Like many other Dredd fans, I was sorely disappointed with the Stallone version from the 90s. So with that said, I’m not going to mention that movie at all and pretend it never existed.
And why should I, because there is just so much praise to be lavished onto this remake! Seriously, I was even more skeptical than the average person because I didn’t think it could be done, and those trailers and the fact that it was in 3D just lowered my expectations ever further.
But well, they did it, they did it well, and even the 3D makes the experience more enjoyable!
It’s not like the recent Total Recall remake, and it’s not like The Raid.
Here’s the basic pitch:
Veteran Judge Dredd takes rookie cadet-Judge Anderson to a routine drug bust, and get trapped in a fortified tower-block where they are hunted by a psychotic drug-lord and her army of cronies.
Dredd and Anderson
Judge Dredd is a difficult character to translate to the screen, because he is an incredible one-dimensional character in the comic books, with an unforgiving adherence to the law and zero EQ.
In any other movie, I would probably rip into a protagonist that doesn’t change at all from beginning to end. In this movie, I would furrow my brow in frustration if Dredd were to have some epiphany at the beginning of the third act, because that’s just what Dredd is like at all.
That doesn’t mean that Dredd is boring though… his unrelenting devotion to justice and the law is his character, and that is adorned by generous amounts of badassery. Make no mistake about this: Judge Dredd is the most bad-ass character to grace cinema screens this year. He would kick Bane’s ass in heart beat, and then arrest (and execute) Batman for being a vigilante.
One good thing is that Karl Urban understood what putting on that helmet and entering the character of Judge Dredd meant: just because the iconic helmet only covers the top half of his face, doesn’t mean he has to emote as much as he can with his mouth and jaw. If anything, comic-Dredd’s distinctive mouth and jaw are just as much of a mask as his helmet, and Urban rightfully kept that deadpan look on throughout the film.
Honestly, I think it takes a lot of devotion for an actor to hide his face behind a mask in order to better serve the character. He might not win any Oscars, but he served the character as well as any actor in a “crying in the rain” emo scene.
More than once in the movie, I looked at the helmet and Urban’s jaw and I would think “That’s exactly like how they drew him!”
The first time he spoke in the movie, I groaned a bit because it was like Christian Bale’s Batman all over again… but luckily that got toned down really quickly and it just becomes a regular gruff voice and not the bat-growl. But throughout the movie, you’ll find Dredd spout off lines that could have come across as cheesy and dumb if it wasn’t delivered by Urban’s deadpan sincerity.
Balancing Dredd’s stoic character is his partner, rookie Judge Anderson. Firstly, it doesn’t hurt that Olivia Thirlby is incredibly pretty and attractive in her blonde get-up.
Secondly, she creates the perfect middle ground between the absolute lawfulness of Dredd and the absolute lawlessness of the bad guys. As a rookie Judge on her assessment run, she understands the law, but still acts human, with youthful ideals and a genuine desire to do good. And Thirlby pulled this off really well. It’s hard to like or connect to Dredd, but Thirlby makes it natural for you to warm up to Anderson.
But she’s still a Judge, and Judges have to be bad-assed. Anderson might not have shot anyone at the start of the movie, but Thirlby grows the character into quite a bad-ass too. There was one scene of non-hesitant gunfire that dispels any doubt that Judge Anderson has what it takes to survive in the chaos of Mega-City One.
A very focused story
You know those awesome and clever short films that you watch on YouTube and think “Man it’d be awesome if this was a full movie”? Dredd feels exactly like that.
The bulk of the story takes place in a giant tower-block, with only a few scenes outside of it. This keeps all the sets similar, and betrays the smaller budget of the film.
It doesn’t matter either, because it’s still a clever movie with a handful of effective action scene. You can tell that the producers are carefully counting their money in the budget, but it beats those run-of-the-mill blockbusters where they just throw money around to create a noisy and monstrosity of shiny but soulless CGI-driven scenes.
Now, Dredd does not have an epic feel. Sure, the Judges’ lives are at stake but the fate of the city does not hang in the balance or anything. Does it make it any less exciting?
No, and it also keeps the story focused on the two main characters, and I can think of no better way to properly introduce the character of Judge Dredd to an audience that hasn’t read the comics. Alex Garland has written a script that is true to the original characters and world, and I applaud him for that.
Being a violent world, there needs to be action in Dredd and when the bullets start flying, they fly pretty damn well. This is also the point where the M18-rating really comes into play.
There is just no way that the world of Judge Dredd can be properly represented in a PG environment. The Judges serve as cop, jury, judge, and executioners, so they don’t take prisoners when the crime is punishable by execution. That execution is carried out on the spot, and how could you portray a Judge shooting an unarmed criminal in the head if it was a PG movie?
I am so thankful that the producers didn’t opt for the money-making PG-blockbuster route… not just for the graphic violence but for the accurate portrayal of the brutal justice system in Mega-City One.
That said, it’s a pretty violent movie. There are moments of slo-mo violence where you see bullets going through people’s mouths, and people falling to their messy deaths from a 200-story drop. It’s messier than the average action film, but it’s not tacky or tasteless in my opinion. It’s just that kind of environment in Mega-City One.
Stunning 3D and VFX
Like many people, I’m at that point where 3D bugs me more than it excites me now, because I’m sick of more “in your face” moments. Dredd takes it differently, by blending 3D with super-slo-mo sequences to represent a new drug called “slo-mo” that makes you see things in… well, you can guess. I saw a featurette where the filmmakers had taken two super-cameras that shoot at 1000 frames per second to shoot real super-slo-mo 3D (not that post-conversion fake stuff), and I was quite interested to see how it’d look.
Well, the result is amazing. In a gunfight, you see previously unseen patterns in the blood splatter, and sparks flying in and out of the screen. I think it would look just as great in 2D, but the effect is definitely more immersive in 3D.
The rest of the VFX in Dredd is mostly used to represent the crazy-congested landscapes of Mega-City One, probably because of the limited budget, but that is a good thing because you don’t have random CGI robots walking around or anything. It just makes the world of Judge Dredd grittier and easier to accept.
Whether you’re a Dredd-fan or not, this is going to be one of those sleeper hits that you’ll be watching again and again during movie-nights with your friends. Why not make your first viewing more memorable by catching it on the big screen?
Remember: Dredd is probably the most bad-ass movie character of the year. He’s like Clint Eastwood, Liam Neeson, and AJ from the Backstreet Boys all rolled into one!
Dredd 3D explodes onto Singapore screens 20th September 2012.