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The Judgment is: Not Dredd-ful
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Effective setting and characters
Disadvantages: Extremely violent; not terribly original
After Sylvester Stallone's misguided attempt to bring 2000AD's Judge Dredd to the big screen, this 3D revamp is rather more successful, turning in a script which is reasonably faithful to the basics of the character, whilst remaining accessible to those who don't know their Judge Dredd from their Judge Pickles.
Substance-wise, there's not a lot to Dredd, as you might expect. A new drug, Slo-Mo, is threatening to engulf MegaCity One. When Dredd and rookie Judge Anderson accidentally become trapped in the tower block that is the drug's manufacturing and distribution centre, they have only one option: to fight their way to the top or die in the attempt.
Crucially, Dredd 3D gets the basics right. MegaCity One is simply a larger, grubbier and more dangerous place than many of our current cities but is still recognisable; the problems facing the city are similar to those of the 21st century, simply magnified; the rich get richer and the poor suffer and Dredd is a grim executor of justice. All these basics are crucial in establishing an atmosphere in which Judge Dredd can work as a character.
The casting is excellent. I have to admit I wasn't convinced when Karl Urban was announced in the lead role; even less so when the first publicity shots of him were released. He lacked that imposing nature, the square jaw and grizzled look so crucial to Dredd and seemed to lack presence. In fact, he looked a little weedy and unthreatening. Thankfully, stills don't reflect reality. Whist Urban perhaps lacks the physical bulk needed to be truly intimidating, he does get the character right. He is gruff, hostile, unsympathetic and emotionless. There are no attempts to humanise him or give him a back-story and, most importantly of all, he NEVER removes his helmet. Urban's Dredd is a stone cold killer and makes no apologies for it.
The human element is brought by Olivia Thirlby's psychic Judge Anderson (who never wears a helmet); a much more sympathetic figure who dispenses justice in a more considered, human way but is not afraid to use extreme violence when required to do so. Thirlby copes with the role extremely well, bringing a mixture of violence and vulnerability that captures Anderson's character well. There's also a sense of chemistry between Thirlby and Urban that doesn't rely on quipping, but instead captures the idea that these two very different people need to trust each other if they are to survive.
The big disappointment was Lena Headey as main bad ass Ma-Ma. I have no idea what Headey was aiming for when she came up with this characterisation. Rather than portraying Ma-Ma (as the plot would have you believe) someone who is so screwed up and violent that she has seized control of an entire drugs operation, she comes across as rather pathetic and something of a wet blanket. When issuing orders for death, destruction and torture, she almost appears to be in tears and I genuinely thought that, ultimately, the plot was going to reveal that she was nothing more than a puppet doing the bidding of a more sinister villain. No such thing. As bad guys go, it's entirely possible that Dale Winton would have been more convincing.
Still, Dredd 3D is not about acting, it's about action and on this level, it gets things right. Barely five minutes go by without some sort of shoot-out, violent death or other set-piece to keep the adrenalin pumping. The action is satisfying and keeps you entertained. Crucially, it's also recognised recognises how slim the plot is and that action alone can't sustain it for too long, and so the whole film only lasts for around 95 minutes. Dredd might be little more than a good looking dumb action movie, but at least it keeps its target audience entertained.
The 3D in Dredd 3D is a bit odd. There are a few occasions when it really comes to the fore (a couple of the death sequences are particularly spectacular), but equally there is plenty of the film where it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. This is possibly because the budget was relatively limited or possibly the decision to make it 3D was taken fairly late on in the process, so a couple of specific scenes were written to make the most of it. Either way, it was actually quite effective. It wasn't over-used so that sequences looked staged, but when it was used, it was used well.
Initially, I did think I might have problems with Director Pete Travis' style and feared his use of special effects and camera tricks (particularly slow motion shots) was going to be excessive and make Zach Snyder look restrained. The initial scenes make you think that this is going to be all style over substance with special effects trying to mask weaknesses elsewhere in the script. As with the 3D, though, the use of these camera tricks is actually well-judged. They are used when they are needed; when they add something to the on-screen action. When they are not needed, Travis reverts to a more straightforward style.
I think it's fair to say that this is probably more of a bloke's film. Certainly at the screening I went to, male members of the audience outnumbered females by a factor of about 10. The subject matter, nature and stylised violence of the film all make it the sort that is likely to appear to men. If you enjoy more gentile entertainment, Dredd is not going to be your cup of tea.
Because make no mistake about it; Dredd 3D revels in violence. Whilst the body count might be as excessively high as (say) The Expendables 2, it shows the same casual attitude to violence and the sanctity of life. There is almost no end to the imaginative ways in which people die (often in close-up slow motion for ensure maximum effect). Limbs are blown off, heads explode, people are sliced in half by falling doors or skinned alive and thrown from the top of very tall buildings. Nor does the film shy away from showing this violence in graphic and gory detail via some genuinely impressive special effects. If you are the least bit squeamish, Dredd 3D is really not the film for you.
I was pleasantly surprised with Dredd 3D. I went in expecting nothing and came out entertained. Whilst it might be very limited in terms of the ambition of its plot, it is nevertheless effective at what it does and manages to capture the spirit of 2000AD even if it never comes close to capturing the complexity of Dredd's world. If ultra-violent comic book adaptations are your thing, then Dredd is certainly going to appeal. I'm already hoping it does well enough to warrant a sequel... and that's not something you could ever say about the Sylvester Stallone effort!
Director: Pete Travis
Running time: approx. 95 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Better than anticipated