24 January, 2011
Reign of Fire is a fun movie, but Reign of Fire is not a good movie. Not by any means. Not unless you want to staple "Ironic Laughter" and "Bizarre Hair Choices" next to things like "Dramatic Tension" or "Story."
I could spend time doing a step by step analyis of why this movie doesn't work (it's ridiculous, it's the grayest movie this side of The Road, it's a fuckin' dragon movie) and what could make it better (don't make a dragon movie), but that isn't any fun. Reign of Fire is what it is-- a silly, over-the-top movie about pretty decent actors fighting nonsense. It's a great movie to get drunk to, for, or around.
Part of me thinks that Reign of Fire only got made because like I Spit on Your Grave, Snakes on a Plane, or Hot Tub Time Machine, somebody wrote a really funny title and tagline on a cocktail napkin and their personal honor forced them to complete an idea that sounded that good in miniature. It's what we film majors call the "Roger Corman Technique." If you have a title that good, you just have to make it. You just have to.
That isn't what I was thinking about during the movie. The whole time-- what I find the most amazing-- is watching all of these male actors that you know very well in 2011 act in this movie that's (mostly) below their pay grade. It's a silly, pointless genre movie (and dragon movies are a sub-genre, I hate to say it) and here's Batman, nd that madam who got her throat slit in Deadwood, and, hell, even Leonidas and Matthew McConaughey, and they're all pretty darn good-- I mean, except for Gerard Butler, because he's been saddled with the Voice of Reason Role and the only time he's worth a damn is as GERARD BUTLER THIS IS SPARTA, ESQ. Even Mr. Shirtless Himself is pretty good-- in fact, I'd say he's the best thing about the movie.
They're all pretty darn good.
While Christian Bale-- who is obviously the better actor, if a bigger asshole-- is stuck with this boring role as British Farmerboy/Dragonslayer, McConaughey is this bigger than life Southern tank driver with a death-wish (he's even got Jeff Bridges' hair in Iron Man). He's awesome. I would watch a whole movie with just that character in it. The whole rest of the movie is a boring, Caledonian version of The Road Warrior*, but it wouldn't work for one second without these characters.
Most straight up genre movies probably have to lean on their talent more than any other kind of film. I imagine that when you're filming an Oscar Wilde play or a David Mamet script (yes, I'm aware they do plays, shut up, shut up, shut up) acting isn't that much of a concern. You've got the script right there. Even if I was reciting Glengarry Glen Ross, it almost works because the words just sound good together. You don't need an Al Pacino to make that script work (though it doesn't hurt). You don't need him to carry the damn thing.
But, when you've got a fucking dragon movie, you've got to give the audience somebody they want to look at-- otherwise, they're going to realize they're watching a goddamn dragon movie. This can't be that much of a revelation to anyone (even to me, who is making this up as I go along, basically). Better movies can do without better actors. Dragon movies do not have that fat to shed. it needs every goddamn calorie.
You can basically sit on your ass if you've got a script from the Bard. At the very least, you're not losing money on pre-production.
I'm reminded of the movie Outland, which is something I've written about here before. I'm reminded of it, mostly because I was yelling at people about it on the internet last night and, basically, I will use any excuse to talk about my agenda, which is weird films that I want to pretend that I discovered.
Outland has a lot of good things going on with it. As it usually goes with me, though, I'm not going to waste my time talking about the wonderful aspects of something. I want to talk about its shortcoming.
It all works though, because it's got Sean Connery in it. He is an eminently trust-worthy actor. With few exceptions is a movie he is in (physically, which I'll get around to explaining) a complete waste of time. That movie isn't the same without Sean Connery-- and this is early '80's Sean Connery, not burnt-out, not even in it for the money anymore Sean Connery. He's match fit in this flick. There is a chance it could have worked without him. All I know is that he's in it and I believe him as an honest, down-to-earth cop and it works.
(Also, Peter Boyle works perfectly as an antagonist because, you don't ever need to look at Peter Boyle for more than five seconds to figure out that he's the bad guy in the room. He's the opposite of Connery in every way that he needs to be.)
Then again, maybe that's indicative of the film's flaws. The fact that Matthew McConannsdfnlsdfn is the best part of the movie perfectly encapsulates why Reign of Fire is more or less a crappy movie. He does an excellent job, given the material, but he is not an excellent actor. That is telling.
I can't judge, though, I gave the damn thing three out of five stars on Netflix, because when you get down to it, I am really sold by that movie's choice of facial hair. It's a blind spot I've got.
SUB-NOTE: Talking about dragon movies and Sean Connery, remember Dragonheart? What the fuck was that movie? I can't even remember if that movie was worth a damn or not-- I mean, I'm sure viewing it as a snooty college graduate in 2011 will do it no favors, but I'm not even sure if 12 year old James can be asked to give a shit about that movie. The only thing I really remember about it-- and, again, maybe that can be taken as a sample of movie as a whole-- is that it had some really cool toys attached to it.
Hahah! Oh man, yes. This takes me back.
Alright, upon doing some research** I've found that Sean Connery played the dragon "Draco" in the movie. How fucking lazy is that? They couldn't spend the rest of the afternoon trying to come up with a less obvious name for a dragon? It's like they just wrote that in to the first draft and then somebody had an early afternoon golf match and didn't bother to Find and Replace it.
Are there any good dragon movies? There must be. Shoot me a line if you can think of one.
SUB-SUB-NOTE: The guy I was named after is in the movie Dragon Wars: D-Wars. Jealous? You're jealous.
SUB-SUB-SUB-NOTE: Hey, the director of Reign of Fire directed The X-Files movie and a bunch of episodes. Alright. He gets a pass.
* I am well aware of the fact that London is nowhere near Caledonia, but if that movie wasn't shot in Scotland, I'll eat my hat.
** No, I don't have any better way to spend my time, thanks for bringing that up.