Dredding it Part II
First off, this is my first PageBoy review for this site, and if there is anything the internet is good at it is celebrating pointless milestones, (that and cat gifs right?) So without further ado, let’s start talking about THE LAW and it’s personification in the form of Judge Dredd. I’ve written before about this particular character over on my own blog but for those of you who I haven’t met yet, let me explain something. PageBoy reviews are reviews of adaptations, trying to grapple with whether or not it’s possible to make the jump between mediums successfully, or whether it’s doomed to failure. As a life-long nerd I’ve always loved the comic character from 2000AD, and whilst the Stallone film was a guilty pleasure of mine I also always felt like the film completely missed what it was about the Dredd that made him so compelling.
This version was written in 2006 by Alex Garland despite the film itself not being announced until 2008 and after Duncan Jones passed on it directorial duties went to Pete Travis. Karl Urban takes on the role of Judge Dredd, Olivia Thirlby takes on the role of the rookie Judge Anderson and Lena Hadley is the bad guy, drug lord Ma-Ma. It’s usually here that I give a run down on plot, trying to avoid spoilers but as the plot is simple I don’t think I need to worry about giving spoilers. In the future lawless metropolis of Mega-City One a new drug is causing havoc, two judges are sent into a high rise controlled by the drug lord who seals them inside and the two have to fight their way out. I’ve simplified a few of the details there but that is pretty much the long and the short of it. As with the best action movies the stakes, characters and motivations are set up early leaving the rest of the run time for the action. If there’s one thing this film gets right it is that – the action is gorgeously choreographed and brutally violent and when coupled with the simply jaw dropping design and VFX work make this one of the best looking slices of action violence you are ever likely to see. The design work, especially the Slo-Mo sequences are wonderfully put together and the subtle details (making Dredd’s suit seem like it could take a blow or two) make the world seem compelling and absorbing – a dystopia that could actually occur. Karl Urban does a great job as Judge Dredd, managing to convey emotion without using his eyes at all as, thank goodness; he keeps on his helmet throughout the film and doesn’t scream ‘LAW’ like Stallone did.
So is it a good film? Yes. Absolutely and the fact that it didn’t do that well at the box office is a crying shame as it meant that any chance of a sequel was dead in the water. It’s slick, well done and tries to be an action film with a good aesthetic standard.
Whether or not this is a good adaptation though is another thing entirely, as, arguably, it isn’t possible to condense the complexities of a character that has been in existence since 1977. The initial drafts of Garland’s scripts dealt with things integral to the world of Dredd too, such as his relationship with Judge Death but these were rejected because it would have been just too much work for audiences not used to the world of the comics. Another adaptation criticism is that the comics used Judge Dredd as a tool for satire – the violence and over the top style was a deliberate choice – a way for the writers to make specific points about the rule of the law, the power of the police and how authority is used against citizens. If the film has done anything wrong it is the whole thing is played far too straight-faced. The violence and action is over the top and incredible to look at but the exaggeration is never something questioned by the film and thus audiences just get to accept Dredd as another action hero who can kick ass and take names without ever getting the deeper level of meaning the writers of the original character intended.
That may well be nit-picking however as whilst cinemas are buried under a slew of grey, dull, mechanical action films Dredd was a blast of bloody good fun. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see anymore.