I still remember saving my paper run money to afford my own subscription to 2000AD. The coloured fish and chip paper comic from the UK never looked so good as when Judge Dredd was on the cover. In the 1995 movie we saw Sylvester Stallone don the eagle shoulder pads and push his jaw beyond the dark polished visor of the helmet to give us the first glimpse of the Mega City cop. Most fans found the film an offence. If it wasn’t the ultimate no-no of Sly taking off the helmet it was the plasticised glowing future that didn’t match the dark side of the comic’s Mega City life.
In this new 3D edition movie of the UK comic’s lawman, we have kiwi Karl Urban giving us a rawer meaty version of the law known as Judge Dredd. Urban gives a superb jawline that ensures he fits the costume down to the chin. Like Hugo Weaving in ‘V for Vendetta’, this is a hard piece to act behind a mask. Kudos has already been given to Urban for the voice that characterises the cold focussed lawman that is Judge Dredd. The rest of the performance comes down to the clinical killing off of citizens who simply ‘do not comply’.
This version deserves its R18 rating on the death count score. With some very visual death pieces and some nudity it isn’t a movie for Mum, Dad and the kids. While the previous 1995 version was criticised for the US influence on a UK storyline, this outing has South Africa written all over it. The production happened in Cape Town and the nuances of atmosphere are more than coincidentally in sync with the feeling of the urban desert backdrop we saw in District 9.
While the South Africa connections for the production have given us an amazing backdrop and a superb production set on an incredibly Scottish budget, the results shout techno class to the max. Estimates say that the movie was made for $45million which in the tech and effects world buys you a pastrami on rye hold the mayo. Here we get the caviar thrown in with a glass of vino. Director Pete Travis first impressed me with Vantage Point as an innovative thriller. As a Pom he now had a lot to live up to for this movie and I think he ticked all the fan’s boxes.
Our story reintroduces us to the Judge system of the lawmen. In this universe the post-apocalyptic world sees Judges invested with the ability to investigate, sentence and if necessary execute offenders. They patrol the communities of the future on their Lawmaster bikes equipped with every weaponry and their personal side arm is DNA assigned to their grip insuring no tampering from the public.
On this ‘case’ Dredd has to take along Cassandra Anderson played by Olivia Thirlby. This newbie who may fail the Judge system for lack of conviction needs the Judge of all Judges to test her mettle in the field. At the end of the day he will force a pass or fail on the career of one so promising. Fans will recognise the character as Judge Anderson from Psi Division and that’s about all I have to say about that.
The storyline sits well in Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic city where 200 story high-rises become homes for life to hundreds of thousands of citizens. While a home to countless, we the observers see what would look like a ‘Shutter Island’ detention block for the insane or a darker form of the Zion city we saw in the Matrix trilogy. Here amongst the urban dependants lives Ma-Ma. The scarred former prostitute turned leader of the most notorious drug gang rules her hordes with violence and drug habituates. Lena Headey works this role in a vulgar arrogant fashion. She who must be obeyed, must be feared and she deserves the latter.
When Dredd and Anderson are called to the high-rise block known ironically as Peach Trees we see the inner landscape of the slum. The lifeblood and poison of the people is a new drug aptly called Slo-Mo. This beast draws its users into a psychedelic world where everything stands still so you can count the colours as they mess with your reality. Needless to say the drug’s attributes leave the film makers lots of creativity for death at half speed.
This is not a pleasant world and shows life for what the original comic book writers intended. Some have linked the story with The Raid where a SWAT team are trapped in a high-rise against a mobster’s goons. There are similarities but there can only be one Judge Dredd.
For cinematic excellence to the Dredd fanlore it deserves I’m giving DREDD 4 out of 5 popcorns.
In New Zealand Cinemas Thursday, 4th Octber, 2012
R18 Graphic violence and offensive language.