Reign of Fire Script Review

Category: Reign of Fire News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: June 21, 2001 | Publication: TNMC Movies | Author: Hollyfeld
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"Reign of Fire: the latest film from X-Files director Rob Bowman which is set for release sometime next year. I have the priviledge of reviewing the August 29, 2000 draft of the script, which is credited to Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka with revisions by Matt Greenberg (The Prophecy II, Halloween: H20). As it reads here, Reign of Fire has the potential to be a truly fantastic action film - and the dragon movie that many of us have been hoping for for a long time.

Present day, England. Architect Karen Abercrombyís crew are building the next in a series of buildings designed to help bring London into the next millenium. Little do they know that by excavating under the ground near Big Ben they awaken The Ashley, a monstrous dragon whose brood will scorch the Earth and make humans an endangered species. In just a few decades only a small number of human outposts remain scattered around the globe, and they must defend themselves from constant attacks from Earthís dominant species: Dragons. Now only a few heavily-armed soldiers under the command of the dangerous Denton Van Zan find themselves crazy enough to fight back against The Ashley, but only Quinn Abercromby, Karenís son and the only person to have seen the beast and lived to tell the tale, knows what they are truly up against.

Dragonheart and Dungeons & Dragons are the only two films in recent memory that have attempted to bring dragons to the screen in all their glory, and I must say that Reign of Fire has the potential to leave both of them in the dust. For fantasy aficionados I must note, however, that there are numerous discrepancies between this film and many other dragon films of the past. These dragons cannot talk - they are not the highly intelligent dragons of faery tales. In this film, dragons are monstrous Pre-Cambrian lifeforms that exist only to devour all that they see, far more akin to the xenomorphs in Aliens or the velociraptors in Jurassic Park in both their goals and intelligence. There is no magic in Reign of Fire - the dragons are completely (and satisfactorily) scientifically explained. There are no knights in shining armor penetrating their hides with old-fashioned swords - their phosphorous lightning (read:fire) can melt tanks, and missile launchers barely affect them. No sir, these are not your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grand-Daddyís dragons. As depicted in the script they are both menacing and gorgeous, and even so the writers wisely opt not to deluge us with images of them. When shown they are shown in all their glory, but we are kept in suspense as to when they will show up, and when they do it is surprisingly often handled with discretion - especially in the beginning.

The question, of course, is no longer how well the dragons will be handled (answer according to this draft: Very well, thank you), but how well the humans fare in comparison. One of the great problems in action filmmaking is the creation of interesting and (just as importantly) believable characters to place in extraordinary situations. Usually, if weíre lucky, there are one or two characters that match this description.. In Reign of Fire, these characters are Quinn (Christian Bale, Newsies, American Psycho) and Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Amistad), two very different individuals who nonetheless convince the audience that they are the type who would survive an apocalypse. Van Zan is a dangerous dragon-slayer - the kind of Vietnam War hero who was both dedicated to his cause and willing to sacrifice himself and his men for the greater good. Quinn, on the other hand, is far more complex - a daringly brave man in a struggle but strikingly conservative when it comes down to hunting down The Ashley, Mother of All Dragons. What takes perhaps too long to sink in is that Quinn is a survivalist, willing to do whatever he feels is most likely to insure the safety of his people. Sometimes this involves taking a stand, but often this means avoiding a fight. For this reason many of his people begin to follow Van Zan instead, leading to conflict between the two. These characters provide a counterpoint to one another but are not polar opposites - although Van Zan is not as well developed as Quinn in this draft it is clear that the two merely have different strengths and weaknesses from each other, which leads them into conflict.

From this draft, Iím not sure McConaughey is effectively cast in his role - Van Zan reads as an older, battle-weary individual, better suited to someone like Kurt Russell or Arnold Schwarzenegger (the latter of which was once rumoured to have a cameo, although it seems unlikely now). However, the character could have changed some in the final draft, or - who knows - maybe McConaughey can pull it off. He can be a very good actor with the right material.

