Cinema Signal:

The Year's Best Science Fiction Collection

. "Reign of Fire"

Once again, earth is in a world of trouble.

A species of dragon has been silently entombed in London for eons and an excavation project releases him. He (it's a male) somehow births a brood of females to first protect him, then to feed on the earth. We dissolve to a number of years later and the earth is scorched with few human survivors.

Why "scorched"? Well, because these demons who fly have a nasal chemistry that produces what we know of as napalm, and they eat ash. And so, they're in survival mode scouring the countryside for food, and the few humans left are holed up in an old castle in Northumberland. They are led by the masculine, serious Quinn (Christian Bale) who has his hands full keeping his flock from their tendency to risk incineration by venturing out to their garden for food.

In a flight to stereotype, in this case the Brits' about Americans, a squad of heavy tanks, choppers and U.S. "cowboys" discovers their hideway. The leader, bald, cigar-chomping Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) sweet talks his way into the castle with the promise of killing the so-far invincible flying dragons and then going on his way. Strictly benign are his intentions and there's nothing like a common enemy to chew away natural distrust along with the stub of cigar that's always in his mouth, supposedly to enhance his manliness.

Not that we need such enhancement -- he's outfitted with a set of muscles that would shame Bruce Willis. In any case, we now have the two bands and a huge outlay of cash in the form of big sets, big effects, big armaments, trying to save earth by slaying those fire emitting critters in the sky. To dress it up, we have the beautiful helicopter pilot and Van Zan sidekick Alex, (Izabella Scorupco) with loads of well-applied make-up and hairs out of place only when they're supposed to be.

Oddly, the two guys don't get into it over her, seemingly because Van Zan doesn't really have eyes for her and, one supposes, because director Rob Bowman ("X-Files", "Alien Nation") doesn't want to shift our interest away from the main battle. But the two leaders do beat their chests a lot over their disagreements, and the pumped-up Van Zan proves his marine style superiority with merciless rage as he beats up on Quinn. McConnaughy had to do some serious weight room work for this role and one can only be impressed with the fine definition.

He doesn't get the girl in this pseudo-sci-fi but does he get the dragons? Well, we'd tell you but don't want to spoil it for the filmmakers who seem to think there's some surprises in the outcome. Let's just say that there's lots of good digital work here, some that's pretty obvious and full of seams, but the biggest holes are in the premise, which leaves so many questions unanswered. Like why they didn't plant their garden within the walls of the castle; why is the only beauteous female around so little sought after; and how did the male super-dragon create his females if he was the only survivor of his species?

In a devastated post-apocalyptic future of a writer's imagination I guess you just don't get post-analytical by asking such things.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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McConaughey, Scorupco and Bale, slaying dragons
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