In a time when all-powerful and coldly efficient “Judges” act with the supreme authority of both the police force and legal system, Judge Dredd (Stallone) is the most feared law enforcer of them all. But when a former judge hatches a sinister plot to overthrow the government and eliminate the Judges, Dredd is framed for murder!
Judge Dredd 5.75
eyelights: the Judges. the setting. Diane Lane. the motion picture score.
eyesores: its interpretation of the Judge Dredd character. Rob Schneider. Armand Assante. Jürgen Prochnow. the cheapness of the production. the motion picture score.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
‘Judge Dredd’ is a 1995 action picture based on the cult science fiction comic book. It was made hot on the heels of star Sylvester Stallone’s comeback vehicles ‘Cliffhanger’ and ‘Demolition Man’, which had brought him back from the brink after suffering a couple of box office bombs. ‘Judge Dredd’ effectively halted his return.
Set in the 2080s, the world of Judge Dredd is devastated, with populations gathering in mega cities around the globe. The rest of the planet is a wasteland otherwise know as “The Cursed Earth”. Due to uncontrollable lawlessness, law enforcement officers became judge, jury and executioners. Judge Dredd is one of these tough new officers.
Judge Dredd may not be as familiar in North America as other comic book (anti) heroes, but he has quite the following (ex: as early as the mid-’80s, Anthrax had devoted a song to the character). Whether you are aware of it or not, you may have seen Dredd’s iconic uniform or heard his oft-repeated tagline, “I am the law!”, somewhere.
Or as Sly says it, “I am da luh”. (Maybe he thought Dredd and Inspector Clouseau are related)
This film is basically an introduction to Judge Dredd. It sets the stage, giving us all the back history and finer points of this world in a hackneyed fashion. It then throws Dredd into a predicament that he can’t get out of, only to bring him back for his big return at the end. In other words, it’s pretty standard action fare for the era.
It’s also not especially clever or well made. Despite having years of source material to plunder, the filmmakers behind ‘Judge Dredd’ decided to graft just a few loose elements from the book onto their generic script. Naturally, this incensed the books’ creators and fans, who were hoping to see their hero on the screen.
The picture consists of three painfully familiar acts: 1) intro to the character and world, 2) character is set up for a murder he didn’t commit, and 3) character’s return and redemption.
Yawn. Never seen that movie before (but why mess with a good formula, huh?).
They even tried to make Dredd relatable, by giving him a friend and romantic interest, a family history, and some personal angst (rooted in a villain who is all-too-familiar to him, a surprise that is revealed to the audience early, but only later to the hero). Dredd is supposed to be hardened, and his implacability must stem from this.
Here, he’s being softened.
The setting is also a problem. Mega City One, which is built for 20 million people (but houses 65), looks like a substandard production: the sets looks like a cheap version of the ‘Blade Runner‘ sets. Is the lighting the problem? I’m not sure, but everything looks too colourful, too lit, too comic book-y, highlighting all the flaws.
Also, a lot of the effects shots used to bring Mega City One to life (especially the flying cars, holograms, and other surrounding details) look fake; it just doesn’t come together. It’s funny how this was only made a few years prior to ‘The Fifth Element” and the Star Wars prequels, which have similar shots, and yet this one looks like crap.
It could be a budget issue or poor direction. Or both. A perfect example of the production’s limitations are the Judges’ motorcycles. They’re supposed to be huge, impressive, imposing. Instead, they look clunky, hard to maneuver. They’re simply not credible as their main vehicles: it’s impossible to imagine them chasing anyone with those.
But that’s superficial. Let’s go deeper.
The casting is also problematic. Although Stallone could have been a decent Judge Dredd, being a box office star it was decided that his face shouldn’t be covered. However, Judge Dredd never removes his helmet in the books; his face is never seen. Here, he is not only stripped of his badge and uniform, he hardly ever wears his helmet at all.
Many other characters are also inauthentic. His sidekick, Fergee, is actually a more accomplished and essential character in the books. Here he’s dopey comic relief (and poor comic relief at that!). Two other key characters, Judges Fargo and Griffin are completely different, changing the dynamics between Dredd and his superiors.
Then there’s Diane Lane as Judge Hersey. She is so fresh-faced, so naturally beautiful it’s breathtaking. But she’s also so puny that it’s hard to believe that she’s a kick-@$$ Judge. But they needed a romantic interest, so there you have it. She also defends Dredd in court, breaks into his locker after he’s sentenced and gives him a kiss at the end.
