The production of this film really has not been a smooth ride for anyone. I did love a lot of the design work in the 1995 Judge Dredd film starring Sylvester Stallone, but ultimately it was just a big-budget Stallone film which happened to be about Judge Dredd and nobody wanted another production like that, with it’s “TAA-DAAAA!” musical score (no offence, Alan Silvestri) and “shooting-someone-in-the-face-requires-overemphasised-moral-justification” safeplaying. After the producers assuring us this new film would be a dark, gritty, true to the comic adaptation, there were various rumours about the director leaving and/or being “locked out” of the editing after filming completed. So, straight away I’m going to put genuine Judge Dredd fans at ease – this film has been made for you. It isn’t a cash-in on the”Dredd” name or catalogue audition for the leading star Karl Urban. It actually is a proper adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic.
Obviously there were aspects which needed to change for the transition from comic to a film with this budget, which is modest for a big action film these days at an estimated $45m. The main difference fans will notice about the world is that, although it *could* be the early 22nd century, Mega-City One appears much more like a near-future city. Fear not though, the City Block which is the film’s main setting is straight out of the comic – hi-tech, hulking, dirty and deprived. Other aspects like the Judges’ uniforms being much more like practical riot gear absolutely adds to the tone and I’m glad these changes were made. And Karl Urban? He IS Dredd. Given that an actor with his Hollywood weight (Lord of the Rings 2 & 3, The Bourne Supremacy, Star Trek) was cast in the role, it is so relieving to see him deliver exactly the performance needed and he really makes the film. And yes his helmet stays on the whole time, just as in the comics. This is just one of many blatant middle fingers which the film extends to it’s 1995 Stallone-featuring predecessor.
Complimenting the visual aesthetic is a really nice Industrial-style soundtrack consisting of dirty distorted synthesizers and progressive banging drums. It’s a welcome change from standard orchestral score music which would have been out of place here. I’ve never been particularly excited by films being made in 3D (and that remains the case) but there are a few scenes here which do make good use of the depth to convey perspective/distance or nice touches (for a comic adaptation) like blood flying out of the frame. And blood is one thing this film certainly is not short of. It earns it’s age rating with a level of gore and violence which matches the comic and is reminiscent of late 80s-early 90s films like Total Recall and RoboCop. Apparently the original RoboCop character from the 1987 film was actually heavily influenced by Judge Dredd (makes a lot of sense if you think about it), and the makers of this film seem to make a nod to this by littering it with subtle RoboCop-related references.
So am I saying this film is perfect? Absolutely not. While I’m happy that fans are being delivered a film in a style that is faithful to the source material, there is one main point I can’t help picking at: The ending, which I’m guessing is a result or cause of whatever tensions may have existed amongst the film-makers. It does make sense within the overall context of the film, but just comes across kind of abruptly and leaves you feeling let down after the strong build-up throughout the rest of the film. The plot is not without it’s clever twists, but it does feel slightly disjointed as it goes along and in the back of my mind I was hoping for a clever ending to tie everything off neatly, but this is not delivered.
My hope is that the film will have allowed the makers some foots in doors to be able to expand this universe with more films in the near future. The formula they’ve put together undoubtedly works, it just needs more to achieve it’s potential and I think I share the opinion of a lot of Dredd fans when I say I’d love to see some classic story arcs from the comic brought to life with this imagining.
- True to the comic in almost every aspect.
- Gritty, dark and bloody.
- Great performance from Karl Urban.
- Leaves you wanting more.
- Abrupt ending.