Today, Wednesday 1st October 2014 is the #Day Of Dredd 2014, where fans all over the world do everything they can to convince ‘Hollywood’ to make a sequel to 2012’s “Dredd”. And it’s well worth a sequel, so if you want to support it, you can buy it on DVD or BluRay, stream it (legally) here or enter our #DayOfDredd competition here. But we’re not here to discuss Karl Urban’s 2012 muscular action thriller. There’s no guilt in liking something that’s generally held to be pretty damn good. No, we’re here to examine a much more derided movie: Danny Cannon’s (unfairly) maligned 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Judge Dredd”.
First of all, the confession: although I read more than a few issues of “2000AD” when I was younger, I was never a rabid fanboy of any of the comic’s strips (if pushed, I guess “Strontium Dog” was my favourite) and wasn’t steeped in the lore of Judge Dredd. As a result, the film’s tinkering and rewriting of the property’s history didn’t bother me at all.
I therefore put it to the court that taken on its own merits, “Judge Dredd” is a solid sci-fi action blockbuster with a good story, great cast and gorgeous production design. Yes, it’s ever so slightly cheesy but if you take it as what it’s so clearly meant to be – an action comedy – it’s tremendous fun.
Take the cast: I actually quite like mid-1990s Stallone. His output was solid if unspectacular but he delivered some gems: “Cliffhanger”, “Demolition Man”, “Daylight” and I’m putting “Judge Dredd” firmly in the plus column. Although his Joseph Dredd is much more of an action lunk than purists would like, Stallone still brings a morality and nobility to him and plays the character arc of the black and white lawman coming to acknowledge (if not necessarily accept) that there may be a need for some shades of grey with a wry humanity. Rob Schneider might seem like a weird choice as a sidekick for a film like this, and although he’s definitely a love him or hate him performer, for some bizarre reason he just works in this film. He’s a great counterpoint to Stallone’s pompous Dredd and his comic timing is spot on. Whether or not you agree may depend more on how you feel about liberal doses of humour in your Judge Dredd.
The supporting cast is even better. Jürgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow and Joanna Miles all make for excellent senior Judges while Armand Assante is all kinds of bugnut crazy fun as the crazed, psychopathic ex-Judge Rico. With Diane Lane and Joan Chen providing pseudo romantic interests for the duelling brothers, the cast are clearly enjoying themselves as they stride around the marvellous sets, earnestly delivering their bombastic dialogue.
Again, it seems like a film slightly ahead of its time, because it’s a reimagining of a beloved text rather than a straight forward adaptation and I think it turns out better for it. As the current difficulty in getting a sequel greenlit for Karl Urban’s take on Dredd shows – there just isn’t the built in market for a hard-edge Judge Dredd film and you need to widen the appeal. That’s exactly what this film tries to do, but it was hamstrung at the time by the ‘Oh noes – he takes off his helmet’ whining of the hard core fan base. So what? Of course he takes off his helmet – there’s a $20million movie star under that (Gianni Versace) costume so you want to get your money’s worth (see also: Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy, the “Iron Man” movies, in fact almost any superhero movie). While it may not slavishly follow the source material, it’s almost over-keen to include as many aspects of the comic’s history as it can, hence the Cursed Earth and the set piece showdown with the Angel family. Way back in 1995 when I saw the make-up for Mean Machine, I really, really wanted that to be the template for The Borg when they made it to the big screen.
Although 2012’s “Dredd” is a fantastic, violent and hard-edged interpretation of the character, it has a fairly linear and uncomplicated approach. There’s virtually no attempt to question or examine the world Dredd lives in: we accept that Dredd is the good guy and that the drug dealers are the bad guys and anyone in between, well they’re fair game. Cannon fodder. With its clone storyline and political machinations on the Judge’s Council plus its slick technological take on double jeopardy, “Judge Dredd” devotes plenty of time to questioning the underpinnings of a world where justice is as arbitrary as it is absolute and human existence has been reduced to a hideous urban nightmare.
The recreation of Mega City One is superb. Like Mean Machine’s make-up, it’s another factor of what makes this film stand up to repeated viewings. No matter what behind the scenes aggro there was about the tone of the film or how much it should be beholden to its comic origins, the production design is sensational. The uniforms, the practical effects and miniature work and, of course, that sensational ABC robot are all of such a high standard that they make up for some of the film’s shortcomings, as does Alan Silvestri’s pounding, triumphant score which lends the film an epic quality I think it deserves (it does have James Earl Jones on narrator duty after all).
What if this wasn’t “Judge Dredd” but was a standalone sci-fi action blockbuster? You’d be thinking it’s pretty decent. In fact, in tone and execution, you could argue that it’s actually the spiritual successor to “Demolition Man”, giving us another sequel we wanted and never got.
I know I won’t convince everyone (or indeed maybe anyone) that “Judge Dredd” is a better movie than it’s credited to be but thankfully this isn’t the court of Judge Dredd, it’s the court of the Craggus and all I need to do is establish reasonable doubt. If I’ve even made you consider re-watching it once during this, then I’ve managed to do that. After all, when it comes to this blog. I am. The Law.