Another problem lies in the script. It’s bad enough that it’s paint-by-numbers, but the dialogues are trite. As well, the jokes are so unfunny and the taglines so moronic that everything Dredd says make him sound like The Tick. Honest. I’m sure that the filmmakers didn’t intend for Dredd to sound funny. Or for Schneider to be so damned unfunny.
The script is rife with poor exposition, contrivances and convenient plot developments. For example:
- Chief Judge Fargo sends Dredd to the Academy to teach them ethics of all things. Next thing we know, he’s showing the new recruits the tools of their trade (weapons, armour, vehicle, …etc.). It was obviously for the audiences’ benefit, but it’s inconsistent.
- Also inconsistent: Dredd has to tell his Lawgiver gun which type of ammunition to use, which is totally canon, however, most of the picture no one else does that.
- Dredd’s set-up for murder. It’s not just déjà vu, it’s impossible. Period. At no point is Dredd even asked where he was at the moment of the murder. You know, the basics. I have no doubt that he would have an alibi, that he could be accounted for. In fact, he would likely be enforcing the law somewhere else at the time of the murder.
But the writers have the prosecution show poor video of someone wearing a similar uniform as Dredd, as though this were enough evidence to arrest him. Then they come up with the notion that each bullet is encoded with the Judge’s DNA. Mwahahaha. Too much. But they don’t even ask him where he was.
Oh, sure, this would ruin the writers’ attempts to frame Judge Dredd, on which the rest of the movie hinges. Well, that’s the difference between good writers and bad writers: a good writer would find another way to make it happen. They would take the time to explain it, not just BS their way through it.
Of course, one of the key writers is Steven E. de Souza, who is the genius behind ‘The Running Man‘, ‘The Flintstones’, ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop III’.
- When Dredd is sent out to pasture, coincidentally enough he winds up on the same transport as Fergee – even though Fergee had been arrested and sent to prison days ago. Not only that, but get this: he is seated literally next to him. Hey, fancy meeting you here!
- Former Chief Judge Fargo, who also had been wandering about in the “Cursed Earth”, shows up at a crucial to save the day. Small world.
- Our main villain, Rico, threatens to have his big robot break Judge Hersey’s neck on the count of three if Dredd doesn’t drop his weapon. Well, why didn’t Dredd just shoot Rico to prevent him from finishing his countdown then? Stupid.
- Then Fergee rewires the robot to save the day. First off, why does he know how to do that? Secondly, why are the robot’s wires exposed anyway? It doesn’t make for a very efficient war machine, does it?
- Just when Rico can dispatch Judge Dredd, he runs out of bullets. Really? How convenient (and so bloody trite). Don’t these computer-controlled guns advise their users when they’re out, anyway?
The whole ending is a piece of crap. Armand Assante was a terrible Judge Rico; he acted “crazy” but seemed pretty weak given that he’s supposed to be a match for Dredd. The whole duel between Dredd and Rico was boring as heck, paralyzed by inertia. In fact, most of the action in ‘Judge Dredd’ is anemic, totally unexciting.
Naturally, Dredd doesn’t wear his helmet until the very end, when he drives off to cheers from his peers and the crowd. Um… only to go to the edge of a platform overlooking the city. So pointless. Not only that, but it’s a horizontal long shot which sucks the life out of it. And this is the way that the filmmakers wanted us to remember ‘Judge Dredd’.
Sad, real sad.
The only thing that’s truly noteworthy in the whole picture is Alan Silvestri’s score; it’s absolutely fantastic. However, it’s also WAY too BOMBASTIC, drowning out even the MILDEST scenes with its EPICNESS. And it also sounded familiar, like it was re-used from elsewhere. I have the CD, but I haven’t listened to it enough to tell.
All this to say that ‘Judge Dredd’ is an interesting property, especially as a satire of the justice system, but this adaptation did almost everything wrong that you can think of. It has some campy qualities that can be fun in the right frame of mind, but otherwise it’s a total waste of time. I can barely imagine anyone enjoying this in full.
My verdict: ‘Judge Dredd’ is guilty of offenses to viewing audiences at large and it should be banished to the wastelands never to return.
“I knew you’d say that.”
Date of viewing: February 20, 2015