Reign of Fire Blu-ray Review

Reign of Fire is making its high definition debut on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of someone or someone(s) at Buena Vista Home Entertainment deducing deadly fire breathing dragons + high definition = home theater bliss. This second-tier title with a small cult following could have easily slipped several years before making its high-def debut, so kudos go out to Buena for offering it sooner rather than much, much later.

Part of the allure surrounding Reign of Fire is the film’s depiction of massive, destructive dragons bent on incinerating any and everything in their path with zero regard for human life. Dragonslayer is a perfect and unfortunately last example of this approach prior to Reign of Fire aside from a dragon cameo in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, signaling an over two-decade wait between frightful dragon flicks. Other lighthearted appearances of dragons in films like Dragonheart and Eragon lack the understanding that if a dragon spots you, life is over.

Another draw Reign of Fire more recently spawned are its stars: Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. These two A-list actors weren’t a fraction as popular when Reign of Fire was released theatrically as they are now with Batman Begins and Sahara, respectively. For my money, Bale in the part of stoic Englishman Quinn leading a ragged band of survivors hiding from the dragons and his adversary McConaughey as a brash American meathead obsessed with tracking and killing the male sperm donor dragon are two of the better character performances either actor has put forth. Bale’s expressions and delivery lends a sense of guilt through his thick beard that helps transform his character from a conservative father figure into an iconic savior. This is his film to command, even more so than the dragons. McConaughey, with shaved head and a beard of his own playing Van Zan, is the perfect opposite to Quinn’s rationality. He’s uninhibited in his pursuit of the male dragon and, through McConaughey’s strong screen presence and rare opportunity to play a part requiring deep emotional acting, as animalistic and vindictive as the dragons themselves.

Watching Reign of Fire again in the world’s current state of unrest draws parallels to the tragic events unfolding daily in Iraq. The people living in that region face the prospect of dieing via a suicide bomber in any every day activity they are forced to perform. Quinn’s survivors similarly cannot venture out of their compound for simple items such as food without facing a dragon’s wrath. After witnessing the result of a lighting quick dragon attack, we can only hope the citizens of Iraq will soon be able to leave their homes without fearing for their lives. No one should have to live under those circumstances.

Buena Vista presents Reign of Fire in 1080p video encoded with AVC MPEG-4 on a BD-25 Blu-ray Disc. The post-apocalyptic setting combined with ashen remains of dragon attacks results in a muted, smoky gray color palette throughout the film which the DVD 480p transfer handled beautifully. This high definition transfer handles the potentially soft imagery with even greater care through strong character detail and solid contrast when dragon’s fire lights up the night skies. One scene involving Quinn’s return to his charred home sees the character standing amongst glowing ashes swirling around his darkened, demoralized form, showing off solid contrast, sharp edges and colors, and incredible detail all at once. Only hints of inconsistency are found early on in the form of some random noise or print blemishes, but these seem to taper off and disappear altogether as the action gears up for the final confrontation. This is another solid Buena Vista video transfer worth an upgrade from the already outstanding DVD edition.

Compared to Buena’s other February Blu-ray releases The Prestige and Ladder 49, Reign of Fire offers an ever-so-slightly inferior soundtrack at 5.1 48kHz 16-bit audio compared to 5.1 48kHz 24-bit audio. Don’t let numbers and specs be a deterrent; this mix is powerful when the dragons call upon it and puts the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the standard DVD to shame. Although most of the dialogue and ambient effects are trapped in the front stage when the dragons aren’t around, their appearance awakens the subwoofer and rears with a vengeance. Swooshing sounds rip across the entire soundstage as the dragons take flight. The subwoofer crackles to life with fire’s expulsion from the beasts” mouths or their slow and methodical footsteps through a city in ruins. The dragons” powerful sonic presence adds a complimentary level of fear to their menacing design, the sign of a successful audio mix.

A full line-up of supplemental material has been ported from the standard DVD to Blu-ray in 480i, and Buena Vista even went as far as labeling them DVD Extras in the menu selection. The only extra that could be theoretically dubbed “new” is the Blu-ray staple Movie Showcase of bookmarked demo material scenes. Whether these simple additional scene selections are considered supplemental material or not depends on who you speak to, but Buena obviously thinks highly enough of them to include 1080p resolution under extras on the case’s back due to their inclusion.

The DVD extras being with Breathing Life into the Terror, an all-too-brief look at creating the dragons set to an inappropriate techno beat. If You Can’t Take The Heat is far more engaging with an intriguing glance into the careful preparation and execution of dragon fire narrated by special effects supervisor Dave Gauthier. Bringing up the rear is Conversations with Rob Bowman, an adequate replacement for a commentary track, and the Theatrical Trailer which should have been offered in 1080p.

With Reign of Fire, Buena Vista adds another stellar audio and video fidelity Blu-ray Disc title to their already impressive line-up and even managed not to skimp on the extras, save for overlooking beefing up the trailer to 1080p. While a B-movie at heart, the dragon effects and ashen sets are top-notch and the acting surprisingly fresh from the two leading men. Coupled with the overall solid high definition presentation, Reign of Fire is a solid buy whether you previously purchased the DVD or not.

– Dan Bradley

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