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This is one film that I "Dredded" Judging
Member Name: SpiderJamb
Date: 17/01/13, updated on 17/01/13 (38 review reads)
Advantages: Great performances by the leads, Effective mood and setting
Disadvantages: Plot is a little basic
Judge Dredd is a comic series that has been running in the British anthology comic, 2000AD, since 1977 and more-or-less appeared in every one of its weekly issues (or Progs, as they are known). The series was originally conceived by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra as a Dirty Harry in the future, and many of the early strips were rather action-heavy featuring the borderline fascist Judge Dredd as he dispensed instant justice to the citizens of Mega City One. Unlike most US comic creations, Judge Dredd aged in real time and his characterisation has vastly changed over the years, to the point where he has grown more disillusioned with the Judges and their role in society, particularly in terms of the mutant segregation.
Most popular in the UK where he was created, Judge Dredd did manage to spawn one big-screen outing where he was portrayed by Sylvester Stallone and memorably bawled out the words, "I am the Law" in a Rocky-style bellow. It wasn't well-received by critics, yet some people (including myself) have a minor soft spot for it, thinking it was probably the only time we'd see Mega City One realised on-screen...until now, that is.
Released in September 2012, Dredd was an attempt to reboot the franchise with a story and a tone appropriate to the content. The script, written by Alex Garland, featured heavy input from the series creator, John Wagner, ensuring this attempt had the blessing of those who had worked on it from its beginnings as a comic strip. The film utilised 3D effects, as well as "slo-mo" - a side effect of an illegal narcotic manufactured by the film's villianess, Ma-Ma.
Having seen both film versions of Judge Dredd, I can easily say that Dredd is the better of the two. Not only does Karl Urban play the tough-as-nails Judge perfectly, but he also doesn't feel the need to remove the helmet in order to showcase his own face. Stallone, on the other hand, whipped off his helmet as soon as he could and paraded through the film acting rather emotional in a non-Dredd manner.
The storyline focuses on Dredd taking a new recruit, the psychic Judge Anderson, on a routine assessment and they manage to pick a homicide at Peach Trees block as their assignment. Quickly, events escalate and the two Judges find themselves trapped in the tower block with a blood-thirsty gang of criminals after them, whilst attempting to escort their prisoner out of the building.
Rather smartly, in my opinion the plot skirts from some of the more absurd elements of the Judge Dredd mythos such as: Droid Revolutions, Clones, Judge Death and the other supernatural villains. I would recommend any sequels stick to this more realistic tone for the world in which Dredd lives. It doesn't look as hi-tech as the stories in 2000AD, nor does it have to. The post-apocalyptic Mega City One in this film feels somewhat similar to Mad Max and I think that mood suits the franchise better. Perhaps future sequels could focus on the Cursed Earth and possibly the Angel gang?
Olivia Thirlby acts as the emotional centre of the film, portraying the fresh-faced Anderson, who spends the entirely of the film without her helmet, as a nice contrast to Dredd. In fact, later on in the film there are multiple Judge's on-screen and it does become difficult to work out which is which, so perhaps Stallone had a point in removing the helmet all those years ago! I liked how the whole movie was effectively her probation test and how she was constantly quizzed by Dredd throughout it. I'm sure the rookie on trial storyline has been done several times in the comics, but it was nice to see it represented on-screen.
The film has a fair amount of gore and some inventive deaths, featuring the varied range of Judge Dredd's multiple ammunition. Also, surprising was the level of swear-words used in the film. The 2000AD Judge Dredd stories obviously don't feature as many F-bombs as the film does and relies on its own in-story bad language such as 'Drokk'. While the film didn't stick to that language, there were plenty of nice references to the comic book in terms of grafitti in the Block. Keen eyes would be able to spot 'Chopper' (a sky-surfer character from the comics) and Sternhammer Block (a reference to Strontium Dog, another series by John Wagner)
Overall, this was a very stylish film that bucked the trend of the big-budget blockbuster and took an independent route. The design and mood was heavily influenced by the location (it was shot in South Africa) and felt like a nice combination of Mad Max and Die Hard, yet managed to carve out its own identity. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever read a Judge Dredd story and wanted to see it in live-action as well as anyone who saw Stallone's portrayal of Dredd, in order to show them how it's done. My only real concern is whether or not a sequel can be as successful, considering they will need to introduce more elements from Dredd's world.
Summary: An authentic take on a long-running British tradition