Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:19 pm 
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Superb visuals make this a bit more than glorious, mindless fun

'Reign of Fire's' premise is simple: the world has been wiped out by airborne, fire-breathing dragons, who at first multiplied by the thousands but now themselves are starving and dying off. A few bands of people remain here and there trying to survive. Quinn (Christian Bale, with whiskers and glottal stops), who was on the scene as a boy in London when the first sleeping dragon awakened in a cave unearthed by an Underground project his mum was working on, leads a group of survivors in the north of England who're just trying to get a crop going for the next year and save a little mob of children. In comes Van Zan (Mathew McConaughey, with shaved head and brawny tattooed arms) leading an American helicopter crew. He's become a dragon slayer and since he's found there's only one male dragon left and it's somewhere around London, he's come to solicit aid. Quinn refuses. Van Zan pushes on to London without Quinn. They fail. He returns and begs Quinn to come as guide. What follows is the finale.

If you probe too deeply into the premise you're not going to have any fun, but fun is what this movie offers, glorious mindless fun and, above all, fabulous apocalyptic visuals of twisted metal, crepuscular landscapes, dark hulking ruins, and men crawling through them to fire off weapons at the evil birds, which look very graceful as they sweep through the skies and spurt out long expanding streams of fire. Shots are so stunningly composed you want them to freeze-frame. Within the dark end-of-the-world light there is amazing clarity. Working with Ridley Scott's cinematographer Adrian Biddle, X-Files director Rob Bowman has produced the best fantasy landscape this year next to 'Lord of the Rings.' When Van Zan leads a hunt in the sky, it's like a computer game, and sometimes we see the game through the eyes of the dragon and it looks like a degraded digital film. However, it's not ingenuity of conception but sheer aesthetic appeal that makes the visuals of this movie so good.

The other large positive factor is the very solid, mostly English cast including a number of appealing youngsters led by Scott James Moutter as Jared, Quinn's adopted son, not to mention Bale, who brings a striking level of naturalness and conviction to his role as the sensitive, conscience-stricken Quinn. Bale's a foil to McConaughey's American macho militarist icon. McConaughey, whose finely chiseled face can be seen staring in mirrors in 'Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,' is having a lark playing a brute here, but in the moments when he isn't shouting, he gives Van Zan almost as much conviction as Bale gives Quinn. Ladies are in short supply in this story: there's Alex (Izabella Scorupco) as Van Zan's helicopter pilot who winds up with Quinn, and for five minutes there's Alice Krige as young Quinn's mum. But since this movie's ideal audience might surely be young teenage boys, that's probably enough. Other things are lacking too, such as more variety in the dragons, more recognizable details of the wrecked London of the final scenes, some more colorful characters among Quinn's community, as in post-apocalyptic classics like 'Mad Max.' But to say that is to miss the point, which is that this is a fast, exhilarating ride that's a feast for the eyes. If you want to view all this as a 'B' horror picture, fine: just grant that it's a first-class version. To be seen, by all means, on a big screen, preferably in a big, old-time movie house.

July 16, 2002

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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