Friday, January 25, 2013

"Negotiaion is over... the sentence is death..."

By Russel D McLean

Russel has been on deadline this week for several things. However, with the movie Dredd about to appear on DVD and Blu-Ray, here are Russel's thoughts on the movie after a special screening in Dundee that he attended several months ago. This post was originally published on Russel's personal blog at

Judge Dredd is hard to pin down. As a comic, its about a totalitarian who is not just above the law, but, well, he is the law. Judge Judy and executioner*, he represents the faceless and implacable kind of justice that terrifies left wingers like me and makes the right wingers smile gently as they experience a kind of euphoria knowing that someone's out there kicking bad arse.

But you know what, I always thought Dredd was a very British kind of joke. He's such a straight and the bad guys he puts away are so bad that he could only be a kind of parody or gentle poke at the square jawed totalitarian American hero. Dredd was the kind of Satire that could only come from the UK and he was dressed as American SF.

Which means that when he's written wrong, he's written very very wrong.

Like when they first tried to move Dredd beyond the pages of the always-slightly-tongue-in-cheek 2000AD and into the world of Hollyweird. Thinking that Dredd is a no-nonsense action hero, they cast Sylvester Stallone in the role and wound up with a bizarre action-comedy-buddy-post-apocalyptic mess that looked very pretty on occasion but ultimately did nothing to make Dredd appeal to a more mainstream audience and also, at the same time, managed to alienate most of the comic book fans, too.

So Dredd moved to movie Limbo.

Until now.

Until Dredd 3D.

I was lucky to witness the screening of this in the company of two Dredd artists - Cam Kennedy and Colin MacNeil - and one Dredd scripter - Al Ewing - here in Dundee. And yes, it was in 3D, something I generally hate.

But I was surprised by Dredd. Because while it isn't perfect, its actually a decent little actioner with a lean plot, a quick eye for detail and a central performance that really, really works.

Karl Urban may not be seven feet tall or have the voice of Clint Easwtood gargling a bag of nails, but he's efficiently, believably tough in a movie that has enough to eschew the more insane aspects of Dredd's future in Mega City One and instead create a stripped down apocalyptic future that feels plausible when seen in the "real world". Because the truth us that as much as talented artists like MacNeil and Kennedy can make us believed in the impossible world of Mega City One, that same insanity cannot ever be physically translated using real actors. No matter how many CGI tricks you use, there comes a point where it just won't feel real. And this was a mistake (other than Sly) made by the earlier movie that tried to go all out in its sci-fi-ness. Here, the movie plays with what feels right. It picks and chooses the aspects of the Dredd-verse its going to play with and, even more impressively, it doesn't try to explain everything.

It just tells the story it wants to.

And that story is this:

Veteran Judge, Dredd (Judges in this future world have all the powers of the police and can immediately dispense justice for criminal transgressions up to and including death) is assigned a rookie Judge by the name of Anderson to look after for the day. Anderson is a borderline candidate who may not have what it takes to be a judge but is blessed with psychic powers that mean she can read people's minds.

Taking a call to a massive 300 storey tower block where three men are found dead, suspected of involvement with a new drug called Slo-Mo, Dredd and Anderson soon find themselves trapped in the tower block at the mercy of a crazed gang lord called Ma. The film focusses on Dredd and Anderson's attempts to survive within the sealed-off block that is completely controlled by this insane criminal.

And that's about it.

There's no attempts at sublety or deep themes. Its just a straight up action movie with the effects of the drug Slo-Mo providing some spectacular uses for 3D. This is the first time 3D has worked for me in a movie because they tie it in nicely to the use of the drug, and really pay attention to making their effects work.

Its also great to see some really painful action. Its kind of a Die-Hard in the future feel here, and Dredd even gets to bleed quite painfully a few times.

Dredd is a pulpy fun time at the movies. There is no depth to the story, and nor is there any desire for there to be. It sets its world up, sends its characters into danger and watches them fight to get back out. Its unapologetic, its not chasing the "family" market and it has a great lead in Urban who somehow manages to give a convincing performance while never once taking that helmet off. But then, Urban is a very natural and slightly chameleonic screen presence. I got chills seeing him channel "Bones" in the Star Trek reboot and he couldn't be more different than that here, again.

The film itself cherry picks the Dredd it wants. It ditches the satire (not completely, but for the most part) and the overly comedic stuff, opting to play as straight as the set up allows. And that's a good choice. All that uniquely British comics satire would never have translated to the big screen, so the film-makers wisely decide to reinterpret the material in a way that does work for them. Like a book adpatation, Dredd is not as faithful as some rabid fans might expect, but then movie-making is its own beast, and I am one who believes that movie adpatations should always carve out their own existence from the source material. Which Dredd(3D) does.

If you hate action movies or don't like the idea of Judge Dredd even just a little, then nothing here will change your mind. But if you're looking for a pulp dystopian action movie that does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well, then you'll have a good time with Dredd.

*apologies to the makers of Hot Fuzz for nicking their joke

1 comment:

Jack Badelaire said...

I'm in total agreement. Dredd was a very high-speed, low-drag sort of action film. Lean, stark, and simple, but what it tried to do, I think it did very well.

The Stallone version, while (kinda) entertaining as a buddy post-apoc buddy-cop action-comedy, failed on many levels to have any relation to Dredd by, of course, immediately stripping him of his Judge powers for most of the movie, just one of many of its faults.

The Urban film focused on what Dredd was; an utter badass who had absolute conviction in his code of conduct and the Right of the Law. But he's not stupid, and he's not without sympathy or understanding of the world around him, either. I agree that there's no way they could have fit the 2000AD Dredd into a film and do it right (although I got a kick out of seeing "Drokk" written on the back of a jacket during the opening car chase), but what we were given was, in my mind, an acceptable facsimile.