VAULTED TREASURES: MOVIES YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT, YOU FORGOT,
... OR YOU FORGOT TO LOVE MORE THE FIRST TIME AROUND!
REIGN OF FIRE
Dir. by - Rob Bowman
Prod. by - Richard D. Zanuck, Lili Fini Zanuck,
Screenplay - Matt Greenberg,
Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka
Screenplay - Matt Greenberg,
Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka
Director of Photography -
Edited by - Declan McGrath, Thom Noble
Production Design -
Music - Edward Shearmur
Run Time: 102 mins.
Run Time: 102 mins.
Production Companies - Touchstone, Spyglass Entertainment, The Zanuck Co.
Dist. by - Buena Vista Pictures
GullCottage rating(**** on a scale of 1-5)
_______ "Knowledge is the only weapon we've got left.
In the beginning it was ignorance which destroyed us" _______
In recent days countless millions around the globe forced to “shelter in place” at home due to the spreading coronavirus have not only found themselves rediscovering old fave pleasures like family meal times, reading, and tossing the ball around the backyard with the kids, but also, perhaps unsurprisingly, enjoying one which in less restrictive times might have been considered a lazy and irresponsible betrayal of adulthood, ... or at the very least the last Jay & Silent Bob-like refuge of the perenially "blunted" - bingeing on movies for days at a time. Who’d a thunk it, huh? And among the most popular filmic subjects have been (no drum roll because ultimately it's “No duh!”, right?) those dealing with pandemics and global disasters. Netflix recently reported that on Friday March 20, 2020 alone the docu-series PANDEMIC: HOW TO PREVENT AN OUTBREAK, the CW mini-series CONTAINMENT, and the feature films OUTBREAK (1995) and CONTAGION (2011) topped it’s charts, with flicks like 2012 and WORLD WAR Z following closely behind.
|Margaret Atwood / Rod Serling|
“No duh?” because this is not only what art does, but (more importantly) this is what art / the arts were always intended to do. It is the very reason for art's existence in all of it's facets. Yes, including the one-legged, buck-toothed, "bastard son of a thousand maniacs" offshoot of the family - film. Former Smithsonian / Renwick Gallery director Elizabeth Broun once oh-so-accurately stated that “Art is not always about pretty things; it’s about who we are, what happened to us, and how are lives are affected”. Rod Serling famously acknowledged that “… with THE TWILIGHT ZONE I knew I could get away with Martians saying things Republicans and Democrats couldn’t”, and in a 2018 interview with The Guardian, THE HANDMAID’S TALE author Margaret Atwood - commenting on the eerie contemporary prescience of her 1985 novel in conjunction with the rising #MeToo movement - set things very straight, stating …
Speaking as a writer / screenwriter myself (and I believe for others too), we often stare out the window wondering what makes something genuinely scary, funny, sexy or whatever. And the answer to that question is usually what happens to be occurring outside that window on any given day. It’s all about context: how what was once not considered scary or “effective”, “deep” or “pertinent”, and what may have previously been written off as little more than “fanciful” or any number of other dismissive terms, can - in one instant / with one event - suddenly find itself pivoting on the dime into the exact opposite; and, not unlike Atwood’s HANDMAID‘S TALE, becoming “prophetic“, “observant“ or “perceptive“. Of course the “vice versa“ version of that holds true as well. And forgive one more example, but it’s the best of ‘em of all - a personal one Stephen King relates in his sprawling 1981 non-fiction look at culture, pop culture and more (it’s also perceptively funny as f**k too!) DANSE MACABRE.
In one reminiscence the Maestro Of Horror relates how at age ten he and a group of friends eagerly piled into a local theater to see Ray Harryhausen’s EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. And they were enjoying the hell out of it’s escapist thrills - what with those awesome-to-this-day stop motion animated flying saucers descending from the clouds to obliterate Washington, D.C. - something to which Roland Emmerich’s INDEPENDENCE DAY would tip it’s hat in far more grand fashion forty years later.
Anyway, it was simple escapist fun until smack dab in the middle of said great death ray obliteration the film stopped, the house lights came up, and the manager took the stage with a grim look on his face, gulped and - feeling it was of the utmost importance and duty to do so - informed everyone that the Russians had just launched Sputnik into orbit, beating America into space, and that the satellite was most likely passing over the U.S. at that very moment. After the announcement the lights went back down, the film resumed, … and suddenly the idea of America being attacked from space was no longer innocent escapist “fun”. For little Stephen and his posse of Saturday afternoon movie hommies, in an instant EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS had morphed from a fanciful sci fi flick into a wholly unintended yet now very effective horror film. And it was all based upon context - on what was going on outside the proverbial window at that particular moment.
|TOP: Sputnik 1 launches (Oct. 4, 1957);|
BOTTOM: EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS debuts (June 13, 1956)
Now, with that understood, I’ve never felt (and especially in the last few weeks) that films like OUTBREAK or CONTAGION, … or even earlier techno thrillers like 1971’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN or 1965’s THE SATAN BUG were the most accurate “pandemic” films. Don't get me wrong, they’re all phenomenal. But they tend to focus more on the inanimate “outbreak” itself; and this is fine. But I’ve always found to be more prescient, engrossing, perceptive or “spot on” (choose your term) the less obvious film examinations. Those which - like Rod Serling’s Martians - create a timeless “McGuffin”-esque stand-in. Those which don’t focus on the “pandemic” as the antagonist per se as much as on how the pandemic merely serves as a catalyst to the real contagion which is the reaction of the populace (large or small / microcosmic or macrocosmic) to the introduction of that strain, bio-invader, etc.
