“Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: The men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries… Executioners… Judges.” — Judge Dredd
In 1995 there was a little sci-fi/action film called Judge Dredd that was one very anticipated film by fans of the title character. Judge Dredd was one of those comic book characters who was beloved by the hardcore comic book fans (and British readers worldwide). When news broke that the character was going to get his own film adaptation there was rejoicing but then the first shoe dropped. Sylvester Stallone will play the title character and worse yet he will have a sidekick in the form of one Rob Schneider. Even with this casting news there was still hope the film will at least do the property justice. I mean how can one fuck up an ultra-violent comic book that was tailor-made to become an action film. Well, let’s just say that the filmmakers involved and everyone from Stallone to Schneider all the way to the veteran Max Von Sydow failed to deliver a bloodsoak look into a dystopian future with a no, nonsense lawman to police the streets of Mega-City One.
So, it was a surprise when there was an announcement that the character will get another film but a reboot instead of a sequel. It seems everyone who had a stake in the Judge Dredd property wanted to forget the 1995 Stallone version. I couldn’t blame them for this decision. Out goes Stallone in the title role and in his place is Eomer himself, Karl Urban to don the iconic Judge helm. He would have a partner in the form of Judge Anderson (who’s a rookie in this reboot and it’s through her eyes that we get to learn the rules of the Dredd world) as played by Olivia Thirlby. The reboot was to be helmed by British filmmaker Pete Travis using a screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later and Sunshine) and was simply titled Dredd and would be filmed in 3-D.
There was trepidation about the film and rumored on-the-set differences between Pete Travis and Alex Garland marked the reboot as a troubled film at best and a dead-on-arrival at it’s worst. When the film finally made it’s premiere at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 the reaction from attendees who saw the film was a near-unanimous praise for it. The same could be said for the reaction of those who saw it two months later at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was being called a film that was a throwback and homage to the violent action films of the 80’s and early 90’s. This was high praie and one reason I decided to go see it.
I was very glad that I made the decision to see it when it made it’s worldwide release. Dredd 3-D was exactly as those who praised it turned out to be.
The film opens up with a fly-over of Mega-City One (looking like the location shoot of Johannesburg expanded to a 1000x through the judicious use of CGI and matte backgrounds effects) and the world which created the massive hive city of 800 million whose borders stretched from Boston in the north to Washington, D.C. in the south. It’s Karl Urban’s voice as Judge Dredd who we learn all this from right before the film segues into a fast-paced and violent action scene. One that shows just how violent Mega-City One is (people in malls and on the streets who get gunned down by stray fire get collected by automated garbage droids who also clean the pools of blood) and just how good Judge Dredd really is at his job.
Dredd 3-D is a simple story of a veteran cop who must evaluate a rookie whose psychic abilities would make her an invaluable member of the law enforcement group known as the Judges. The story brings these two disparate individuals into a massive apartment complex called The Peach Trees to investigate a triple homicide which brings them into conflict with the film’s villain in the form of Lena Headey as the brutal head of the gang called the Ma-Ma Clan. The film moves from one violent set-piece action to the next as Dredd and Anderson must find a way to escape the lockdowned Peach Trees and take out the Ma-Ma Clan in the process.
Yes, Dredd 3-D was a very good film and despite the story being so barebones that at times it resembled a video game with the way each sequence was a way to move from one floor to the next with the danger getting worst by the floor. It was the simplicity of the story that was also it’s major advantage. We got to know Dredd and Anderson (more of the latter than the former) and their actions throughout the film made for some very good character development. Even the tough, nigh-indestructible Dredd gained a semblance of sympathy for those he was very used to executing on-sight if the law deems it not whether it’s true justice.
Even the use of 3-D in the film was one of the better uses for what many still call a gimmick and a way for theater-owners to charge a higher ticket price for. The film was done in native 3-D and when it was paired with the super slo-mo sequences when characters where under the effects of the reality-altering drug Slo-Mo it literally created scenes of art. I suspect that we might see more films which uses this 3-D slo-mo effect in years to come. It was just that well done.
Now the big question is whether Karl Urban has erased the abomination that was Stallone’s performance in the same role 17 years past. The answer to that question would be a resounding yes. Urban never once takes off the iconic Judge helm and must act through his body language, dialogue delivery and, literally, the lower half of his exposed face. He made for a convincing Judge Dredd and not once did he go against character with one-liners and witty quips to punctuate an action scene. Not to be outdone would be Lena Headey as Madeleine Madrigal (hence Ma-Ma Clan) as the clan boss who was a mixture of reined in violence and psychopathy who was also going through a level of ennui that she made for a great villain. This was a woman who was so feared by the vicious and violent men in her command yet we never doubt that she was still the scariest of the whole bunch. There’s also Olivia Thirlby as the rookie Judge Anderson who brings a semblance of compassion and sympathy to the proceedings yet still able to kickass and take names not just with her psychic abilities but also with the Lawgiver (as the Judge’s firearms were called).
Dredd 3-D doesn’t try to explore the nature of violence that’s inherent in man or some other philosophical bullshit some filmmakers nowadays try to put into their action films. This film just decided to tell the proper Judge Dredd story and knew that ultra-violence would be a necessary component if the story was to remain true to the source material. In the end, the film did it’s job well and, even though it was by accident, it was still able to lend a level of thought-provoking themes and ideas about violence and its use.