Tuesday, 9 October 2012



Pete Travis, 2012, UK-USA-India

Well it’s got to be hard when the general public opinion starts with “It’s not as bad as that Stallone version,” but there it is. “Dredd” also suffers from coming on the heels of the hugely impressive “The Raid” with its identical plot. Action guys trapped in a crime-ruled highrise full of people trying to kill them. Perhaps, though, the problem is that Alex Garland’s story does not feel distinctively Dredd. Its Megacity One futurescape feels very much akin to the near-future grunge so familiar from, say, “Escape From New York”, “Robocop”, “The Warriors”, and a dozen others, even this season's "Looper". As is so often the case, perhaps “Blade Runner” already beat Megacity to the punch. Well, Megacity One from the pages of “2000 A.D.” probably inspired the neon urban hell of “Blade Runner” in the first place, plus the films already mentioned, so there is that. The Mega City 1 of “Dredd” feels a little cosy as a dystopia in comparison to the lunatics-on-the-loose police state hellhole of the comics, and even though the film has several decades of Dredd legacy and city psychosis to draw upon, there is, again, not enough of the uniquely Dredd here.
I, for one, have enjoyed the “Judge Dredd” comic strip on an off ever since I was a kid and I found Megacity 1 to be a terrifying place. The population seemed clinically insane and the Judges were merciless and brutal in response. A rock and a hard place barely covers it, and was Dredd hero or terrifying authority figure? I couldn’t tell. Indeed, in this version of the city he patrols, it looks like the early days of the city that appears in the comics, which maybe isn't a bad place to start but it doesn't have quite the Supporting Actor presence as fans might like, despite the Overwhelmingly Obvious Voiceover that namechecks Megacity history and geography before abandoning them for a far more stripped down B-level Judge Dredd tale.
And what to do with Dredd, a character who is deliberately two-dimensional, fascistic and authoritarian, legendary, invulnerable, unflappable and, shall we say, sociopathic and narrow in his view of the law? More than that, he is satirical. In Pete Travis’ film and Karl Urban’s winning chin performance, Dredd is droll and, most likely for the better, probably more ambiguous in the flesh. However, it is Judge rookie-psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who gets to take her helmet off and is the focus of the film’s concerns: there is the rookie/mentor narrative, the fact that she too comes from the wrong end of town (implying that Judges predominantly come mostly from the ranks of the cloned privileged?) and that she has, you know, feelings, which might interfere with good manly Judging. None of this is particularly original and engaging but this does weigh the film more in Anderson’s favour than Dredd’s, despite Karl Urban’s chin and steely line delivery. In this version of the character, too, Dredd feels a little more vigilante than lawgiver, and the social satire seems to have disappeared under a veneer of action-film brutality; oh, Dredd has always been violent, but the satire was nearly always dominant.
As it is, the dialogue is almost all exposition and not nearly witty enough, or even interesting. For a generic and overly familiar set-up and narrative, it’s far too talky. We know this plot. What we do have, rather than light-relief or wit, is what I might call the shock-relief of the ultra-violence. The slo-mo sequences brought about by the slo-mo drug poisoning the city blocks do provide a nastily graphic shoot-up sequence where the wounds and blood burst in stretched-out detail, which makes a nice relief from the fast-fast-fast and incomprehensible cutting currently in vogue for most action sequences. It is also used to give the villainess – Leana Heady, you know, out-macho-ing the men – the one moment of grace in the film, in closing; which seems perverse.
I suspect “Dredd” will continue to hold on to a very respectable reputation, especially once from under the altogether more exemplary “The Raid”, and it’s enjoyable for sure, but there is the sense that it really isn’t quite reaching its potential. Perhaps, again, the mistake is thinking this most outrageous of characters is a more vigilante fantasy rather than satire. Perhaps it’s in focusing in the action part of Dredd rather than the bizarre and the grotesque which typifies his world in the comics. If this is an early version of Mega City 1 and this film fits into a bunch of sequels – in the style of Bond, say – where the city and Dredd expand and offer up, truly, the bizarre details and urban insanity of the comics, my belief is that it would truly benefit from being part of a greater whole. So I hope for more and better.

P.S. Oh, and I know many thought this was a good representation of 3D, but it just pissed me off that I had to pay more to watch it with glasses that caused light loss and very little improvement, if any.

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