Sunday 9 September 2012

Dredd 3D

Drokk n’ Roll

Dredd 3D 2012 UK 
Directed by Pete Travis
Playing at UK cinemas now

Warning: There are very minor, drokkin’ spoilers
in this one. Don’t judge me on that.

When I was a child my dad told me about a lot of cool stuff he’d seen at the cinema or read in books or comics. One of his favourite comic strips was called Dan Dare and it ran in a quite superb comic in the 50s and, I think, early 60s, called The Eagle. Sometime in the 80s, one of the publishers started reprinting collected volumes of Dan Dare and I could finally read these awesome strips for myself and see just how fine, and how far from anything else on the comics scene at the time, the artwork was on those. Pretty incredible.

However, back in 1977, when I was 9 years old... I couldn’t.

But something happened that same year. My father and I were in a newsagent in Edmonton Green Shopping Centre and we spotted the very first issue of a new comic that was advertising the “new Dan Dare” comic strip. The comic was 2000AD and my dad bought it for me... and we both read it in turn. From then on we were hooked, although my dog chewed up the free 'Space Spinner' (small, red, plastic frisbee thing) which was free with that first issue. We bought every issue as it came out and I saved them and have them all to this day. I stopped buying the comic maybe six or seven years ago... so I think I read almost 30 years of the thing and , believe me, that’s a lot of comic boxes worth of fine artwork and compelling stories right there.

I remember the advertisement in that first one talking about their new strip starting in issue 2. The strip was called Judge Dredd and he was a “lawman of the future”. He was also ultra violent (the comic used to get in trouble with the trade standards and censors a lot for introducing kids quite graphically to concepts like entry wounds and exit wounds), a bit of a fascist, never smiled, never took his helmet off and, due to the bleak humour injected into the skillfully written stories, became the comic’s most popular character in no time. To this day, to my knowledge, he’s never taken a break from patrolling the futuristic streets of Mega City One and has even existed in three UK publications simultaneously at one point. That’s a lot of Dredd back story to choose from if you’re going to make a movie out of the character.

The second issue also had free 'Biotronic Stickers' with it which you peeled off and stuck to your limbs to make yourself look like you had bits of machinery poking through your arms and legs.So that second weekend two things happened. One was, I discovered I liked this new Judge Dredd comic strip and the second thing was my young discovery of the intense agony that only comes from peeling big, garish stickers slowly and painfully off of my own hairy arms. That second was a lesson I’ll never forget.

They tried making a movie of Judge Dredd back in the mid-90s with Sylvester Stallone in the role (even though Joe Dredd in the strip was obviously modelled after Clint Eastwood) and based, amongst others, on a multi-part, epic story called The Day The Law Died with a tyrannical Chief Judge, Judge Cal, who was obviously based on Caligula. Most people thought the movie was quite bad. I’d say that it wasn’t all bad... the first twenty minutes of that film were pretty good Dredd, actually. Unfortunately the movie did then jettison the pure Dreddness of the character and story and basically turned into a Hollywood action movie that was fine on its own merits but which really stopped doing the character any justice from the moment Sly Stallone took his helmet off.

So frankly, up until this weekend, the absolute best and faithful adaptation we have had of Judge Dredd in terms of the bleak humour and, heck, on a lot of levels actually has been...

... the first Robocop movie.

Everyone going to that movie when it came out in 1994 knew it was ripping off the strip in 2000AD and we were all surprised when the studio that brought that one out didn’t have to pay some hefty royalties to “the galaxy’s greatest comic”. Yep! As I said... that was the most faithful in tone we’ve had to that character at the movies. Up until now.

When I heard they were making a new Judge Dredd movie for this year I wished them luck but didn’t expect it to be any more than another failed clone of the first movie attempt. Dredd was just too bleak and dark humoured for the kind of box office money they were going for.... surely?

Well, yeah, probably. But the good thing is... they done it right.

Now this film has one main problem, that I can see, and that’s Mega City One. I’m guessing there wasn’t enough money in the budget to properly render a true, futuristic vision of Dredd’s turf that would match the visions created by people like Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon and Carlos Ezquerra form the 70s and onwards. However, the lack of “futurism” on display in this version is at least justified in the opening voice over narrative by Dredd himself as a story point and, although I thought it was going to be very off-putting, the fact is... it wasn’t. Almost all of the action in this movie takes place over the 200 levels of one of the giant tower blocks of Mega City One and so there just aren’t enough shots used to let you get too much of a handle on it.

Everything else is pretty good though.

Right down to a newsfeed that mentions an iconic character called Fergie and various bits of referential graffiti highlighting jetboard, graffiti artist Marlon Shakespeare (aka Chopper) and Kenny Who!

The film takes place during Dredd’s examination day of rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson, another character from the comic created in the 80s and based on the look of Debbie Harry. Anderson was immediately popular with the readership of the comics when she was first introduced as a minor character because a) she was a Psi-Division Judge... which means she had psychokinetic and telepathic abilities... and b) she was really hot! So she’s an obvious character to bring to the screen. Also, it allows them to set her up for Judge Death if they chose to feature the four dark judges from Necropolis in any possible sequels.

