REIGN OF FIRE
April 14th, 2004
REIGN OF FIRE
By Gregg Chabot & Kevin Peterka
Revisions by Matt Greenberg
(Date of draft: August 29, 2000)
Reviewed by: Christopher WehnerWARNING: SPOILERS!
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
It's DRAGONSLAYER meets ALIEN, or maybe MAD MAX. Depends on which part of the story you like best, or hate least.
REIGN OF FIRE is a raucous fantasy/action-adventure story that will hit theaters nationwide in July. It stars Christian Bale (who plays Quinn Abercromby), Matthew McConaughey (Denton Van Zan), Gerard Butler, and Izabella Scorupco. The director is Rob Bowman, his credits include AIRBORNE and X-FILES.
This was a script that sold way back in 1996 by writing duo Gregg Chabot and Kevin Peterka, from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Spyglass Pictures rescued the project a couple years ago, right about the time D & D and THE LORD OF THE RIGNS were in development. Remember, no one ever wants to be the first in Hollywood to try something different.
Chabot and Peterka have had several other scripts sell including, THE GHOSTS OF OCTOBER. Which is based on an interesting premise dealing with Civil War criminals seeking stolen Confederate gold during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Also, IN A DARK WOOD, which gives us the tale of Robin Hood from the perspective of the Sheriff of Nottingham, also very intriguing. And finally, GALILEO'S WAKE, a kind of ARMEGEDDON rescue adventure, where we must rescue the passengers of a space shuttle that have crashed on a comet.
REIGN OF FIRE will be Chabot and Peterka's first produced credit, though according to various sources (Yahoo Movies for one), they may only receive a "Story By" credit. Which is virtually useless for a screenwriter. The script has experienced numerous rewrites. The draft I am discussing today is dated August 29, 2000 and is Matt Greenberg's revised draft. How much of the actual script is Chabot and Peterka's I do not know. It's safe to say that much of their original script has been rewrittenthough I'm not certain.
What is clear, is that Chabot and Peterka are inventive writers who seem to enjoy writing period pieces, but from unique perspectiveswhich is refreshing. They have an inventive and creative flare that allows them to write stories with interesting backdrops. Taking the familiar and placing it in the unexpected usually produces intriguing results.
I found REIGN OF FIRE to be everything a fantasy/action-story should be. A fantastic tale that every "Dungeons & Dragons" fan (the game, not the movie) will enjoy. It's also a timely production with the success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS still fresh, but fading enough that plenty of those moviegoers should flock to it. There are plenty of CGI and special effects opportunities in the script.
But is there a story in there worth seeing? Well, I'm not sure. I'm not a big fantasy fan, though I did play D&D as a kid. It just seems these kinds of movies never fulfill my own expectations. Is the ride fun? Sure, with the technology we have today we can make anything, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is proof of that. It wasn't so long ago when that movie would not have been possible. You can now add REIGN OF FIRE as well.
The story opens with Karen Abercromby and her son Quinn. It's modern day Central London. Karen is a forewomen on a construction team that unearths a mysterious cavern during their digging of a new subway system. Quinn is on the surface waiting for his mother to finish up. Karen was called down below after her team discovers the cavern.
While Quinn hangs out on the surface reading a book, his mother and her small group below are in grave danger. They have discovered a prehistoric beast, but are unaware of it as we are until it kills one of her people, and gravely wounds another. Even at this point it's not clear what the creature is. Karen grabs the fallen worker and starts to evacuate the tunnel. She gets to the surface where Quinn is waiting, only to be engulfed in a ball of flame, incinerated right in front of him.
The story then moves forward to the year 2024. Quinn is the leader of a kind of clan. They hide out in old Norman era castles. The men form "firemen" units to protect the crops that grow in a nearby fields. It's their only source of food. The earth is described as a barren wasteland with "mountains of ash" consisting of "human" remains. A dark and gloomy place void of pigmentation. At this point we're expecting the typical "hero's journey," but hopefully a much darker story than what we usually get. There is a nice opportunity here for that.
Quinn's clan is attacked by a flying beast, but what it looks like is hard to say at this point. It targets their crops. They appear to be very intelligent creatures. During this sequence we never catch more than a glimpse of the dragons. As a matter of fact, we haven't seen one in its entirety yet. Quinn and his people, most of them, make it back to the safety of the castle. But their food source for the winter is all but gone. The field is burning.
