has heroes, huh?" he shouts, with a big smile on his face, before getting serious.

"I say pity the country that needs them. What are you celebrating, one dragon down, three men dead? Oh yeah, at that rate we might be getting somewhere in 320 years."
"Is that what you want? You want a little accommodation? No. These beasts live on ash. They feed on death. There's no middle ground. Not for them. Not for us. Sure as hell not for my men who died out there today. You go ahead, have your little soiree. Personally you disgust me."
McConehey may have come across like a dick in this scene, but his motivations are understandable. He lost three men helping these people. He just arrived back from retrieving two of the bodies and he comes back to find ppl who didn't lose anyone celebrating.
This is about as much character depth as we get in this movie. It's not much, but it is welcome.

Later we see Quinn riding his horse through their makeshift graveyard as Van Zandt watches the burning of his men's bodies.

The two men approach each other.
"What are you doing here, Quinn?" Van Zandt asks.

"You're standing on ground where I've buried hundreds. What are you doing here?"

"I lead. You follow."

Van Zandt is getting ready to usurp Quinn.
Back inside the castle, Sam's Cola Charleze Theron explains to Quinn that the big bull male dragon isn't actually a male at all, but a female. In fact, all the dragons they've killed and all the dragons they've seen have been females.

There is only one male dragon.
If they kill the male, they can wipe out the species.

Quinn says he thinks he knows where the male is - London - right where he first saw them as a child.

Van Zandt wants to take Quinn and some of his men and go hunt it. Quinn disagrees.
Quinn says someone he knew tried that once, lost 90 men and the dragon backtracked where they came from and killed everyone.

Quinn doesn't want to put his men in danger.

Van Zandt insists. Quinn says she made a mistake letting them inside. He tells Van Zandt to leave.
Van Zandt heads off. Government cheese Charleze Theron asks Quinn why he doesn't want to go. He says it's where his mother died.

Just then Alexander Siddig comes in shouting for Quinn about Van Zandt. He's outside recruiting volunteers to go to London.
Four of Quinn's men step up to volunteer. Van Zandt says the volunteer portion is over with and tells his guy to select the six strongest men and take them.

Quinn comes running out. He's screaming. He and Van Zandt start fighting. Quinn gets his ass kicked.
Crazy eyes Matthew McConehey is a win.
Van Zandt leaves with 10 of Quinn's men. Quinn looks defeated.

McDowell's Charleze Theron walks over to Quinn and gives him a bottle of iodine for his cuts.

She leaves in the helicopter to provide overwatch for the convoy as it heads out.
Later on in the evening we see the convoy pull up to an area about six miles outside of London.

The convoy stops as the road is blocked off by debris. Van Zandt tells Toasted Oats Charleze Theron to circle back and find them a way around.
She flies off. Van Zandt steps out of the tank. Just then a giant fireball appears over the horizon.

It's the male dragon.

It swoops over them a few times before it mounts a frontal assault. Van Zandt narrowly missed getting roasted as he dives under the tank.
The rest of the convoy is roasted. It's a really good scene that shows off how much bigger the male dragon is than the females.

Over the radio, Alexander Siddig hears Kroger brand Charleze Theron radio for Van Zadt, with no reply.

He then looks up and his face glows orange.
Out in the tomato field, Quinn is picking whatever plants he can find. He sees fire coming from the castle and gets back on his horse.

Inside the castle children are screaming, flames are everywhere. Gerard Butler is trying to get as many kids as possible down into the shelter.
Outside, Quinn arrives at the main gate and looks up to see the castle completely engulfed in flames.

The male dragon stands over the castle, flies off and seemingly away.

Quinn rushes inside.
Once inside the castle seems deserted. Everything is on fire. Eventually he runs into Butler, carrying a child. Quinn asks if everyone is in the shelter.

A child screams from upstairs, Quinn goes after her.
There are two kids upstairs, Quinn picks up one while the other clings to a door, afraid to let go.

In a tiny, but great scene, Quinn asks her gently twice to let go. She's still clinging. He then screams at her "LET GO!" and she does. He carries both kids down.
I'm all here for realistic portrayals of adults screaming at kids who aren't listening.
Quinn eventually gets to the shelter. He says he wants to go back out to see if there's more people he can save. Gerard Butler says it's too dangerous and that he'll go. Quinn tosses him a fire extinguisher.
And then in what is probably the 1-B money shot in the film, we cut to a wide shit outside to see the gigantic male dragon standing on the castle.

