Posted: September 13, 2012 in Film reviews
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Directed by Pete Travis. Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady.

15 years after the big budget Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd film, the 2000AD comic book character returns in a much lower budget, leaner film. Question is, as always, is it any good. Before the review, I have two confessions. Firstly I’m a huge Judge Dredd fan. My first issue of 2000AD was prog 219, and they’ve hit 1800 now! I admit I dropped out for a while, but I came back to the comic a few years ago and haven’t looked back. The second, more disturbing revelation, is that I actually have a bit of a soft spot for the ’95 Judge Dredd. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as it’s made out to be. Though it’s clearly incredibly flawed I do think it got Mega City 1 spot on in many ways.

Anyway, it’s the future, and in a city of 800million souls crime is rampant, and all that stands between the innocent and the criminals are the Judges, best exemplified by Judge Dredd. It’s a losing battle, the judges can respond to just 6% of reported crime, and their methods go somewhat beyond Dixon of Dock Green…they really are judge, jury and, often, executioner.

Assigned rookie Judge Anderson (Thirlby) Dredd undertakes what seems like a routine drugs bust at Peach Trees Block, but the dealer they arrest is higher up the food chain than they imagine. He’s working for Ma-Ma, Heady in vile form, a hooker turned crime boss who controls the distribution of a new drug, slo-mo, which makes it seem like time is passing at 1% its normal speed.

Wary of the Judges taking her dealer back for interrogation, Ma-Ma locks down the block, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside, and then she tells the entire population that she won’t let anyone leave until the Judges are dead. And that’s about it really. Although in fairness there are a few surprises along the way, in the final analysis Dredd has a fairly simple story. Two cops, trapped in a building full of killers. The simplicity of Dredd’s plot isn’t a failing however, quite the reverse. Coming off the back of the derided ’95 film, and with a budget that’s tiny by today’s blockbuster standards, a lean, mean Dredd film was probably the best idea.

Filming in South Africa gives the film a washed out glare that seems perfect to represent a city surrounded by the irradiated wasteland that is the Cursed Earth, and manages to make the film look a little different from the norm. There’s a lot of reverence given to the source material, without the film ever feeling beholden to it. Mention of Resyk (where bodies are recycled) and Hotties (future hotdogs) are tossed around without feeling any need to explain them, and I saw graffiti lauding Chopper, Kenny Who, and Jock. We even get the future swear word Drokk scrawled on the back of a perp’s jacket (although sadly that’s the only time it’s referenced, the cursing in this film is pretty generic otherwise.)

Karl Urban was a great choice to play Dredd. A good enough actor that he can do the part justice and a big enough name that he can add to the draw without being a superstar who’s going to overshadow everything, and whilst I had reservations about the uniform and the helmet beforehand, both work just fine here. It’s his performance that makes it though. A few early stilting scenes aside, on the whole he’s spot on, with his sardonic one liners and gruff sub-Eastwood drawl he has Joe Dredd down to a T.

Having Thirlby by his side helps. Her Cassandra Anderson has some liberties taken with her backstory (she’s not a mutant in the comics) but on the whole, again enough reverence to the character has been taken to ensure she’s recognisable. She’s emotional, empathetic and clearly far more human than Dredd, which is just as it should be. The only thing lacking from her performance is a bit more kooky humour, but it’s difficult to know how that would have gone down in this film.

It’s always refreshing to see a film trying to be a blockbuster whilst not sanitising itself, and Dredd is every bit as brutal as its 18 certificate suggests, with much of the violence being captured in wince inducing slow motion and/or 3D. I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but actually found it less jarring in this film than in most others. The fact that it was shot in 3D rather than being retrofitted into it makes a big difference, though having said that I don’t think it really adds anything to the film.

Dredd isn’t without flaws, lack of budget means that, especially in the early scenes, Mega City 1 looks just like a modern day city, and present day cars/dress everywhere don’t help. Some effort is made to make the lawmaster bikes the Judges use look futuristic, but unfortunately it just makes them look cheap.

Similarly the film never touches on the weird/crazy nature of Mega City 1 evident from the comics, and it perhaps isn’t as satirical as it could have been, but these are minor gripes only, and if there is a Dredd 2, hopefully it will have a slightly increased budget which will mean things look a bit more futuristic.

So, the evidence is in, and now it’s time to dispense justice…

The crime is making a damn good Judge Dredd film, the sentence is a sequel (please!)

  1. Hi there,

    Great review, have just started out and I also reviewed Dredd 3D, nice to compare, will read the others with great interest!



  2. r361n4 says:

    Hi Werewolves,

    I actually first found your blog through this review and then your Doctor Who reviews caught my eye, always nice to find a fellow Whovian 🙂 Looking forward to tomorrow night’s episode, also wondering how long Amy and Rory will be sticking along for as they keep hinting about their departure in various ways.

    Anyways back to Dredd, I agree with pretty much everything here and i’m crossing my fingers that a sequel gets okay (the producers have said that the bottom line for whether or not it gets a green light is if it makes 50 million at the US box office.)

    If you’d like to check out my review feel free but I look forward to reading more 🙂


  3. Gordon Holiday says:

    Pretty much agree, could have been a bit more background but as a stripped down to the basics fnear-future action film it delivers.

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