Judge Dredd (2012)
I know, I know it’s going by the briefer sobriquet of ‘Dredd‘ but omitting the man’s profession seems unprofessional somehow, and I don’t fancy a knock on the door in the middle of the night followed by a five-year stretch in the iso cubes for not showing appropriate deference to authority. So after a couple of years of perusing horrible looking production photos, after cringing at the news of severe production difficulties the new Dredd movie is finally unleashed, a modestly budgeted SF action adventure picture set in a post apocalyptic future where the civilians and by association criminals have been concentrated in the enormous megalopolis of Mega City One, and only the Judges, authoritarian officers of the state whom have the power to sentence and execute criminals on the spot stand between civilisation and anarchy. With memories of the atrocious Sylvester Stallone vehicle from 1995 still stinging like a truncheon thwack to the kneecaps the fanboys were praying for a more faithful translation of the thirty-five years old comic character from the SF fanzine 2000AD, a prog unencumbered by the demands of modern star vehicles (‘But….but Dredd never takes his helmet off?!?!? Heresy!!!’) and when the news came down that the new film would be a hard R or 18 certificate some spark of excitement was ignited within me, that’s such a rare event these days, to get a film designed for an adult audience rather than appealing to the key market demographics and attempting a breaking and entering, smash & grab box-office weekend looting to get in and out with the treasure before the audience and critics realise the film’s atrocious. Having seen Dredd I’m still somewhat in a state of quiet admiration, I am happy to report that this was just about as gritty, violent and most crucially faithful a translation as we could have expected, it has some issues but overall this production throws all its modest resources at the screen with an arresting reaction, thus Dredd is destined to be one of this years guilty pleasures.
The future, and as is often the way some great cataclysm has occurred, probably a nuclear exchange of some sort, and in a world of dwindling resources the survivors of the human race have congregated in enormous mega cities, dominated by humongous tower blocks which can house over 100,000 people, horizontal urban gravestones in which you can live and die without ever setting foot out into the wider metropolis. Crime is rampant due to the inhospitable conditions and the state has cracked down by introducing the judges, armed policemen and women with the power to serve as judge, jury and executioner to deliver swift, on the spot justice, often of the most lethal variety. The most legendary lawman is the industrially inscrutable Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), who after effortlessly despatching a gang of drug razed goons is assigned a special mission by the Chief Judge, to escort the psychic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on her first day of service. A series of murders in Peach Tree block soon comes to their attention, as some members of a local gang after mistakenly crossed swords with Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former hooker turned drug dealer par exellence, providing the city with the latest street craze slo-mo, which as its title suggests gives the user the impression of time being slowed to a immoveable crawl. After being trapped in the block following a hacker lockdown Dredd and Anderson must fight their way through the building to reach Ma-Ma, disrupt her gangland empire and ensure that justice is passed….
I’m a big, big fan of 2000AD and grew up reading the exploits of the worlds most granite chin, so from the opening chase scene it was just a great deal of fun seeing characters speak the argot of iso-cubes, to bathe in the graffiti and urban malaise, and enjoy the gratuitous violence and gunplay which the film delivers with a high explosive kick. The film is grittier than a council fleet of winter weather gravel spreaders, with me musing to myself at one point ‘Hmm this looks like a Danny Boyle film, with a riot of colours and fast lenses provoking a high NRG type feel’ only to see Anthony Dod Mantle crop up as the DP in the closing credits. Crucially the tone is right, yes I wish they had more money to lavish on the city and SFX which seems curiously bereft of aliens or robots as it is in the comics, and yes it’s not quite as crazy and exaggerated, as smoothly satirical as the print version, but given the resources they had – $45 million is quite frankly a pittance these days and those wishing that they’d given Verhoeven $200 million and final cut simply aren’t operating in the real world – I thought it took its gritty, dirty, kind of nasty aesthetic and hit all the right buttons, it had something of a 1980’s action movie vibe to it and I mean that in a good Robocop or Hardware kinda way, and of course the South African production also reminds one of the recent favourite District Nine. They could have spent a few quid to give everyone some crazy kneepads though…
Karl Urban – a good name for the role – simply nails Dredd as a character, it’s not the most challenging task to emote through your chin but he walks the line of cartoon fascist and indestructible hard-man, I’m amusingly surprised that they actually managed to get away with ‘classic’ lines such as this which provoked gales of feedback when Stallone muttered them fifteen or so years ago. Judge Anderson I was much more suspicious of from the trailer, she’s always been more of a Scarlett Johansen type woman in my mentally criminal way, but to be fair Thirlby also convinces as a naive yet committed young officer who is quickly blooded in her baptism of fire, including one brutally shocking moment that still makes me giggle like a psych-cube punk. I also loved the stripped down designs of the weapons and costumes, the city blocks and vehicles, they were all kinda of low-key and as such contributed to the smaller scale and ambitions of the film. Taking a day in the life approach was an ideal manner to set up the world and hopefully establish a franchise, all played through the amateur eyes of Anderson, and thankfully completely absent is any entertaining of even the notion of a of love interest or comedy sidekick, although the proximity of The Raid with its similar plot of battling through a parade of criminals up through the levels to a final boss has caused some concerns I don’t think it really matters, as anyone planning on seeing this isn’t going to have their mind changed by its alleged similarities to another of this years action based successes. It was also kinda amusing to see Avon Barksdale on the big screen, a little in-joke treat for any of you The Wire out there….
So finally the 3D and extensive use of slooooo-mooooo as an aesthetic design, it’s really the films USP, its secret weapon which isn’t too overwrought, as a fan of 3D when used correctly this deployment of visual alignments works quite well, suggesting the gaseous distortions engendered by the central narcotic at the heart of the case, it was certainly more effective and appropriate a deployment of resources than bringing on the chain guns at one moment which I thought was a bit stupid and briefly kicked me out of the picture. So, as a one-off prog director Pete Travis exonerates his record after the crime of Vantage Point, and self-confessed thrill power addict scribble droid Alex Garland have surprised us all with this initial foray into this darkly brazen future, they’ve done the comics justice (oh c’mon I had too) and with a modest apprehension of franchise building I hope it’s a modest hit so we can get the rumoured second and third installments in a potential trilogy, with part 2 foraging into the radioactive wasteland of the Cursed Earth and dark talk of bringing the Dark Judges to the screen for part 3, a prospect that might just blow my thrill power circuits – zarjaz;