AKA: Dredd 3D (2012) - 3D Title
AKA: Dred (2012) - Serbian Title
AKA: Dredas (2012) - Lithuanian Title
AKA: Judge Dredd (2012) - Working Title
(Premiere Date: July 11, 2012 [San Diego Comic-Con International])
(UK Wide Release Date: September 07, 2012)
(USA Wide Release Date: September 21, 2012)
Karl... Urban... IS... Judge... Dredd!!!
When the new movie Dredd was first announced, many fans were hopeful, while many rolled their eyes with memories of the 1995 Sly Stallone flick, Judge Dredd still cutting a slimy swath through our memories. But with the announcement of Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, one thing was immediately clear... DNA Films, IM Global and Reliance Big Entertainment truly cared about the subject matter this film was based on and weren't going for some currently popular big star to overpower the character, but to bring in a thespian who could truly act, to bring this storied character to live-action life and who could still be tougher than nails in the true Judge Dredd tradition.
Sure Karl Urban's star-power has been rising in recent years, but this is the man who perfectly channeled De Kelley in Star Trek, stood his own and shined when playing against some of the biggest acting names (past and present) in Red and is just as much at home in a hugely funded film like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as he is in a syndicated TV show like Xena: Warrior Princess. In short, his casting was (and is) absolutely perfect for the role of Joe Dredd and there is probably no better actor living today to interpret John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's most famous Comic Book creation (WITH his helmet on the whole time, I might add).
Could the movie still have sucked? Sure... but it wouldn't be for lack of accuracy or for bad casting. I am happy to say, however, that Dredd does not suck. Not at all. In fact, this is one of the most accurate comic book adaptations I have ever had the pleasure to witness. From screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later...) to director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) to the twelve(!) producers (including Garland and Wagner) to virtually every member of the cast and crew, everybody involved seemed to care about making a really great Judge Dredd movie from start to finish, with great respect to the original 2000 AD comic book, but without bogging down with attempting to adapt any specific "Program".
The good news is that this is a very accurate adaptation, true to the character(s) and expansive in its scope. The better news is... there really isn't much bad news.
A brief voice-over establishes the future, desolate world of Mega-City One, an enormous, crime ridden New York that has grown since most of the world was irradiated to cover a vast area from (what was) Boston to (what was) Washington D.C. Outside of the city limits lies the Cursed Earth, where the Mutants dwell with no Law, just a living Hell.
Inside the city, crime and overpopulation are serious problems, so the Hall of Justice has Judges on the streets. These futuristic police officers act as Judge, Jury and Executioner, highly trained in the Law and able to dispense Justice on the street (which saves time, I'm sure). The most Legendary (even at the time of this story) among them is one Judge Joseph Dredd (perfectly portrayed by both Karl Urban and Karl Urban's Chin). Dredd is a model judge, who never removes his helmet (any more than Santo removes his Mexican Wrestling mask) in public. Dredd's status leads the current Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) to assign him to test and train the newest and most promising psychic Judge Cassandra Anderson (wonderfully realized by Olivia Thirlby). Dredd (a man so hard his veins bleed ice) is reluctant to bring this untested rookie onto the mean streets of Meca-City One... but if he didn't, we wouldn't have a movie, now would we?
There has been a somewhat annoying and flashy trend toward using computerized slow-motion to drag out both important and un-important scenes in the current crop of (especially comic book-inspired) action films. Pete Travis makes a great deal of use of this technique, but unlike with most films that employ this trick, Dredd has a very viable reason for this use. The new, popular designer drug in MC-1 is known as "Slo-Mo" due to its ability to slow down the user's perception of time to 1% of what is actually passing. This can make for a wonderful trip while splashing around playfully in a bathtub, but can also make for a horrible way to die if you were to slip and fall 200 stories to your death. Travis' use of Slow-Mo to portray the affects of "Slo-Mo" is well chosen and fascinating to watch, never overpowering or overdone.
The controller and main distributer of the drug is a former prostitute named Madelaine Madrigal, who goes by the name of "Ma-Ma" (as played by Lena Headey, still hot even with scars on her face). Ma-Ma controls her empire with enforcers like Kay (Wood Harris) and Caleb (Warrick Grier) and the her computer expert called "Clan Techie" (Domhnall Gleeson) along with an entire army of gangster nightmares all throughout her one city block. In that this "one block" is entirely comprised of a two-hundred story building called "Peach Trees", home to over 70,000 people, Dredd and Anderson will have their work cut out for them to win the fight.
The world of Judge Dredd is both wonderfully and terrifyingly realized. Gone are the art deco super structures of Metropolis and the lesser Batman films. Instead we get a clearly futuristic world with technology that manages to be not-too-far of a cry from what we have today, not to mention huge buildings rife with grimy graffiti and drab, practical and utilitarian color schemes. We see familiar looks to the projects, familiar scenes in the crack-downs and familiar desperation in the citizens. When Sci-Fi technology does come into play, it makes its appearances believably.
