Fanning the Flames of 'Firebreather'

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I remember when Firebreather was first released by Image Comics. It was right after writer Phil Hester had completed a run with Kevin Smith bringing back Oliver Queen, and I was curious as to what he would come up with on his own.  He seemed to have a real sense of humor and a story about a boy who was half human and half dragon seemed right up his alley.  And it was an enjoyable original miniseries.  Simple, fun, and to the point, but in a sense, that was a problem.  In the days when I was regularly spending $50 weekly in the store, I couldn't bring myself to add another book that didn't leave me dying for more.  So, despite the fun book that Firebreather was, I declined to pick up any further stories. 

Fast forward  (mumble, mumble) years later and it came as a great (but welcome) surprise to me that this story was picked up to be a television movie.  So it was with a fair amount of anticipation that I welcomed the world of Duncan Rosenblatt back into mine.  Now, I'll be honest: I didn't remember the book all that well.  I remembered the basics, but not much beyond that.

And after watching the movie, the geek in me had to go and reread the book again to see what they had changed.  Not because I wanted to complain about all the changes, but in actuality, because I enjoyed the movie so much I wanted to see how faithful it was to the book.  For those who can't stand when things change, you probably want to stay away from this movie.  But it would be a shame.  All the same characters are here, and while they might not be in the same situations, they surely are true to their original selves.

The movie opens with Duncan Rosenblatt (I won't even try to put all his names in here) entering a new high school, promising his mother not to cause trouble, and lamenting how different he'll be viewed by the rest of the kids.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  In a time when we mourn comics not aimed at young readers, Firebreather has been a welcome throwback to showing a young man dealing with being different.  But his differences are a little greater than what most have to deal with, as most kids don't grow up with a father who is king of the Kaiju, or dragons. 

In fact, Duncan has a lot more on his shoulders than just being a half-breed.  His mother and father getting together is basically what stopped the human/Kaiju war.  But first he has to get through high school, where he deals with pretty girls, new friends, the school bullies (of course), an undercover government agent assigned to his case, his father's eminent return, and, well, they called the story Firebreather for a reason.  Makes the troubles I had in chemistry seem pale in comparison.

The movie is filled with typical characters and could have easily fallen into cliched territory.  Thankfully, through simple and effective writing, believable and fun characters, and some solid action, it avoids that pitfall.  Or maybe it excels because of it.  Simply put, this was a really fun movie to watch.  There's a joy in watching Duncan meet the pretty girl, Jenna, and go out of his way to help her. (Without her knowing, of course.)  There's also an entertaining love triangle that brews between Duncan and his only immediate friends, Isabelle and Kenny Rogers (yes, there is a Gambler joke).  And don't forget the quintessential gym class scene where the protagonist confronts the school jocks and bullies.  There's also his secret and who he gets to tell.  And well, there's his father, Belloc, and some nice dragon fight scenes.


The dialogue never makes you cringe and is helped by some pretty good voice acting.  If Duncan's mother sounds familiar to you she should, as Dana Delaney (Adventures of Superman's Lois Lane) handles her with an almost perfect touch.  Duncan and the rest of his high school classmates sound authentic (i.e. no cross gender casting that stands out), Agent Barnes bleeds testosterone as any good army agent should, and the actor who plays Belloc adds a deep boom to the Dragon King that is somewhat reminiscent of Orson Welles work as Unicron in Transformers (seriously, close your eyes when he talks in some scenes).  They make these fantastic characters relatable and believable.

It's easy to say that making this movie with CGI animation was a questionable call.  Normally dedicated to works of science fiction instead of fantasy, in a movie without a focus on technology, CGI definitely was an odd decision.  For works of fantasy it's hard to beat the hand-drawn look.  And no, one can question how well Andy Kuhn's artwork worked for the story.  However, the animation in this holds up fairly well.  The scenes in the school and at home with Duncan and his mother don't feel mechanical at all. 

The human characters move smoothly and the mini-dragons prove to be quite amusing. However, the dragon designs feel static and mechanical, highlighted by the scenes of Belloc walking on fours.  In them he seems much more robot than dragon.  The movie does a good job limiting these scenes with closeup:  Belloc's face is quite good. And keeping the focus on the human-sized Duncan in his fights with giant monsters helps reduce the robotic feel.  Also, there are a few first-person perspective scenes that work.

Three final personal notes on the film: two positive and one questionable.  The first positive is the use of a fantastic Yeah Yeah Yeah's song in the soundtrack during the homecoming dance (at first I thought it was Phantogram, which would have scored more points in my book).  The second one is that this story at least addresses the 500-pound elephant in the room when your mother is a human and your father is a 300-foot dragon.  The negative?  Well, it's only a negative if this doesn't turn into a television show, but couldn't you let the kid kiss her?  Hopefully, that is rectified with a regular television series. This movie more than proved Firebreather deserves it.

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