This review was originally part of an overall blog entry,as I talk quite a bit about the movie Dredd 3D, It seemed better to just dedicate review to one entry.
With a large degree of caution, I went to the cinema with my wife to see the new film Dredd 3D. In case the word Dredd means nothing to you, he’s a comic book hero from the British comic 2000AD. And he looks like this:
It has been a long time since I’ve bought or read 2000AD, it just kind of happens to you after a certain age, however, it occupies a special place in my heart for being heavily influential during my teenage years as a motivation to enjoy futurism and taking an interest in illustration.
During the mid 90’s, Hollywood got it’s grubby mits on the Dredd IP and managed to single handedly make cinematic vomit out of it by releasing a film based on Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, with a script penned on toilet paper using faeces for ink. It was so awful, I remember fighting the urge to stab the person sitting next to me out of blind vitrilolic rage. The film was directed by Danny Cannon, be warned, remember the name and avoid.
Inevitably,Dredd sloped away from cinema, leaving a godawful aftertaste in everyone’s mouths and wasn’t seen again. During the early naughties, rumours began to surface that the parent company for the Dredd franchise were in early planning stages to make a couple of new Dredd films, wiping the slate clean for a proper reboot, putting Danny Cannon’s wrongs to right. So, fans of the comic once again found their interests piqued by the promise that the new movies would be strictly true to their source material.
This was a teaser for the soon to be revived franchise, although after an initial burst of publicity about the early stages of development, things went quiet…for about nine years.
I don’t think any long standing fans forgot about it, once a promise is made, you kind of expect some sort of delivery , even if it takes nearly a decade.
Finally, sometime around a couple of years ago, the rumour mill kicked in and it appeared that Judge Dredd really, really would be making a return to the silver screen. Karl Urban was going to be the leading actor. No, he would not be removing his helmet, Yes, it would stick more to the roots of the original comic stories, Yes, the production would be geared towards an adult audience and by the way, here’s a movie still.
Reading the general vibe this image created amongst the interested and curious web denizens, one could detect a slightly hopeful sounding ‘Hmmm!” which soon became
“AAAAAAAgh!” when the following images were released.
“What the fuck have they done with his bike?!” People cried.
“What the fuck is wrong with their ill fitting helmets?” I thought.
(Although, it had to be said, the helmets still looked pretty cool and infinitely better than)
(I still feel violent when I see this image.)
Well, in spite of the general bitching about the new aesthetics, there seemed to be a genuine optimism about the potential of the new film as Alex Garland had been brought in as script writer and the director Pete Travis had a reasonably shit-free resume of previous directorial outings.
So, what did I think of Dredd 3D?
Essentially, it’s a great film. It won’t stand to be one of ‘The greats’ of cinematic history, however, it has a truly worthy place for being a very decent contribution to the Judge Dredd brand. The synopsis (Lifted from the press release) is as follows:
“The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge — a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.
During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture- a 200 story vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan’s inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound’s control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.”
And it pretty much delivers exactly what it says on the tin. I knew I was enjoying the film within minutes, it was the combination of gritty atmosphere, Karl Urban just nailing the persona of Dredd as soon as he appeared on screen. The aesthetics that people had been voicing concerns about seemed to begin making visual sense when viewed in motion. The film was largely shot in Cape Town and Johannesburg, I think there were budgetary reasons for doing so. Visually, Mega City One in this new rendition was a very stripped-down version of the futuristic conurbation as seen in the comics, even the vehicles seen on street level had a more 20th century feel to them. It would have been tempting to be critical of this technological downgrading yet, as the film rapidly delivered a very plausible visual narrative, it was easy to accept this particular vision of Dredd’s world. All of which was further underlined by solid delivery from the cast, and the excellent industrial, gritty soundtrack by Paul Leonard-Morgan. It felt like watching a futuristic Dirty Harry movie. This is a salient point as Dredd the comic character was originally inspired largely on Clint Eastwood’s craggy faced, hard edged lawman.
I tend to appreciate that memorable, good movies have a particular beat to them, like music. The language of a good film is one of efficiency, scenes that are the right length, characters that remain plausible, plot points that progress in a logical sequence so that suspension of disbelief isn’t broken. Not overly relying on special effects to bolster weak points in the plot etc. There are plenty of movies out there that never achieve any of the above and these are the films I have little time or patience for. Dredd 3D managed to deliver a well structured story that remained engaging from start to finish.
The movie also restored some of my faith in Alex Garland as a script writer, having been generally disappointed with with his previous bungled third act in the movie Sunshine, a film I managed to love, then hate all in one sitting.
The thing to bear in mind with Dredd 3D, is that it’s nothing high brow, it offers little in the way of thought provoking ideas, if you are hoping for narrative depth, then this isn’t a film for you. Having said that, Judge Dredd as a creation has never been about that, he’s an urban, hardcore lawman constantly fighting crime in a dystopian sprawl. If you go to see the film with that in mind, then you’ll probably be entertained.
Olivia Thirlby’s depiction of Judge Anderson was probably my only minor sticking point, this is not a criticism of Thirlby as an actress because, I think she played her part as a rookie Judge as well as the script allowed her to. My quibble with Judge Anderson in the film is more to do with knowing what her character is like in the comics. She’s sassy, bold, confident and equally matched with Dredd as a fellow crime fighter. In the movie, she is none of this. The potential is possibly there for future sequels (presumably) but on the whole, Thirlby’s Anderson is an emotionally vulnerable woman doing her best to keep her head above water in a very trying set of circumstances, It works very well in the film, but she isn’t the PSI judge I grew to love reading about over the years.
It would be silly not to mention that Lena Headley was a superb Dredd villain, I had previously enjoyed her lethal and aloof performance as Cersei Lannister in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’. In Dredd, she served her role perfectly as the drug dealer gang leader Ma Ma, and was particularly chilling in her softly spoken, calm delivery of psychotic dialogue. There was just enough back story to illuminate how her character developed from downtrodden prostitute to a violent, drug dealing scumbag. Like much of the rest of the movie, her scenes were functional and lean, providing just enough information to give her purpose without getting bogged down with unnecessary exposition.
Much has been said about the 3D visuals in the film, some people have hyped them as equal to those experienced in Avatar. I don’t happen to agree with this but am open to the idea that my experience might have been compromised by the cinema I viewed it at. The 3D seemed ok but I never felt like I was immersed in the experience and certainly never felt like any objects were hurtling out of the screen towards me, like I felt when watching Avatar.
I’d be interested to read anyone else’s experiences with the 3D in Dredd to gage whether I was just unlucky with my local Odeon or not. As it currently stands, I could have happily watched the movie in 2D.
For the showcase 3D moments, the eye candy was all about the use of the fictional drug ‘Slow mo’. The scenes were shown from a user perspective and pretty spectacular. Lots of colour boosting and hyper-slow motion cinematography. The overall effect created an almost comic book style set of action sequences and made an excellent contrast to the grittier, more squalid scenery of Peach Trees Block.
My closing thoughts on Dredd are this; having seen it once, I would happily watch it again. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the Blu Ray is choc-full of extra features. It’s the sort of movie that has left me with a positive afterglow, it has plenty of moments that are pleasing to recall, which I think is generally the sign of a good film. It’s out in the UK at the moment and will be hitting the US on the 21st. I like to think that it will continue with favourable ratings, we’ve been given a taste of how Dredd’s world is ripe with cinematic potential, now this film is out, it begs for expansion and fleshing out.