_______ "The only thing worse than a dragon ... . Americans!" _______
Hell, just substitute today‘s “forced to shelter-in-place” edict and a spreading virus scenario in place of APACHE’s “Little Bighorn”-inspired attack; and do the same for THE SIEGE’s inciting terrorist incidents in the Big Apple, and you've plainly got within these "old movies" versions of everything “today" and fascinatingly "up-to-the-minute reactionary” - from Donald Trump’s daily press conferences, to civilians rushing to horde goods, to a populace perhaps more keen on finding a scapegoat than a solution, and even the singling out of one ethnic group upon which to unleash a larger collective’s sense of fear, paranoia and pent-up hostility.
It’s as surely evident in those aforementioned non-genre films as is Atwood’s “theocratic HANDMAID'S TALE nightmare” coming to all-too-accurate near fruition every night on our evening news. And, hey, recognizing these (I don’t think I risk disagreement from anyone in calling them) "societal warts" isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not if we can observe and - as the arts allows us to do - study and learn more about ourselves from our cinematic avatars / alter egos under those filmic “lab”-like conditions in the hope of avoiding the mistakes the fictional versions of ourselves make. Ultimately it is those mistakes which we alternately find dramatic, scary, funny and more. At any rate, in regards to their genre counterparts ...
For support / proof of this notion refer to the various forms of present day art therapy - the roots of which can be traced back to aspects of Freud’s THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS. And note how said therapy today is consistently and successfully used in the treatment and recovery of those suffering from war induced PTSD, sexual assault posttraumatic stress disorder and other deep psychological traumas. If that's all just a bit too heavy, okay. Then consider a more user friendly “simply cool-assed movie” example of the same, ... though on a national scale. Think back on the films of late 2001 and early '02, and of the dwindling box office in the days after 9/11 when many in the U.S. stayed home in fear; this fear and uncertainty not only driving an icy cold economic dagger into the heart of the film industry, but into that of the American consumer economy in general as well.
|September 11, 2001|
Then think of one film in particular, Sam Raimi’s original SPIDER-MAN - the first major studio post 9/11 release (in May 2002) which featured a New York City under siege by a terroristic entity (here in the form of the Green Goblin), but which in the end - with the help of a masked representative of the common man and woman - emerges as a city which survives, overcomes and triumphs. This not unlike the film itself which became the top box-office grosser of the year, financially besting even the eagerly anticipated STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES until later that Christmas when nudged from the #1 spot by the second HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS entries. That first SPIDER-MAN film also rewrote the concept of the modern day summer blockbuster.
It’s always been my belief that Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN provided an “eager to deal with the trauma” American public a masked (no pun intended) means of parsing out arguably it's most deeply ceded nationally traumatic nightmare since the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a mass scale emotional catharsis which more direct “terrorism on domestic soil” films (and damned good ones too!) like Andrew Davis’ COLLATERAL DAMAGE (released Feb. ’02) and the Tom Clancy adaptation THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (May ’02) didn’t allow because the public just wasn’t yet ready to deal directly and specifically with that subject. All of which brings us to REIGN OF FIRE.
_______ "We can do this easy, ... or we can do this real easy" _______
|REIGN OF FIRE dir. Rob Bowman|
Written by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Greenberg, and directed by Rob Bowman (best known at the time for multiple episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, X-FILES and CASTLE, as well as the feature film X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE), 2002’s REIGN OF FIRE opens in (then) contemporary London where, during a renovation project deep within the bowels of the city’s Underground rail system, an ancient cave is breached and a dragon in uber hibernation is awakened and loosed upon the world.
Yeah, this is straight-ahead pulp-type material of the QUATERMASS sort if there ever was. But, as with the best pulp material, it sets up a wonderful tabula rasa onto which any number of subtextual elements can be emblazoned.
Responsible for such a hidden community in a retrofitted Northumberland castle is Quinn Abercromby (THE DARK KNIGHT’s Christian Bale) - who as a child watched his mother die in that Underground construction site that fateful day, and his trusted brother-like companion Creedy (300’s Gerard Butler). Within that quarantined community all is far from well, however, as a philosophical conflict has been growing over the years between those who feel the safest and wisest continued course of action is to remain in place, while others - mostly a younger generation tired of seclusion - seeks to break containment. Early in the narrative a small group of “containment breakers” rebelliously leave camp, and in so doing tragically gives away the position of the castle. The dragons, aware of a new and plentiful food source, then launch a series of nocturnal attacks on the increasingly beleaguered Northumberland battlements.
To call this a wild and woolly yarn is an understatement.
|Sheltering in Place - Top to bottom: THE THING (1982) / THE MIST (2007) /|
TWILIGHT ZONE "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (1960)
Bringing Rod Serling back into the mix, if there's anything the three aforementioned films all have in common ... . If there's a similar substance running through their thematic central nervous systems, it's a very pronounced "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" aspect. Their narrative, character and thematic DNA all harken back to the now iconic Serling-scripted 1960 TWILIGHT ZONE episode wherein, after the introduction of an alien "pathogen" element into the OZZIE & HARRIET-like suburban hamlet of Maple Street, trust and law becomes supplanted by fear, a so-called survival of the fittest mindset, paranoia, mistrust and a questioning (for better and for worse) of long-held beliefs. This same narrative-thematic virus (sorry, couldn't help it!) runs through the platelets of Bowman's great big, hairy-chested, dragon-ized, rip roaring pulp yarn cum social allegory. And it's never been as pronounced till now. Till glancing out the window, then viewing it yet again in light of the current "shelter-in-place" COVID-19 crisis where it almost becomes an entirely new film.
Stay safe all.
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