Don’t call it a remake. Dredd is exactly what the Sylvester Stallone vehicle should have been in the nineties. Not that Judge Dredd was a horrible movie, Rob Schneider and Sly’s catchphrases notwithstanding. I always thought it was better than most people claimed. It’s just that it kind of bent the source material over a rail and had its way with it. I’m not entirely familiar with the source material, but I’ve read enough of it to know 2012’s Dredd respects it. This isn’t a movie made for kids and the violence, though graphic, doesn’t contain an ounce of unnecessary shock value.
In the future, Judges are also cops and executioners rolled into one. The film starts with an obligatory cold open. Dredd is chasing some bad guys who are high on slo-mo, a drug which makes users perceive time at 1% of reality. The following isn’t really a spoiler: Dredd sentences them all to death, the last of which is dispensed in one of the coolest movie deaths I’ve seen in years. Afterwards, Dredd is assigned a new partner, Judge Anderson, who failed her tests, but their superiors are interested in her because she demonstrates psychic abilities.
Dredd’s job is to assess her throughout the day. If she passes his testing, she becomes a Judge. (I can’t believe how tired this all sounds in writing, because it actually plays very well in the movie.) Their first day together on the beat involves fielding distress calls. Dredd tells her it’s a fact of life that Judges can only respond to a fraction of the calls. He lets her choose which one they’ll take. Anderson chooses a two-hundred story slum which just happens to house the distributor of slo-mo, an absolutely evil woman named Mama.
During the course of an investigation that involves three bodies (skinned alive) the Judges kill a few perps and make an arrest. As they’re leaving, Mama hacks into the building’s security system and closes the blast doors. There’s no way to get in or out. Mama makes an announcement to the tenants of the building: she’s not opening the doors until Dredd and Anderson are killed.
That’s the entire movie. It doesn’t sound like it’s particularly fresh or entertaining, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel engaged throughout. The film is very well made and rarely offends your intelligence. I’ve rarely seen subject matter like this that’s handled so tastefully. 1995’s Judge Dredd was way too over-the-top in terms of performances and action. This film’s keyed down and that’s exactly where it belongs.
For one, there’s the slo-mo gimmick. The filmmakers restrained themselves from abusing the tactic and it makes for some really interesting photography. Another thing is the movie doesn’t insult us with the usual buddy cop bullshit. When Dredd is told he has to take on Anderson, it isn’t, “Like hell I will!” It’s simply, “Okay.” That’s five to twenty minutes of bullshit right there that are thankfully left out. And although Dredd is expectantly stern with Anderson, you always get the feeling he respects her, something most of these movies save as a cheap payoff for the end.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t missteps. When four Judges are revealed to be bounty hunters who’ll kill Dredd for money, I felt the movie meandered. I’m not talking a total derailment, but I wondered why the filmmakers bothered. There’s also a damsel-in-distress subplot that appears at an awkward time. Other than that, the movie escapes the usual standards by which I view movies. How? By simply being good—exceptionally good. It’s a certain type of movie that’s nearly gone extinct, but it’s a fine and solid example thereof.
In the trailer, Olivia Thirlby (she was Juno’s best friend) seems like a terrible choice for Judge Anderson. In the context of the movie, however, she’s pretty good. In the 1995 production, the producers were too uptight to put Stallone in a movie in which he never shows his face; he spends more time with the helmet off than on. In this one, Karl Urban never takes the mask off. You could call his portrayal of Dredd monotone, but I gotta hand it to him: it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re wearing a costume like his and speaking in a gravelly voice.
These movies are only as good as their villains and this film has a good one. It’s cool to see a woman in a role like this. When Mama beats the shit out of a man twice her size, you believe it. When I saw the trailer, I thought that character above all would be my biggest complaint. Turns out it was my favorite aspect. As far as these comic adaptations go, this one is superb. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of the origins story. It’s nice to see something start in the middle of the action. It’s a simple film, sure, but there’s an elegance and very few things explode.
I miss movies like this. In the nineties, you could market R-rated films to children (there used to be Alien, Predator, and Terminator action figures), but the era of the multiplex brought stricter parents and movie theaters that actually carded. It’s a sad fact of life that Hollywood has pandered so much to children in recent years, who are now turning their backs on movies for video games and mobile technologies. Adults rarely have a good excuse to go see a movie, but Dredd’s one of the better ones. As of this writing it hasn’t recouped half of its modest budget. It’s a shame, too, because I’d actually be interested in a sequel.
Note: I didn’t link to the trailer because it’s got more than one significant spoiler in it.
The response from most science fiction fans: What the fuck is he talking about?
“I hope your favorite movie isn’t ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,” Hewitt joked.
“I’ll stay away from that,” Romney said laughing.
I can’t embed the video here (at least I don’t think I can) so here’s the link.
I’m not particularly persuaded by nostalgia, but hot damn, Joe Bob Briggs is one of my favorite people alive. Perhaps it’s because he’s a fellow southerner who somehow doesn’t seem retarded. Not many people can get away with wearing cowboy boots and bolo ties, certainly not while checking off lists that count the number of breasts and severed heads seen in a movie.
Things that surprised me about Rolfe’s video:
- There was a Monster Vision before Joe Bob Briggs. I’m sure I knew about this back then, but either way, I didn’t know it now.
- Penn & Teller once hosted the show for a month.
- Monster Vision ran longer than I suspected it did. It wasn’t cancelled until 2000.
AUGUST 2015 UPDATE: Inexplicably, this post has been getting a lot of views lately, but it’s pretty old. I thought I’d point this similar keyboard out. (That’s not an affiliate link, by the way. I make no money directly off of this blog.) The linked keyboard is, at the time of this writing, $35 and it’s got good user reviews. If anyone cares about the original post, here it is:
I love it.