DreddSynopsis: Judgment is coming

The America of the post-apocalyptic future is an irradiated wasteland, a vast, ultraviolent world where criminals control the mean city streets. Ultimate law enforcers like Dredd (Karl Urban, Star Trek) and his new partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, The Darkest Hour), are Judges – the only force battling for justice. Dispatched by the central authority, the Judges’ target is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, Game Of Thrones), a ruthless boss bent on expanding her criminal empire through sales of Slo-Mo, a dangerous reality-altering drug. With Dredd calling the shots, the two Judges declare full-scale war on crime in this unrelenting and brutal three-dimensional thrill ride.


Dredd 7.25

eyelights: Karl Urban. its realistic adaptation of the comic book. the A/V quality of the piece.
eyesores: Karl Urban. its realistic adaptation of the comic book. the limited amount of thrills.

“Judgement time.”

I’ve never been much of a fan of the 1995 ‘Judge Dredd‘ movie. I was skeptical going in, being a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, but when I saw it I found it lacking – it had an interesting premise that was squandered by poor writing and weak performances. I basically wrote off the film and character.

Somehow, through the years I ended up with two Judge Dredd pocket books. When I heard that a new Judge Dredd movie was coming out, a part of me was curious: would a more modern approach to the material improve the end result? That lead me to read my two books. The result: mixed feelings.

So when “Dredd’ came out mere weeks later, I didn’t rush out to see it. I wasn’t alone: the picture tanked at the box office. Despite a considerably smaller budget than its predecessor (which was produced by Disney), it didn’t even manage to recoup it production budget – even after international grosses.

And yet, reviews were pretty solid for it. The more I read about it online, the more I kept hearing fans clamour for a sequel. Then a friend recommended that I give the picture a chance, so I decided to pick it up on blu-ray – my understanding being that it was a picture that needed to be BIG and LOUD.

The setting is very much the same as the previous film: it takes place in Mega-City One, where 800 million people (as opposed to 65 in the other picture) live a lawless land that is only kept in check by law enforcement officers called Judges, who have the powers of judge, jury and executioner.

For ‘Dredd’, the story sends Dredd and a new recruit (who barely failed her tests, but who is a rare telepath) out to investigate a triple murder in a monstrous 200-floor building complex called Peach Trees. Once there, they discover that it’s the base for a crime lord who has taken control of the area.

This crime lord, Ma-Ma, has installed a Slo-Mo processing plant on the facilities. Slo-Mo is an extremely addictive new drug that slows down users’ perception of time; this creates a hallucinogenic effect because their minds process stimuli at 1% of its usual rate, allowing them to sense every single detail.

(B-t-w, the most visually-arresting moments of the whole picture are the drug-induced hazes that people are in – the Slo-Mo effect is phenomenal to look at, even if it can be ghastly during combat sequences. This apparently took years to create and polish. Well, in my estimation, it was worth the effort.)

Dredd and his partner, Judge Anderson, capture the murderer, Kay, but are prevented from leaving the building by Ma-Ma, who hacks the security system so that it goes into lockdown. She then instructs the building’s many gang members to kill them. Dredd and Anderson will have to fight their way out.

It’s a simple premise really, and that’s part of what makes ‘Dredd’ work. Instead of being broad in scope, and trying to wedge too many elements into one picture, ‘Dread’ introduces the characters and then sends them on a typical mission, for them, but one that audiences would find unfamiliar and exciting.

In some ways, it reminded me of ‘Tom-Yum-Goong’, particularly of that scene in which the lead has to fight his way up a few levels to get to his target. This is more extreme, obviously. It also made me think of ‘Serbuan Maut’ which I’ve hear is also about an officer fighting his way through a building complex.

Sadly, “Dredd’ didn’t excite me in the way that I thought it would. Or should, really. And yet it’s a solid film in all respects: the acting is very good, the script is decent (all things considered), the production looks good, the direction was excellent, and there was plenty of action to keep things going.

But I remained in neutral throughout.

In my estimation, there are a few subtle issues:

  • Firstly, it’s too serious. Judge Dredd is meant to be satirical, but I didn’t get any hint of it here. There were plenty of nods to the books in the film, but the humour seemed absent. Instead the filmmakers went with a grittier, more realistic, approach. I would have wanted it to be more fun, a blast, a hoot.
  • In making “Dredd’ more realistic, they changed the Judges’ outfits and vehicles. This may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but it changed the tone of the picture: instead of looking larger-than life, they seemed almost real. I like real, but this stripped away from the satirical bend of the original books.

Plus which they were less cool-looking.

  • Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. I love the guy. Ever since I first saw him in ‘Star Trek‘, I’ve decided that he’s an exceptional and under-rated actor. He’s a chameleon who’s fully-committed to his roles. And, as such, his commitment to Dredd is complete: he’s tough, humourless, and he doesn’t need to take his helmet off.

He has far better presence than Stallone did, irrespective of the latter’s stardom. But he also didn’t have the physique. He’s more realistic-looking (he echoes Clint Eastwood’s on-screen persona), but I felt that Judge Dredd couldn’t be realistic – he should be a caricature of a law enforcer, a caricature of justice. He is meant to be satirical, after all.

So it’s with mixed feelings that I watched Urban. If they had at least amped up his voice in post-production, that would have fixed things a little bit for me. Had they managed to make him look just a little bit beefier, I’d have been happier. But just the voice would have been massive improvement.

I wish that the filmmakers had kept the Judges larger-than-life to highlight the outrageousness of the future of Judge Dredd. If everything else had been serious, gritty, but then these insane-looking judges walked amongst them, it would have put a spotlight on how crazy their mandate and this world is.

Ironically, it would take insanity to make sense of this insane-level of chaos.

And bring order to it.

Honestly, all this aside, my only real issues are questions about the characters’ motivations:

  • Why doesn’t Kay shout out for help when he’s being hauled around by Dredd and Anderson? Surely it would be to his benefit for them to be located. It’s better than the alternative, which is to be judged (the verdict likely being death). So why does he remain silent this whole time?
  • Why couldn’t Anderson read Kay’s mind before he escapes and takes her hostage? She has proven time and time again that she is an extremely powerful telepath, and could tell that he was trying to steal Dredd’s gun, so why didn’t she notice that he was planning his escape?
  • Kay tries to use the Judge’s gun even though they are locked to the DNA of the gun’s owner. But wouldn’t he have known that? I’m sure that this is common knowledge in this world – especially given the consequences of trying to used it. And why didn’t the explosion attract the attention of the others nearby? Another convenience, perhaps?

Having said this, ‘Dredd’ remains a solid action film. It’s a step above a first-person shooter game for its intense action sequences. I really wish that I had seen in in cinemas in 3D because it would have been pretty outstanding to watch when it gets a bit crazy. And imagine those Slo-Mo sequences in 3D!

Frankly, I’m disappointed that this wasn’t a hit: it means that we are unlikely to see a second and third installment of the adventures of Judge Dredd with Karl Urban in the lead. He’s not perfect, but that can be tweaked, easily remedied. And this was a good start; I can only imagine where it would have gone from here.

So my verdict is “not guilty”. ‘Dredd’ meant well and there’s no harm done.

At least… not to those who matter.

Date of viewing: February 21, 2015

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