17 Sept, 2012
Review By Merv Charles
Seventeen years after Sylvester Stallone and director Danny Canyon broke the hearts of millions of 2000AD fans with their horrendous take on Judge Dredd, we finally have another on-screen vision of the toughest lawman of the future. Have Karl Urban and director Pete Travis managed to right the wrongs with the release of Dredd 3D?
I am a huge fan of Judge Dredd. I read my first issue around thirty years ago. Therefore I went into the cinema with two questions in my mind. Would Dredd 3D be a good take on the character and would it be a good movie?
To answer the second question first, yes this is a highly enjoyable movie, especially if you like your action movies short and punchy. Unlike the Stallone travesty, the writers of Dredd decided against overloading the story with characters from the comic for the sake of it. That was a huge mistake in the first film and Dredd benefits from not making that same error. This, along with the action taking place within the confines of a Mega-City housing block, gives Dredd a lean and claustrophobic feel. The action is unrelenting and the film feels brutal, much like the society it represents. Overall, Dredd has the punchy feel of a four episode story and isn’t weighted down trying to compress a 16 episode summer epic into 90 minutes.
Karl Urban, an actor who conveys so much with his range of facial expressions, puts in a good turn as Judge Dredd. He conveys the right amount of authority, dispassion and menace using his mouth and his voice, while Lena Headey is wonderfully cynical as the scarred former prostitute turned drug-queenpin Madelaine Madrigal and Olivia Thirlby is convincing as Rookie Judge Anderson who, like Urban, has a feel for the character she is portraying and I do look forward to her reprising the role and developing the character if a sequel is planned.
In fact, I look forward to a sequel as Dredd is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. It does not aim at anything pretentious, avoids convoluted plot lines for the sake of it and for a sci-fi film does not drown in an overload of CGI though it must be said that the 3D is excellent and again not overblown.
Now, looking at Dredd as a long-time fan of the comic, the film is passable but it lacks the cynicism of the comics. Also, Mega-City One only has the futuristic character of Mega-City One during the nighttime panorama shots. During the daylight scenes Mega-City One looks more like District 9! The vehicles driven and the clothes worn by the citizens is the same as used today. The reason for this may have been budgetary as the film reportedly had a budget of only $45m but there is nothing that made me think the story was set 122 years into the future, as it is in the comics.
I was looking forward to seeing the quirky futuristic city life on Mega-City One but Dredd was too contemporary. There were children on skateboards instead of citizens zipping through the air on powerboards. The swearing was also contemporary and anyone who has read 2000AD will know that then Judges and citizens have developed their own line of swearing. Also they overlooked the crazes that sweep Mega-City One, like the Fatties and the Uglies. Okay there was a quick shot of one fat guy eating while watching the television but one fat guy does not a Fatty craze make! I wanted one ton Fatties complete with belly wheels and food trays!
Another oddity was that Judge Dredd didn’t inspire the respect and fear in the citizens. Perps quake in their boots when confronted by ‘Old Stony Face’. They don’t start making demands. However, in Dredd everyone seems prepared to shoot it out with the man.
Finally Dredd messed too much with Anderson’s backstory. She isn’t an orphaned mutant. Mutants are not even allowed to enter Mega-City One much less attend the Academy of Law! There are hints that more of her past may be revealed in the event of a sequel, which would bring the characters very essential history in line with that in the comics.
That would be a story in itself and well worth a spin off film!