It goes full Godzilla 2014 and just unleashes a giant spew if fire right onto it.

I mean, look at the size of this thing:
Gerard Butler is right outside the door to the shelter still, and the blast of fire closes the door on him.

He dead.

Debris piles up and everyone in the shelter is trapped as the dragon continues its assault.
Inside the shelter Quinn is having in the door, children are screaming and crying. Quinn walks over to them and tries to calm them down.

He starts to recite the prayer from earlier in the movie, but can't finish it.

A random woman steps in to help. The kids calm down.
The next morning the kids are all asleep when Quinn hears noise outside the shelter door. He bangs on it. The door starts to move.

Outside is Van Zandt and Veggie Omelette MRE Charleze Theron. They've come back!
They gather up all their remaining weapons, a few rifles and some crossbows. They head out in the chopper to London to have the final confrontation with the male.
They arrive in London, which is a smoldering ruin. There are hundreds of female dragons all over the place as they creep up upon where they think the male is.
It's obvious they won't be able to make it past that many dragons. Fortunately, just when things seemed like they were going to be impossible, the male swoops in out of nowhere and starts EATING THE FEMALES.
Here's a shot that not only shows the desolation of London, but the scale in size between the male and the females.

(that's a female in its mouth)
The rest of the females scatter and Bale makes the third joke in the movie:

"Look on the bright side, not we've got him outnumbered three to one."

Guardians of the Galaxy this movie is not.
So the three of them head down to make a plan, we see some Predator-like monster-eye-view as the dragon appears to see them. They head through an underground passage that'll lead them up to a square where they can pop up and ambush the dragon.
Before they continue on, Van Zandt tells Quinn their main weapons against the dragon will be magnesium-tipped C4 arrows that have a range of about 50 feet, so when he fires he has to be right on top of it. Also, wait until it's about to fire bc that's when he exposes his chest.
Well, that sounds simple.
Eventually they make it up the shaft - the same shaft with the elevator that Quinn's mother died in at the beginning of the movie.

They find a hiding spot and formulate a plan. Quinn will take the West wall, Van Zandt the north and Military Special Charleze Theron will stay put.
Van Zandt says they have about a 12 second window to move from location to location and he doesn't think the dragon can count.

I mean, maybe it can't, but it was smart enough to track their convoy back to the castle. Does he not remember that? That was like five minutes ago.
So Quinn and Van Zandt spot their opening. They head out to their respective positions. Quinn has a rifle and a crossbow. Van Zandt has a crossbow and an axe.

The dragon swoops down and almost hits Quinn with its tail, but he manages to avoid it and make it to the wall.
Van Zandt makes it to a water tower and starts to climb. He makes it to the top and calls out for Fuller House Charleze Theron to run to him so he can use her as bait to bring the dragon close enough to shoot.
She does, and when she takes off the dragon follows her. Van Zandt calls out to the dragon and lines up his shot. The dragon breaks off from following her and rises to meet Van Zandt at the top of the tower.

He fires. The dragon breaths fire and the arrow explodes.
The dragon circles back around and then in what is probably the most memorable scene in the movie - and the one @PhilKlay has been waiting hours for - Van Zandt takes his axe and...well...just watch.
Hahahahahaha *breathes* hahahahahahahahaha
After this Quinn finds the last C4 arrow and shoots the dragon in the mouth, exploding it JAWS-style.

He and Trump University Charleze Theron live happily ever after.
Overall this is not art. This is a spectacle movie.

The writing was okay. The dialogue was okay.

It's really a film driven by a great premise and great actors, even if so wouldn't consider any performance here to be the best any of them have done.
It's more like a guilty pleasure movie. You kinda have to be into dragons, or at least into post-apocalyptic fantasy stuff.

It's a dark movie, too. Its color pallet basically 800 different shades of gray. This works, though, as the dragons don't come across as fake.
McConehey and Bale obviously are what made this movie work. Without them this is basically a Sci-Fi channel movie of the week.

But they are pretty damn good in this, McConehey especially. It's easy to see how he resurrected his career right after his run of bad rom coms.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the second edition of deep dive movie reviews.

Stay tuned for my next one later in the week. I'm not putting it up for a vote bc I already know what I'm going to review...
The director cut edition of Kingdom of Heaven.
Thanks guys. Hope you enjoyed this. Apologies to those who couldn't figure out how to mute this thread.

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