Dredd 3D (2012)
Director: Pete Travis.
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris.
Run Time: 95 minutes.
Dredd 3D, as everyone probably knows, is based on the popular 2000AD comic Judge Dredd. It can also be considered a reboot of the franchise, after the critically panned 1995 Sylvester Stallone version. SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m actually a massive fan of the Stallone version. I also understand the fan criticism of this adaptation. No real consideration was given to the themes and politics of the comic, and the grand satire present. It was basically an excuse for Stallone to mumble his way through some futuristic explosions. I would hope, even if I didn’t enjoy it, that Dredd 3D would at least hold the source material in a higher regard than the ’95 adaptation.
It did, but only really in terms of character. I was hoping for a bit (as in any) of social commentary, or political satire, to flesh out Mega City 1. This would have been possible, had Dredd 3D (do I have to keep calling it that?) had any real plot to speak of. Instead we get a tiny bit of exposition, a ‘rookie getting shown the ropes’ plot device, and boom! Perpetual action scene. I have actually prepared a defence for this, which is: if you give a big budget film writer enough rope, he will write a really convoluted and stupid plot (or something like that). It was a common theme with the ‘big 3’ of the summer (Prometheus, Avengers Assemble, and The Dark Knight Rises), so I was actually relieved that I wasn’t groaning over stupid set pieces or shitty dialogue for an hour and a half. That’s not to excuse the non-existent plot, just making lemonade out of some spilt milk (or something like that).
Visually, I really enjoyed the grit and grime of Mega City 1 and the Peach Trees mega block. It lacked the usual green screen sheen, setting it apart from the standard popcorn fodder. The opening tracking shots reminded me of District 9 in a way, which is always a plus. Conversely Dredd’s bike looked awful, and his helmet was too big for his head. Karl Urban seemed like a good fit early on in production, but he has a horrifically weak fat old man chin, which combined with the oversized helmet made him look a bit like a bobble head.
There were some interesting creative drug-induced flourishes making good use of the 3D, but not good enough to justify filming in this format. After a while, the ‘slo-mo’ scenes just got a bit tedious, and seemed to be there only because the 3D was available.
The real stand out element of the film was Lena Headey’s villain Ma Ma, who added an element of steel and cruelty, when juxtaposed with Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson. Young, attractive rookie female characters always turn out to be psychic at some point, it’s like movie law. But Ma Ma felt like a real fleshed out villain, although at no point did you feel that the two Judges were under any real threat.
This is beginning to feel like a really negative review, but to be honest, I quite enjoyed Dredd 3D. I didn’t hate it, put it that way, and I fully expected to. It had some good moments, and sat on the right side of the Friday Night Popcorn Film divide, which is probably what a lot of folk out there will be looking for this week. It has no real message, like the comics did, but also tried to introduce the stoic Dredd to an audience raised on a false interpretation (I still like it, I don’t care what you say). It was just let down a bit by the usually reliable chin of Karl Urban, and in hindsight, he probably isn’t the best fit for the role. The plot was executed a lot better in The Raid, which was also released this year, but the simplicity worked in it’s favour for me.
My last thought on the subjects concerns the comic book movie as a genre, and should we really be making comics into films? They stand up fine as distinct and vivid art forms in their own right, and some don’t seem to translate very well. For every Nolan Batfilm or Sin City, there are a billion like The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, The Spirit, or Catwoman. Alan Moore’s comics (Watchmen aside) rarely transfer well across mediums, and the mad rush to secure intellectual property, for me any way, takes credit away from the artistic integrity of comic books. In short, come up with your own damn ideas!
If you liked this, check out: Judge Dredd (1995), Minority Report, The Raid.