Dragonslayer and The Road Warrior--two great tastes that taste great together.
The year is 2022, and a little more than a decade has passed since the dragons came out of hibernation. Quinn (Christian Bale), whose mother inadvertently released the creatures, is the de facto leader of a band of survivors holed up in a castle in the English countryside. He and his charges eke out a meager existence, relying on a small parcel of crops for their survival and constantly fearing the appearance of a dragon. And then one day hope arrives in a most unexpected form: Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), an American soldier who leads a ragtag band of dragon hunters. Van Zan has hatched a plan to kill the only remaining male dragon, which he believes will end the beasts' reign once and for all, and he needs Quinn's help.
Many critics have already made note of this movie's dour nature, and there's no denying it's far too sober for its own good. Given its subject matter, you'd expect Reign of Fire to be a giddy blast, but you'd be wrong. Much like Underworld and its sequel, this movie treats a rather silly premise with a solemnity that wouldn't be out of place in a Bergman film. I'm not saying the filmmakers should have opted for a Stephen Sommers-esque take on the material (I pray no one ever uses a Sommers flick as a template), but a little levity wouldn't have hurt. Hell, the two movies from it draws its main inspiration aren't exactly light fare, but they both manage, in their own way, to be fun, and that certainly hasn't hurt their cinematic standings.
Despite being somewhat let down, I have to admit that the movie has a few things going for it. Director Rob Bowman (whose next movie, Elektra, somehow managed to be even more laughably straight-faced), handles both the action and (underdeveloped) human sides of the plot every well. And he keeps the pace chugging along, which is good because it doesn't really give you a chance to think about some of the more puzzling aspects of the story. (Millions of dragons across the globe and there's only one male? I don't know whether to envy or pity him.) McConaughey and Bale are both quite good; given the movie's tone, they're appropriately solemn and never play down to the material. (Am I the only one who thinks McConaughey's look is some weird sort of hillbilly riff on Nicol Williamson in Excalibur?) The visual effects, with a couple of exceptions, are excellent. Wolf Kroeger's elaborately messy production design is impressive, and Adrian Biddle's cinematography is excellent (the numerous close-ups of Izabella Scorupco are a definite plus). All of this combines to make the movie entertaining enough while it lasts, but it's still lacking that certain something needed to elevate it above the level of passable action flick.
The movie's visual scheme is as dark as the story itself; blacks, grays, and just about every earth tone you can imagine dominate the color palette. The 2.35:1 transfer showcases this look smashingly. Depth and detail are strong; black levels are spot-on. The few bright colors really pop (check out those tomatoes). And this is another example of video quality serving to undermine the effectiveness of some of the effects work; take a look at the attack on the castle or the compositing during the final battle. The transfer's not perfect, though. Horizon shots can be a little noisy, and the clouds in the helicopter attack sequence can be very noisy; I also noticed a couple of specks here and there.
This disc features the same excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 track found on the SD disc. Bass is deep and tight, dialogue sounds very natural, surround action is copious and immersive, and the abundant ambient effects are put to good use. Even better is the fantastic uncompressed PCM track, which is fuller, richer and more seamless than its Dolby counterpart. The Dolby track is also available in French and Spanish; English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
All of the extras from the SD version have been ported over here. Not that that's saying much...
Breathing Life Into the Terror (9 minutes) is an EPK-style look at the making of the movie, with much of the running time devoted to the creation of the dragon effects.
Below the Line: If You Can't Stand the Heat... (15 minutes) takes a look at the movie's numerous pyrotechnic effects.
Conversations with Rob Bowman (12 minutes) gives the director a chance to discuss his influences and approach to filmmaking.
Closing things out is the movie's theatrical trailer (which for some reason pushes the movie's timeframe forward by about sixty years).
Reign of Fire is a pretty good time-killer, but it's not a movie you'll feel compelled to watch on a regular basis, so I suggest you stick with a rental for this one.