Dredd (2012) from DNA Film Productions
Author’s Note: Lest my readers be confused, this is a special edition of the “Retro Review” series in that this film is not retro at all. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the British sci-fi comics series about Judge Dredd, set in post-apocalyptic America, are fairly important in terms of the flow of British comics and sci-fi. It would be an oversight on my part to ignore the character entirely. That being said, the original Judge Dredd (1995) film, starring Sylvester Stallone, is simply put, divisive. It may be a quality example of a big-budget 90s action films, but that does not mean it’s a quality film. And while there is a place for overlooked genre pieces, this series of reviews, in my opinion, already has its fair share of them. So I’ve chosen to go with the 2012 version as it is a piece of media that I think is worth a review and a watch if you missed it before.
Who: Directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point), written by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine), with scowling prowess provided by Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek) and a good turn as a villain from Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones).
What: In the sprawling Megacities of the future, the only semblance of law and order comes straight from the powerful and merciless hand of the Judges of the Hall of Justice. Cadet Anderson, a young woman with psychic powers, has only her field test standing between her and her shiny, official Judge Badge. She is assigned to Judge Dredd to experience a normal, violence-filled day in Megacity One, but things take an unexpected turn when Dredd and Anderson become stranded inside the housing block of Peach Trees, locked in a battle with the drug gang known as the Ma Ma Clan. The two officers, as unalike as they are, must rely on only each other if they are to survive and live to judge another day.
Where: Dredd was filmed in the relatively inexpensive locations of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. (One could say the film follows in the footsteps of the distinctive District 9 in more than just location choice.) Dredd didn’t abandon its Britannic roots entirely however: the opening scene was filmed in a shopping center, called Oriental City, that is located in Colindale, England.
When: The big splash films of 2012 were franchise darlings The Avengers and The Hunger Games, but the year also saw the release of multiple remakes and updates of films of the past. These included the Alien almost-prequel, Prometheus, Total Recall, The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black 3, and Dredd itself. The year also featured a few more original sci-fi films, like Looper, Chronicle, and Cloud Atlas. The fact that Dredd fits into both of the latter two categories makes it an interesting little movie, as it combines a bit of name recognition with content that is crafted unlike that of the usual action adventure fare. Dredd was nominated for Best Science-Fiction/Fantasy Film, Best British Film, and Best 3-D Film at the Empire Awards of Britain in 2013, but it only won the last award.
Why You Should Watch It: For all its modernity in terms of SFX, soundtrack, and characters, it’s the succinct 1980s pacing and localized plot that really makes this one a winner. The characterization comes in bits and pieces where it fits naturally and only when it’s needed. The action is nearly non-stop and, for the most part, bombastic and bloody. The visions that the drug Slo-Mo gives its users become something we can see as well, and enhance our view of an intriguing mess of a city. It’s all very compact, while maintaining the illusion that there is much more to these characters and this city.
The film is contained to one city block, but in that building we experience a microcosm of the whole civilization. There are regular families, gang members, gang victims and Judges, and the goals of each group are limited and specific. Both Dredd and Anderson are strong characters, and the villains and their helpers are more than just guns with empty threats. (And I’m pretty sure whole articles have been written on how Karl Urban manages to growl his way through this without showing us his eyes and yet deliver emotion.) As well as taking place in one main location, the story also takes place in less than a day. For all its chaos and lawlessness, Dredd is so downright Aristotelian in its construct that its a bullet-riddled triumph of storytelling done simply and well.
Why You Could Maybe Skip It: If you have no interest in post-apocalyptic society, the future of the metropolitan justice system, or very bloody violence then steer clear of this one. And while it may make you think a wee bit, it’s not the most cerebral of films. Its version of corrupt city sprawl is hard-hitting but doesn’t reveal much of anything new. The Judges themselves are the best this series has to offer and people may sometimes find Dredd himself a difficult character to relate to. His character comes from how he decides to act in certain situations, but there is not much to tell us who this man was before he became Judge Dredd.
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