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Reign of Fire (Blu-ray)

There's nothing like a great dragon movie. And, as the old saying goes, this is nothing like a great dragon movie. But it is an interesting one.

The story begins in the present, with one of the film's best sequences. A long-dormant dragon is set free, and shortly after that all hell breaks loose as a plague of similar creatures awakens. Civilization is nearly destroyed, and the survivors huddle together in small settlements, barely managing to survive.

We move ahead twenty years or so, where the story picks up with one of these groups living in and around an old English ruin. Between raising meager crops and fending off the occasional dragon attack, they're on the edge. Enter a small, rogue militia of Americans equipped with armored vehicles and even a helicopter, apparently flying it all over to England in an old, cobbled-together C-5 transport (don't ask). They're led by a slightly deranged ex-marine turned dragonslayer.

Where the story goes from there I won't say, but the movie was, um, less than a smash in theaters. It could have been a hit—the concept is unique and intriguing—but the bean counters cheaped-out on the dragon action. The buying public expected more, which the movie's posters promised but the film didn't deliver. They wanted to see the sky filled with fire-breathing dragons, and we never do. In that opening act, for example, we see the first dragon escape (and it is a stunning sequence) but the subsequent swarm that nearly wipes out mankind is shown in news clippings and described in voiceover narration.

But I didn't mind. The characters are interesting, and we've already had plenty of films that are more about the special effects than the characters. And there are at least three genuinely impressive—and terrifying—set pieces, with some of the best CGI dragons you're ever likely to see. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't entertained. Also a plus: none of the dragons talk!

The acting is capable. Matthew McConaughey's Van Zan, the blustering ex-marine, is over-the-top. But a typically fine performance by Christian Bale, as Quinn, the leader of the settlement, compensates. And Star Trek fans should look for small parts played by Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir in Deep Space Nine, then billed as Siddig El Fadil), and Alice Krige—the Borg queen in Star Trek: First Contact.

While the movie may be too scary for very young viewers, the PG-13 rating is fair. There's that intermittent but intense action, some deaths, and a smattering of blood. But no gore. Don't be put off from seeing it on that basis. This is an action-fantasy, not a horror film.

The Blu-ray high definition video on this disc is terrific. With its post-apocalyptic setting, it's not a particularly colorful film, but the extra resolution provided by high definition brings out details missing in the standard definition DVD released a couple of years ago. Some viewers have reported seeing edge enhancement in the image, but I didn't see any. There are a lot of dark or dim scenes, however, which won't be kind to video displays with poor blacks.

The Dolby Digital soundtrack here is extremely dynamic, though a little bright. This is noticeable mainly in the more intense action scenes. There's also a 48kHz, 16-bit uncompressed multitrack mix. It's great to have uncompressed soundtracks on (some) Blu-ray discs, but why, in an era in which most film soundtracks are created at 24-bits, are we limited to 16-bits here (and on most of the "uncompressed audio" tracks offered on other discs as well)? This is little better than full CD quality, which I would not call "high rez" audio. If it's a lack of space, give us a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, which can support up to 24-bit, 96kHz audio (though TrueHD has been used little, so far, on Blu-ray).

Picture: 8.5 (out of 10)…Sound: 8.5…Film: 7.0

(Reviewed on a Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, JVC DLA-HD1 projector, 78" wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and NAD Masters Series M15 pre-pro and M25 power amp. Speakers: Energy Veritas v2.8 L/R, Mirage OMD-C2 center, Mirage OMD-R surrounds, and Revel B15 subwoofer.)

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