Quinn thinks they can make, but there is dissention among them. One of his men, Eddie, believes the time is now to move on. "We burrow like rats," he says. "Starve through another winter"
Eddie wants to go to London and take on the mother of all dragons, the one who killed Quinn's mother, and who they call "Ashley."
Though all they have are mostly ineffective weapons, some old WW II cannons and vehicles, axes and swords, some of the men in the group would rather fight and die, then starve to death. This takes place about 25 minutes into the story. At this point the story is unfolding nicely, and really works for the most part.
Now, you should be asking yourself, "How does one dragon conquer the world." Much like INDEPENDECE DAY, this story focuses only on one part of the world. How the dragons take over the world is explained. Though by the time this story is at an end, it has completely unraveled. What was a clever explanation for how we were doomed by these giant fire-breathing monsters is rendered laughable.
Not long after their crops are destroyed Quinn's castle is approached by a caravan of armored vehicles, nuclear age weapons including a tank. It's the American's to the rescue. I bet by now the British are sick of this in our movies. While the poor British scurry around with medieval weapons in filthy caves, the Americans ride in on a glorious chariot and fly a Black Hawk helicopter in to battle. These Americans are led by Denton Van Zan. A cocky, arrogant, and tough S.O.B of a leader. But of course, what else do we expect? Meanwhile, Quinn plays the typical level headed, always in control, and crafty British leader.
The Americans have a bloody arsenal. They are expert dragon killers who have wiped clean half of the Americas all by themselves.
I thought at this point the story could have done without brining in this element. There was an opportunity for what I think would have been a more compelling story. A truer "hero's journey," whereby Quinn rises up and takes on the challenge of confronting the dragon that killed his mother, (facing his fears) but not with the help of the Americans, but by himself. Which of course he does do in the end, but its not as dramatic and lacks narrative appeal the way it is executed in the script.
Bringing in Denton Van Zan and his men muddied the story. It's now Van Zan's story for while, where it could have been, and should have been, all Quinn's story. Van Zan is the conquering hero and Quinn is portrayed as a much weaker character than he should of been. His loss caused him to withdraw from confrontation with his inner demons, yet he is the leader of this group. They never would have allowed such a weak individual to lead them. So right there the story starts to unravel, it's lost all credibility. Whereas Van Zan's men want bloodthe loss they have suffered will be avenged. So it is some nice reflection between the two, but it is lost on the reader. I wanted the story to be more about Quinn, and less about Van Zan.
The dragon, Ashley, is a monstrosity of a creature. Able to turn huge castles into ruble and ash. She destroys without mercy, and is highly intelligent. She conquered the world, and when she is defeated the way she is, you're left scratching your head a little. By making the dragon so large and powerful, the writers corner themselves. Up to that point the action is spectacular. But the creative corner they wrote themselves into puts a vice grip on the ending, and suffocates it.
Creatures that were so devastatingly powerful, and in the end the dragon is killed in a fantastic and utterly confusing (only confusing in its stupidity) sequence that is to grandoise for its own good. The writers set me up for what I thought would be this incredible battle of men and machines versus the great dragon, and what I got was Quinn in an old WWII airplane. Where's an F-16 when you need one? Anyone remember the original ending of INDEPENDENCE DAY? One sequence in the ending reminded me of an ALIENS sequel gone bad. Dull, boring, and frankly it bothered me. I didn't get the money shot, if you're going to do this kind of a movie, you've got to give us the payoff.
This isn't a movie about characters. It's about special effects and action, which is fine. It's a fantasy, with plenty of action and some intriguing adventure. The main negative of the script is that it is its own worst enemy. Enough said. It was a fun read that surprised me a little. I did enjoy most of it. I really didn't think much of the project. And even though several other script reviewers loved it, I still wasn't sold. But I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's an exciting story, and a mythical journey that should look interesting enough to produce at the box office. The special effects will be impressive, or the movie will really fail. I just wish we could have more to say about movies lately than how cool the special effects will be. Seeing a Black Hawk helicopter tango with flying dragons should be a cool thing. However, this is a script that should have been left where it was, no offense to the writers, and something else with a little more story, a lot better characters, and a lot less violence developed instead. We need better movies; we need better writing. I'm tired of cool.