Director: Pete Travis
Writers: Alex Garland, based on the character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
Produced By: DNA Films
Distributed By: Entertainment Film Distributors and Lionsgate
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris
Release Date: September 7, 2012 (The UK) and September 21, 2012 (USA)
MPAA: Rated R
(BE SURE to click on all images. Then CLICK AGAIN for the highest resolution. Lots of detail to enjoy!)
The film, based on the comic book series appearing in the British comics “2000AD” and later “Judge Dredd Megazine,” is set in the not too distant future after most of the Earth has been destroyed by a Third World War. Now, in a dystopian future, hundreds of millions of people live in Mega-Cities, this film’s setting of Mega-City One stretching across the East coast. While administering an in-the-field test on a Rookie Judge, Judges Dredd and Anderson get swept up in the middle of gang warfare, stumble upon the biggest drug manufacturing plant in the city, and have to fight to do their duty and escape with their lives.
The premise and list of major characters are both rather minimalistic, good guys trapped in a very claustrophobic environment with A LOT of very hostile baddies, but minimalistic in a good way. It’s got a good Die Hard vibe going on. This allows the story room to grow. Without constantly piling on new plot elements, the characters are given more focus, and the viewer gets to see how they react to the situation and, more importantly, each other.
The characterization is outstanding. Dredd is presented as the cold, calculating, seemingly unfeeling enforcer of a very strict law. As the film progresses, the viewer is shown glimpses of a soft side as he trades quips with Anderson. Also, in one fantastic scene, Anderson gives a little speech justifying her actions and standing up to Dredd, then abruptly walks away. Left alone, Dredd gives an unseen shrugging nod of approval, and it’s the one time in the film his scowling grimace shifts to a scowling upside-down smirk. The viewer is treated to a few nice moments of character building like this one. For instance, learning that the film’s villain, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), has a past that definitely led to her present situation, and seeing that Anderson is a lot tougher than one might initially think.
That being said, Lena Headey gives a great, creepy, sadistic, scary performance as Ma-Ma. Also, Olivia Thirlby knocks it out of the park as Anderson, who is given the most development of the film. She flawlessly portrays a rookie thrust into the thick of it, coping with how to handle, assess, learn from, and overcome her situation. Karl Urban is pitch-perfect as Judge Dredd. He looks, acts, talks, and carries himself as though the character just stepped off of the page into reality. He nailed the mannerisms and posture in such a way that at times he looked like an illustration given life. The other characters, whether henchmen, lackeys, other villains, or just citizens caught (literally) in the cross-fire, all serve as soundboards for our main three.
Furthermore, as far as portrayals are concerned, this film pretty much nailed the look. This film isn’t based on the comics most are probably familiar with, featuring Judge uniforms with gigantic boots, gloves, pads, and pauldrons. It’s based on the early comics, where Judges looked more like leather-clad Motorcycle cops. It’s all there, from the green pads to the eagle belt buckles and golden shoulder pads. Just add a bit of body armor, by way of protective vests, and you’ve got a nearly perfect recreation of the comics.
And most important of all, Karl Urban as Dredd never EVER removes his helmet, which is an incredibly important character trait from the source material. Dredd is not given a relatable face. He is a mirrored visor, attached to a battle-scarred helmet, and a grimace, that only rarely shifts, so that when it does it’s important. What’s impressive about this, aside from faithfulness to the material, is that Urban manages to portray his thoughts and emotions with less than half of his face and without the use of his eyes. He is faceless, much in the same way The Man With No Name is nameless. He is the living embodiment of the law, not merely an enforcer of it…he is the law.
One final point of praise is for the film’s spectacular score. Paul Leonard-Morgan delivers a score that manages to be experimental, minimalistic, sparse, and hard rocking all at the same time. It’s a pulsing, electronic, distorted, beat-filled score reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt, Dirty Harry), John Carpenter (Escape from New York), and most notably Barry De Vorzon (The Warriors). It’s never too little or too much, always emphasizing the action on screen and never hindering or overpowering it.
Now it can’t be all positive. There is always a downside. The drug being manufactured in this film is “Slo-mo,” a drug which drastically slows down the brain’s perception of the passing of time. So, the film has managed to work the use of slow-motion into the plot, which is good. However, the film overuses the slow-motion, which is bad. The first two times the viewer encounters Slo-mo are amazing. Seeing the wind rush by and sweep along the interior of the car, and then again as Ma-Ma splashes in her bathtub, is quite breathtaking. However, the rest of the film overdoes it, where a few moments of slow-motion interspersed with regular speed to depict the action would have been much more effective, the scenes in question just drag on far too long. For instance, (NO SPOILERS) one time Slo-Mo is used to depict a fall. And instead of showing the entirely long and drawn out moment happen in slow-motion, it would have been much more effective and had more of an impact if the film had shown the fall in slow-motion to start, but then switched to regular speed to show the velocity and finality of the situation.
The only other complaint is in regards to the violence. Now, this reviewer is no prude when it comes to blood and gore. But the violence should serve to build atmosphere, and further envelop the viewer within the confines of the world they’re watching. While for the most part, the violence is pitch-perfect and serves its purpose, there are a few moments where it just goes on for too long or becomes too over the top, and devolves into pointless, gratuitous gore.
Aside from those points of contention, the film is rather phenomenal. It’s a truly fantastic science-fiction action film that combines the graphic violence and elements of dark humor of RoboCop with the grim, gritty atmosphere of Dirty Harry. The creators of the film talked about plans for a sequel and possible trilogy. Personally, this reviewer would love to see that come to fruition.
As an adaptation of the source material, this film deserves a solid 9 out of 10.
As a science-fiction/action film, in general, this film still earns a 9 out of 10!
Go see it!