Similarly, Judge Dredd is both believably larger-than-life, yet still human at the same time. Karl Urban doesn't attempt to apply some ridiculous voice to him or to turn him into more Superman than supercop. Instead he brings us a true representation of Judge Dredd. He's mean, strong, tough, no-nonsense, powerful and imposing... but he's also not perfect and just human enough (even behind that omnipresent visor) to remain believable and sympathetic. If there was ever a "handle-with-care" character in the 2000 AD Universe, it's Cassandra Anderson. Thirlby delivers the wide-eyed cadet that we need for this story, but never allows herself to become waifish or a damsel in distress. True fans of Judge Dredd will note that Judge Anderson is her own person, but also manages to be to Psi-Division what Judge Dredd is to the Hall of Justice in general. In short, she's no slouch and even as a rookie, Thirlby makes sure she never comes off as anything less than a true Mega-City Judge.
If there is any real complaint to have here, it might be in relation to a very few unexplained areas of consistency. In general, Garland and Travis have a remarkable knack for predicting complaints about the film and shoring them up right there in the story. One can almost hear them saying "Oh, you thought that was a plot hole? Well feast your eyes on THIS!" just before a seeming mistake is erased, logically, with a new revelation. However, there are one or two moments when it's hard not to wonder why X character doesn't get out of Y mess using Z trick. Garland and Travis establish these things, so why aren't they re-used? These are, of course, exceptions to the rule and not the rule itself. For the most part, Dredd is a surprise at each corner and consistently satisfies. Even the black humor (though somewhat toned down) is still there and is greatly appreciated.
This is me, of course, speaking as a true fan of the comic books and the building story line. Complaints from others might include the ultra violence (this is NOT for kids, folks) or the lack of an in-depth explanation of the future systems that are in place. How will this play to the uninitiated? I can honestly tell you that for anyone who watched and accepted RoboCop, there is simply no reason not to accept and appreciate Dredd. Many comic book movies have a tendency to make their first outing about the biggest story their main character ever faced. The logic is sound as, why else would people want to see the movie, if not for something huge? The makers of Dredd opted for something big, sure, but not the life-changing epic of, say... Judge Dredd being defrocked and sent to prison (as we saw in the last, lackluster attempt to bring our boy to the big screen). Here we do see the brutality of Dredd, along with (amazingly) his fairness and balanced mindset. We see the influence of Anderson and the vulnerability of Dredd, but we never fall victim to some typical Hollywood "romance" which would anger fans much more than a removed helmet would.
What we have here is an excellent, solid Judge Dredd story. It's never boring and is a great pleasure to watch, especially for the Judge Dredd fan. Perhaps the film avoids so many Hollywood Tropes because it is not, in fact, a Hollywood movie. Dredd is a co-production between South Africa and England (where the comics were first, and are still, published). Even the distribution company itself originated not in the USA but in Canada. This being the case, Dredd avoids the usual downfalls of comic book adaptations and manages to truly translate its subject to the big screen beautifully.
A special recognition should be given to the costuming department. As with the technology, the costuming is primarily of a neutral and muted blend that helps the story to remain familiar and believable. However, costume designers Dianna Cilliers and Michael O'Connor were as diligent in interpreting the Judges' uniforms as Alex Garland was in adapting the screenplay. All of the most important elements of the uniforms remain intact, with perhaps just a slight tone-down in the occasional accessory. Instead of a huge, shining gold eagle epaulet, Dredd sports a shoulder pad with a gold embossed eagle, as neutralized as the ribbing on the opposite side. The helmets remain intact, showing off that iconic chin, but the uniform colors make for a more stealthy and dark attack plan. These, coupled with the accurate representations of Judge Dredd's Lawmaster cycle and Lawgiver sidearm help fully realize the character (and his allies) and help us to believe it when he says "I AM THE LAW!"
Will it be a hit? That's hard to say. Especially American audiences have been conditioned to expect a certain kind of comic book movie. Mostly PG-13 and safe or, at least, with enough "gratuities" to keep the audience in full "opiate" mode. Dredd is light on the nudity and while heavy on the violence, the blood and gore is (usually) more realistic than gratuitous, used to tell the story and not come off as a sight-gag (like, oh, say, Watchmen's lame lingering on guts, ribs and jaw-bones hanging from the ceiling... because THAT's edgy). True fans should go crazy about this film, as should fans of truly well-told action tales. The faint of heart and the holders of pre-conceived notions need not apply.
Writers, Directors and Studios should all take note... this is how you make a comic book adaptation. Keep the character(s) pure and intact and tell a good, in-universe story without either attempting to re-invent the wheel or to distance the film itself from the comic books. That is why Dredd deserves every bit of Four and One Half out of Five and is exactly why Karl Urban Is Judge Dredd.
See you in the next Mega-City Reel!
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reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
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