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Dredd 3D – film review

November 1, 2012

DREDD 3D

Reviewed on Tuesday 30th October 2012

A United Kingdom/South African co-production. Directed by Pete Travis. Screenplay by Alex Garland, based on the 2000AD comic strip Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris and Lena Headey. Running time: 95 mins.

In a post-apocalyptic future United States; in an irradiated crime-infested urban sprawl known as Mega-City One (population 800 million) justice is upheld by grizzled law enforcement officers known as Judges who not only make arrests but also act as judge, jury and executioner. The majority of the city’s overcrowded population reside in gigantic tower blocks 200-storeys high, each capable of housing 75,000 people. The most violent of these mega-block hell-holes is Peach Trees – a towering slum lorded over by the narcotic-dealing Ma-Ma gang, headed by psycho-bitch kingpin Madelaine Madrigal (aka Ma-Ma).

Set during the course of a single day, Dredd follows psychic rookie-in-training Amanda Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) as she undergoes on-the-job assessment under the supervision of seasoned crime-fighter Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). When called to a gruesome triple homicide at Peach Trees, Anderson and Dredd soon find themselves trapped within the structure’s death-dealing confines – fighting to stay alive.

I should perhaps mention from the outset that although I’ve been aware of the comics upon which Dredd is based, I haven’t read them, so I’ll leave it up to others more knowledgable to draw comparisons to the source material. But in terms of how this movie compares to Judge Dredd, the 1995 Stallone-starring vehicle; this reboot is less camp and flashy with a serious tone and a stylistic approach which is far more violent and gritty. And it is easy to see where Robocop writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner found inspiration for their own comic book masterpiece.

Unlike the satirical Robocop, however, Dredd is really just an incredibly violent, hard-driving action movie with nothing much to say – for which it makes no apologies.

There is no doubting Karl Urban is an accomplished actor (his portrayal of McCoy was the best thing in the Star Trek reboot). However, much like Hugo Weaving in V For Vendetta, Urban is charged with the thankless task of performing with his face concealed behind a mask (or in this case, helmet) for the entire running time of the film. Whereas Weaving had verbose, almost lyrical dialogue to create character, Urban isn’t given much to work with here. He doesn’t even have the physicality of performance Peter Weller had at his disposal in Robocop in order to create a distinctive and memorable character. The fact that Dredd is given nary a hint of motivation or backstory doesn’t help either.

With Urban’s emoting as Dredd relegated to scowling grimaces, it is up to Olivia Thirlby as his rookie partner Anderson to provide the audience with a character we can bond with. The moment when Anderson realizes she had earlier executed the husband of an innocent woman who helps them is a refreshingly brave character moment not seen in mainstream Hollywood action fare. And her ability to read minds is cleverly demonstrated via the use of minimal CGI.

What little humor there is is mostly generated by the banter between Anderson and Dredd. When Dredd admonishes Anderson for not bringing her helmet, Anderson explains: “The helmet would affect my psychic abilities.” To which Dredd replies: “I think a bullet would affect them more.”

Some have compared Dredd to the recent actioner The Raid. But not having seen the latter, the apparent similarity didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of Dredd. The film did remind me in parts of High Noon and Outland though, in the way the frightened locals refuse to assist the law – as a posse of hitmen arrives to take the enforcers down.

The villians aren’t particularly well-drawn and lack menace. There is no denying Dredd is badass – but the primary villian needs to be at least twice as badass in order for the audience to fear for the hero during the inevitable final showdown. Giving Lena Headey a nasty facial scar isn’t enough to elicit the menace needed here.

Dredd does contain some of the most effective 3D seen this year, primarily during scenes with various characters under the influence of the Slo-Mo narcotic. With the images slowed down, it really is like watching the panels of a comic book come to life – in that we are given time to appreciate the beauty of the image, much like we would a real comic book.

According to writer Alex Garland, Dredd was intended as the first in a trilogy of Dredd movies – each one upping the ante, revealing more of the larger world. Despite the poor box office reception this initial installment received in the US, I do hope we get to see more of Mega-City One and its surrounding environs.

Viewed in 3D at the Norwood Cinemas, Adelaide, October 30th 2012.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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6 Comments
  1. Excellent write up as always Greg. You seem more positive about it than other reviews I’ve read. The main criticism everywhere seems to be keeping the mask on. I will be picking this up on Blu Ray 3D anyway, sounds a decent action film 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Tyson! Just wondering … were the criticisms regarding the helmet for or against in this version? I know the Stallone version received a lot of flack from Dredd fans for taking it off. I don’t have a problem with him keeping it on – so long as we are given a little insight into what makes him tick. 🙂

      • From what I have read people wanted Urban to take it off. But in general no one has been particularly positive about the overall film, and it didnt make much money back despite them wanting it to do well to continue and make the trilogy.

        I have only read a few places though (joblo, aicn etc) as I want to try know as little as I can for when I see it.

  2. gregory moss permalink

    Really? They wanted him to take it off? The irony! – Considering the uproar when Stallone took it off! – Damned if you do, damned if you don’t I guess. 🙂

    • I need to watch the original again, before I watch this version ideally.

      • gregory moss permalink

        Oh God no, Tyson – don’t put yourself through seeing Stallone’s ‘Judge Dredd’ again! I’m only going on my remembrance of it. 🙂

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