When this movie was first released in 2002, Joe and I went to see it at the theater with high hopes. It had been hyped, and it didn't quite live up to it at that time. This is why I hate hype. It unrealistically raises your expectations before you know anything about the movie. Since then, we have rented the movie and seen it for what it truly is--a victim of its own hype that is actually a good movie, and highly underrated now.
The concept seemed original enough--a new twist on the dragon myth. But when you think about it, we are not really entertained by concept. We are entertained by a good story with good characters.
Reign of Fire has both of those, in my opinion. The main character, Quinn, has a basic goal that we can all relate to: survival. What makes him endearing is that he is not simply concerned for his own skin, but also the others under his care, which includes many children.
Quinn is the protagonist, the dragons are the antagonist, and structurally, this movie couldn't be any more perfect. We're shown the inciting incident when Quinn is a boy. He is the one who let the dragon loose, so he has to be the one to off it at the end. And that is what ultimately happens. Simple, right?
But there has to be more depth than that or it would be quite boring.
Enter depth with a name: Van Zan. This character and his team are made to look like bad guys at first, but really, their goal is the same as Quinn and the gang--survival--they just go about their solution in a different way. Whereas Quinn takes a defensive approach, Van Zan takes an offensive one.
Pun. Totally. Intended.
He's a jerk, but he's earned the right to be (in his eyes, anyway), as you later find out. But his presence is what marks the change in Quinn's story. Again, this follows structure so closely it's almost scary, down to the minute he appears in the movie. Once Quinn sees a different angle, and loses his best friend (of course!), he has new incentive to take action. PROactive instead of REactive.
Then it's do or die time. Literally.
And in the course of these things, it doesn't matter that Van Zan bites it at the end in one of the coolest screen shots this side of the door-kick scene in Transporter, because Quinn must face the dragon, alone, as he did in the beginning. This is the always-necessary circularity that is needed for a good finish, a satisfying ending, both in movies and novels.
As I've said in previous posts about story structure, this movie also has an extremely quick denouement. Once the story question is resolved at the climax, there really shouldn't be much else for the reader/viewer to care about. Wrap it up. Call it a day.
While this movie does have its faults, they are minor enough to gloss over, and completely overshadowed by the fact that some genius screenwriter found a way to reference Star Wars without being lame, so I've officially given Reign of Fire the Sharp seal of approval as one of the New Classics. Enjoy.