In 1995, Sylvester Stallone along with Director Danny Cannon decided to take on the task of transporting iconic comic book character Judge Dredd onto the big screen. If you’ve ever read a Judge Dredd comic, you’ll know that this is a character who doesn’t hold back. He is Judge, Jury and Executioner.
In the dystopian future, America is a nuclear wasteland, all except for “Mega-cities”, mostly found along the coasts. Mega-City One, stretching from Boston to Charlotte North Carolina, is home to Judge Dredd. He patrols the gigantic City Blocks, implementing the law and dispensing justice, with quite frankly, no fucking about. It can be brutal most of the time.
For the debut on the big screen, The Director decided that in keeping with the comic, the story should be dark and have a serious tone. Unfortunately for us, Stallone (who carried mega star power) demanded that the story be changed to provide a more comedic tone and almost turn the movie into almost a buddy cop film. If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was. On set friction between star and director resulted in a muddled mess which committed the ultimate sin. They removed Dredd’s helmet. Whilst that sounds painful, it was not as painful as some of the dialogue I can assure you.
So, when 2012 rolled around and another Dredd movie was announced, fanboys cried “Drokk, these spugwit’s better not give us a steaming pile of stomm like the last movie!”. Pete Travis thankfully knew better than to try and make his film some knockabout comedy cop film and instead made a gritty, hard edged, grim looking actioner that looked as if it could actually happen. The Mega-City One of this film felt real and lived in.
The casting of Dredd was also vitally important. Stallone was a big name actor who overshadowed the role he was given, hence they had to show his face and break years of comic book lore. This time around the part was given to New Zealand actor and veteran of Lord of the Rings, The Bourne Supremacy and Riddick, Karl Urban. Urban is a very good actor and he absolutely nailed his performance of Dredd here. He was dour, pragmatic, tough and smart with not an ounce of the wise cracking ego maniac Stallone like performance.
The plot of the film was very simple. Gangster/Drug Lord villain MaMa Madrigal (Lena Heady) is dealing the latest narcotic, Slo-Mo out of the top floor of one of the City Blocks, Peach Trees. After skinning some hoods who had disappointed her and throwing them off the top floor. Not before giving them some Slo-Mo first, so the fall to their deaths is in agonising slow motion. Dredd and his trainee Anderson (Olivia Thrilby) who is psychic (no, really. Psychics exist in this world, something to do with mutations due to the nuclear fallout) are sent to investigate. The building ends up getting locked down by the MaMa clan and our two Judges are hunted mercilessly. MaMa however, has underestimated just how effective Judge Dredd actually is. Shit goes sideways and the two judges end up having to fight their way through level after level of MaMa’s henchmen to reach the top and not to give too much away, justice is served in some bone crunching, blood and gore covered ways.
Done for a relatively modest $35m , Dredd made over $40m worldwide in a limited cinematic release. The low box office belies just how good this film is. It was released in 3D and is the one time where I have truly enjoyed the 3D experience. The scenes where the aforementioned Slo-Mo are used have to be seen to be believed. They used newly designed 3D cameras to achieve these shots, which were the brainchild of cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. The lower end budget for this type of film adds to the realistic nature of the thing. I mean, it looks as if you could actually go to Peach Trees. The story is simple and satisfying and Heady is very good as MaMa. The action scenes are quite brutal and hard hitting, exactly as they should be in this kind of movie. I liked the way that the that when more Judges arrive later on in the film, seemingly to aid Dredd, things don’t go the way you think which adds another level to the story and is a nice twist. Overall, this grimy, textured and visceral movie is pretty much the perfect take on the rugged, no nonsense Lawmaker.
I desperately wanted a sequel to Dredd, which hasn’t arrived. We are however getting a TV series called Dredd: Mega-City One, which I have very high hopes for. God knows, if they Drokk it up, I’m going to kick their asses and make the eat stomm!!