Early in the 21st Century, construction of the London Underground awakes a hibernating dragon, which incinerates workers with its breath. The only survivor is a boy named Quinn Abercomby (Ben Thorton). His project engineer mother Karen (Alice Krige) is killed. The dragon flies away and soon more appear. It turns out that dragons killed the dinosaurs and created the ice-age by incinerating all the plant-life. Who knew? Then, they hibernated. Now they are back and destroying mankind, who respond with nuclear weapons, which only hastens our demise, and by 2020, humans are nearly extinct.

Quinn Abercromby, now grown (Christian Bale), records these events with his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler). They head a community of survivors at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland. He is assisted by young Jared (Scott Mouter), whom he hopes will survive until the dragons go back into hibernation again. Eddie (David Kennedy) tries to steal a truck and the castle’s poor harvest of crops, but they are attacked by a dragon and all the crops are destroyed.

A group of heavily armed American dragon slayers arrive with armored trucks, a tank, and a helicopter. Their leader is Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey, quite over the top). They are called Kentucky Irregulars, who just flew in on a National Guard C-5 two-engine Galaxy. Van Zan convinces a sceptical Quinn to accept them by sharing the dragons’ weakness—poor vision at twilight. Together, they slay the dragon who destroyed the crops.

At a celebration that night, Van Zan introduces Quinn to Alex Jenson (Izabella Scorupco), his helicopter pilot and intelligence officer. After slaying 200 dragons, she discovered that they were all female. They think the male is in London and if they kill it, the species will become extinct. Quinn thinks that the male dragon is the one that killed his mother. But London is a dragon stronghold. Van Zan recruits and then drafts the castle’s best defenders, including Jared. They depart for London, but the caravan is attacked and everyone but Van Zan and Alex Jensen are killed. Then the dragon comes to the castle and kills many of its defenders, even those in the bunker, including Creedy.

Van Zan and Jenson return and free those trapped in the bunker. Quinn leaves Jared in charge and heads off to London with the Americans, finding hundreds of small dragons. The male has a habit of eating his young and they scatter, leaving the male undefended. Van Zan’s plan is to split up, bait the male into attacking, then shoot explosives down its throat. But the dragon detonates the explosives early. Van Zan sacrifices himself as a distraction, while Quinn and Alex lure the dragon to ground level and shoot explosives into its mouth. Later, when there have been no dragon sightings for three months, they contact French survivors and begin rebuilding human civilization.

The film was directed by Rob Bowen from a screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Gregg Chabot, and Kevin Peterka. It received mixed reviews from critics and audiences and was considered a box-office disappointment. It was nominated for a Saturn Award but lost to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Making the 100-foot, 300-foot-wingspan, agile dragons look realistic was a challenge. However, some of the dragon-lore invented in this film later came in handy for the Harry Potter movies. Data came from the spitting cobra and the bombardier beetle. Alexander Siddig (Doctor Bashir on Deep Space Nine) played Ajay. He recollects that the studio told everyone to refer to Matthew McConaughey by Van Zan, his character’s name. He asked to be called Elvis, but nobody did that.

Christian Bale intended to appear scrawny and ill-fed, but when he saw how McConaughey had bulked up, he decided to do so too, for the fight scenes. The rifle Quinn uses is an Ulrik’s Mauser Tyrannosaurus Rex .577 Nitro, a rare, hand-crafted gun. It is so powerful that it is kept in reserve for rhino attacks, though here it only makes the dragons angry. The song played at the ceremony is Fire by Jimi Hendrix. The dragons, actually, are Wyverns because they have only two legs. The male is seen awakening after the centuries, but not the females. Presumably they find each other with pheromones. At the time, Christian Bale and Gerard Butler were relatively unknown actors. The dragons look great, but I would liked to have seen more of them, perhaps battling helicopters as the movie posters promised. But there is plenty of dramatic tension and action.

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