Lions and tigers and... dragons? Oh my. Really, are they serious with this one? I'm down with fantasy, fairies and elves and all that, but I just don't get 'Reign of Fire.' I suppose the concept of dragon-hunters in a futuristic society, populated with lots of hot actors and cool creatures had potential. But where's the magic? The wonder? The adventure? The action? This movie is so dour and serious that it's all kind of a big bummer, really.
As 'Reign of Fire' begins, it is 2022. The Earth has been devastated by vicious fire-breathing dragons who have emerged from deep within the planet's core. The last vestiges of humanity now struggle for survival in various remote outposts. In a ruined castle off the English countryside, Quinn Abercromby (Christian Bale) is desperately trying to hold together a band of restless survivors. Salvation finally arrives when a group of American rogues show up, led by the hardened Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey). Van Zan claims to know a way to finally destroy all dragon-kind, and enlists Quinn to help lead a crusade. Ultimately a battle of wills ensues between the two men, threatening to end any hope for success. Can our intrepid dragon-hunters finally put aside their differences to defeat their monstrous enemies, and save all of mankind?
However silly it may be (and believe me, it's silly), 'Reign of Fire' is very well made. Director ('X-Files' vet) Rob Bowman has a very fine sense for action and always keeps the pace moving. The in-the-not-too-distant-future version of London is also impressively realized. I rarely like CGI-enhanced practical sets, but it's very well-done here -- the seams between what is real and what has been digitally-created are rarely visible. I also can't fault the performances. Bale is always intense, and invests even the most ridiculous contrivances of the script with utter seriousness. And while I'm not as big of a fan of McConaughey, at least he never condescends to the material -- both of these guys act like they really do believe in dragons.
What I found missing in 'Reign of Fire' was a light-heartedness. I was left with the impression that the film was going for a 'Blade Runner' meets 'Lord of the Rings' kind of vibe, and didn't want to go jokey. Which is fair enough, but attitude will only get you so far, and the concept is just so kooky that it's tough to take played straight. This isn't '1984' -- there is no meat to the story. So while I admire 'Reign of Fire' for finding a tone and sticking to it -- critics be damned -- I just wish I could have had more fun watching it.
'Reign of Fire' comes to Blu-ray in another 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, and it looks fabulous. Despite my misgivings with the film itself, I can't say I wasn't impressed by its visuals in high-definition.
'Reign of Fire' has a gritty look. Colors are quite desaturated, so everything is covered in grimy grays and browns. I guess there is a little bit of color in there, but primaries rarely, if ever, pop. Purity of color, however, is quite nice, with no chroma noise or smearing. The source is also in great shape -- I spotted no blemishes, speckles or dropouts. Blacks are excellent -- this is one dark movie -- but detail holds up smashingly well, with excellent shadow delineation and often tremendous depth. The image frequently looks three-dimensional, and despite the color processing, I didn't find the transfer too artificial.
My only complaints stem from a bit of print wavering. Contrast sometimes seemed to flutter, particularly in expansive shots of vast panoramas and the like. I also detected a bit of noise in the same kind of material, with most gray skies looking a bit too alive. On the plus side, major compression artifacts such as macroblocking and posterization are not present, nor any edge enhancement. Despite minor drawbacks, 'Reign of Fire' remains sharp and impressive throughout.
Disney serves up a nice uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (encoded at 48 kHz/16-bit) for 'Reign of Fire,' and it sounds just like I imagined it would -- big and loud and bombastic. I guess that doesn't necessarily make it great, but it sure provides a lot of ear candy.
Dynamics are certainly forceful. The level of depth and subtlety to the entire frequency range is exemplary. Even minute sounds are clear and distinct, with a palpable realism. Low bass chugs along very nicely. The scene where a dragon makes his first appearance in an elevator shaft is a great example -- you'll feel every one of his roars, not to mention all the gut-punching explosions. Dialogue holds up well against the din, with all the silly lines coming through clearly without any volume adjustment. Surrounds also rock out, with plenty of seamless pans and imaging that hit each speaker with pinpoint accuracy. For pure high-def sonic bliss, 'Reign of Fire' is up there with the best soundtracks currently on Blu-ray.
Disney has not dropped any of the standard-def DVD extras from the Blu-ray version of 'Reign of Fire.' However, in this case, that's something of a mixed blessing, since the material is all pretty bad.
First up is the hokey 9-minute EPK, "Breathing Life into the Terror." Just another extended commercial, it even begins with the theatrical trailer for the movie. Not a great sign. The rest is all bland on-set interviews and a plot/character recap, as it seems the movie wasn't even finished when the featurette was completed.
Little better is "If You Can't Stand the Heat," which takes a look at all the fire effects in the movie. The behind-the-scenes footage is nice, but at only 14 minutes, don't expect much depth.
By far the best extra is the 12-minute "Interview with Director Rob Bowman." The 'X-Files' vet is a likable chap, and discusses his influences, stylistic approach to 'Reign of Fire,' and his thoughts on the cast. No, it is not a replacement for a full-on audio commentary, but I guess something is better than nothing.
Rounding things out is the film's Theatrical Trailer proper. At least it's presented in full 1080p video, unlike the rest of the extras, which are all presented in measly 480i.
'Reign of Fire' is a pretty silly film, but you wouldn't know it by the movie's tone, which takes all of this nonsense ultra-seriously. Still, fans of the film should still enjoy this Blu-ray release. The transfer is great, as is the soundtrack, and no extras have been lost in the trip over from standard-def DVD. That doesn't make 'Reign of Fire' a great movie, but hey, it's about dragons, so like, cool!