Most of the rest of the characters in Reign of Fire are not as interesting, and are seemingly derived either from clichť or from a single character trait that is inserted in the place of development. There are worse sins than this - most action films do it - and this draft at least has a balance between effective and ineffective handlings of said characters. 'The Pope', for example, is a surprisingly good character as a hard-assed boy with no legs. Also strong is Creedy (whose character name has apparently changed in the final draft), a cook who longs to fight if for no other reason than to be able to prepare food in a civilized kitchen once again. Not quite as effective are Gideon, a character whose only trait seems to be the fact that he is Jamaican, and Colleen (Izabella Scorupco, Vertical Limit) who suffers from 'Only Female In The Film-itis.' You know how it is - the only female in an action film, when she isnít a lead, tends to cover stereotypical ground. In this case, itís 'My How Masculine She Is.' This may not be as badly done as other films in recent memory, but the change of her name to 'Alex' in the final film will probably (though hopefully not) indicate the obligatory introduction joke. For example:

VAN ZAN You should meet Alex, our helicopter pilot. Personally killed so-and-so many dragons. QUINN He sounds great. ALEX (Off-Screen) She. (Quinn turns around - there is Alex, a WOMAN, standing behind him with one arm leaning on a wall.) ALEX You men are all alike. Always assuming that a great so-and-so has to be a man... Blah, blah, blah. Itís one of those writing devices that makes critics and fellow writers want to puke. Iím not saying itíll be in the final draft, only that Iím worried that it might as a result of the name change.

Reign of Fire is very strong dramatically, as well, beginning with a surprisingly suspenseful awakening of The Ashley, who makes quite an astounding entrance (which had better not be fouled up by the director - itís a potentially magical moment, here). From there we cut to 2024, years after the dragons gained dominance, and people are attempting to live their lives in some form of peace. One amusing moment comes when Quinn tells a group of children stories he has 'written', like the one about the giant Shark, or those ones with 'The Indiana Man.' (Apparently movies didnít survive the apocalypse.) After a dragon attack in which a character tragically dies (that is, itís supposed to be tragic - the character was not built up at all so the death fails to carry whatever resonance it was supposed to attain), Van Zan and his small army show up and the battles begin. These battles are very creatively handled - the first of which reads like a sequence unlike any we have ever seen before. Let us hope it is handled well. And the climactic battle with the Ashley is built up very suspensefully - Quinnís fear of the beast is so strong that we begin to wonder just how bad this monster can BE, and perhaps most surprisingly of all the answer turns out to be 'even worse.'

For a post-apocalyptic, special effects-laden film, Reign of Fire is curious in the way it attempts to find a balance between epic storytelling and a smaller-scale, more action-based feel. While the film is very much about a last stand against a seemingly all-powerful evil, there arenít any scenes of hundreds of humans uniting against the beast, and similarly no shots of hundreds of dragons attacking a city. There is very much a middle-ground in Reign of Fire, which is comparable in some ways to director Rob Bowmanís The X-Files movie - a film which teetered between grand-scale filmmaking with its themes and closing shots, and also smaller-scale noirish storytelling, with much of the film involving Mulder and Scully running around the country asking a lot of questions. This draft of Reign of Fire finds a far superior balance between the two styles of filmmaking (a balance probably struck for budget reasons), while also leaving the potential for even larger themes and struggles to be covered in a sequel.

Though occasionally similar to other blockbusters, Reign of Fire is written with a significant enough amount of flare and originality to put it near the top of the list of films to anticipate in 2002. Although this is not the final draft of the script I have reviewed today (there has been at least one more revision by Zak Penn, PCU, Behind Enemy Lines), there is certainly enough quality work already done to insure that this film should be a blockbuster. I have long been awaiting a truly great dragon movie, and I can say with absolute conviction that I think Reign of Fire is it."

(Review submitted by 'Hollyfeld.')