This film uses exactly the same kind of plot of the recent movie The Raid (itself a variant on what the original version of Bruce Lee’s incomplete version of Game Of Death was supposed to be), but instead of a whole police team going into the building and taking on everyone inside, you have just Dredd and his new rookie, under examination conditions, trying to fight their way against all odds to take out MaMa... a villainess who basically “owns” the block and who has been manufacturing and selling a new street drug called Slo-Mo, which has the effect of slowing time right down for a while for any of its users/addicts.

Actually, the plot device of Slo-Mo is a pretty smart move by the makers of the movie, as it allows for some really great, slow motion photography, with lots of “Argento moments” and also enables the gory violence (this movie has an 18 certificate) to be slowly and voyeuristically consumed in much the same way that us kids in the 70s would be able to have frozen moments of time, from panel to panel of the strip, showing a bullet going into one persons head from one side and then exiting the other with a great splash of “black ink blood” (2000AD was a black and white comic for many years with just the covers and the centre pages being in colour).

I say Argento moments because the cinematography on this one is full of moments which show the beauty of violence in much the same way that Dario Argento would dwell on or create a specific shot or surprising moment, just for the sake of having a great shot with nothing supporting the story. Argento’s pretty much admitted this penchant for the “cool shot” over the story support in interviews and anyone who doubts this just needs to look at the non-sequitur “Mad Puppet” scene in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso) to understand what I’m talking about here. Dredd 3D is filled with a lot of shots of slowed down water splashing, or cheeks exploding as bullets fly through them and fire being reflected in his helmet visor etc. Indulgent but brilliant and very welcome. Dario Argento is going to love this movie, I’m sure.

But it’s not just the story that has a lot going for it. The actors are great too. Karl Urban, a young actor I’ve been watching with great interest, gets Dredd right and stays right with the character all the way through. He doesn’t take his helmet off, he doesn’t smile and he’s got a growling Clint Eastwood style voice delivery that really lets you know that he is “the law” and is not expecting to be taking any prisoners when it comes to fighting for justice.

Similarly, a young actress called Olivia Thirlby really does a fantastic job as future Judge Anderson. She instantly wears the part and makes it her own and you will definitely be rooting for her to pass her exam and stay the heck out of trouble while you’re watching this one. There are some pretty intense sequences with her and a captured perp in the movie and she really handles herself well in these scenes because Thirlby looks way too wispy to be able to survive in this kind of hostile, aggressive environment... but survive and flourish she does.

Supervillain MaMa, as played by Lena Headey, is also extremely impressive... although I can’t for the life of me think why. I’ve never really noticed her in movies before, although I’ve seen her in a few I think, but she does an absolutely amazing job here without seeming to do much of anything at all. She doesn’t go in for any flashy, grand-standy type flourishes with the character, she just plays her very simplistically and naturally... which means that half the time she’s just standing around doing nothing much. However, I think it’s fair to say that in the scenes she’s in, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She really has an absolutely amazing amount of screen presence and the vibe you get from her that she’s a woman to be reckoned with is instant and really serves the movie well. I’ve got to start looking out for this lady in more films.

And I guess that’s it, apart from the music. The score is okayish industrial noise which I’m really hoping will come out on CD so I can actually hear what it sounds like as opposed to being buried in the mix of the movie. Meanwhile, there’s a new album out called DROKK by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury which I just bought which purports to be an album of music “inspired by Mega City One” but which also happens to be, although it’s obviously not sold as this, the rejected score to this movie. Can’t wait to put that on later and check out what might have been.

And that’s all there is to say I think. Dredd 3D perfectly captures the atmosphere and tone of the strip as it was when I used to read it in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Judge costumes are admittedly a lot clumsier and clunkier than I’d hoped for but you get used to that pretty quickly. I think the real reason this movie might possibly fail at the box office, in addition to being made 30 years too late, is the fact that it is very dry in the tone of the characters and very simplistic in its story. Younger audiences these days want more emotion and upbeat from their action movies... this is just like those comics, so it’s far from what the kiddies will be expecting from it.

Nevertheless, this movie gets a strong recommendation from me. Dredd done right for a change. Catch it while you can. It's Zarjaz!


  1. Dave Brighton (@ickabelgont)9 September 2012 at 13:20

    Judge Dredd is something of a guilty pleasure. It's dragged down by an overly muddled script and, particularly, the presence of Rob Schneider, but Stallone is a good fit for Dredd. I think the wasted potential is why it disappoints so much.
    Urban has clearly done his homework, and Thirlby is a revelation as Anderson. I also liked the lo-fi look, very much in keeping with the grittiness of the strips- lets hope the box office is good enough for a sequel or two. Bring on Judge Death

  2. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by and have a read.

    I think the real problem with Schneider in the Stallone movie is that the character he plays is NOTHING like as the original. This totally kills it. They could have just renamed the character and left Stallone's helmet on... I'm guessing that last was a studio decision and not the directors fault, though.

    I've been meaning to watch it again, to be honest. But the new movie is great and I'll be going back to see that one again soon.

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment here. Much appreciated.