In many cases I find remakes a pale shadow of the original. Right off one proviso demand to be acknowledged; for example the retooling of a literary classic in order to provide a contemporary spin on the story. The plays of William Shakespeare are so incredibly perfect in their examination of the human condition that it is the right of each generation to reinterpret the themes. I’m referring to the constant assault of reboots, reimagining and retread treatments of films that barely made a ripple in the annals of cinematic lore. One movie I never would consider a candidate for this treatment was the 1995 Sylvester Stallone flick ‘Judge Dredd’. It was largely panned by the audience and critics become fodder for parodies and satire. The line of dialogue "I am the law" intoned in Stallone’s trademark voice is well known among Sci-Fi fans, at least in a humorous context. Then last year a new offering of the story was released. ‘Dredd’ presented in the new frontier of filmmaking, 3D. Initially I thought this was little more than cashing in on the latest trend to hit the Cineplex but first of all it appears that 3D is more than a fad, it qualifies as a new filming paradigm. In light of this I approached the reboot with an open mind and admittedly discovered I was pleasantly surprised. The concept explored here is becoming extremely pertinent to the current socio-political environment. The original character of Judge Dredd was in the frequently dark world of graphic novels. It took a theme that has persisted throughout human existent; the gap between moral justice and the law. In the most common implementation the story focus on the vigilante, the ultimate antihero who is disgusted with the inadequacies of the judicial system with its myriad of loop holes protecting the rights of the guilty at the expense of justice for the victim. In the dystopian world of Judge Dredd the vigilante is give legal sanction to take the law out of the sterile environment of the courtroom and out on to the streets. In a rare occurrence this re-imaging exceeds the original in story and character development.
The film opens in the future; radiation has ravaged the environment leaving a wasteland the survivors called ‘The Cursed Earth’. The cities of the old world collapsed, reforming in sprawling dense centers of population. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) paroled an area called Mega City One. The 800 milli0on denizens commit a reported 17,000 crimes daily, overwhelming the remnants the justice system quickly broke down under the pressure of the massive workload. What rose up in its ashes was the cadre of street judges; heavily armed justices with the power of judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. The public was given the illusion of justice with these societally sanctioned vigilantes making an immediate and visible dent in the crime rate. Dredd is assigned his least favorite element of the job, recruit evaluation. The Chief Justice (Rakie Ayola) has Dredd work with prospect Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who failed her aptitude exams but is a powerful psychic. The latest problem facing society is a new with a street name of Slo-Mo, duet to its effect of slowing the user’s perception of time by 99%. It is also, naturally, highly addictive and illegal. The slums of this era are towering skyscrapers hundreds of stories high. The drug lord in control of one especially derelict structure is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who executes her business plan as well as her major rivals. Murder is bad enough but she has the nasty habit of skinning her victims. Anderson demonstrates why failing the aptitude test was over looked when her mental probe of a suspect reveals the person doing the wet work for Ma-Ma. A dramatic battle of wills becomes personal as Ma-Ma orders a hit on Dredd and Anderson.
There is currently a resurgence of political parties relying on law and order planks in their platforms. The public is clamoring for justice to be swift and final fueled by fear of terrorism and illegal aliens. Laws that erode the civil liberties of the public show that the circumstances encountered in this film are feasible if current trend continue unabated to an extreme. Part of why this version of the film works better than its predecessor is it comes across more as a cautionary tale. It also provides a solid foundation for the exhibition of state of the art 3D technology. 3D may have been around since 1954 but the recent incarnation the climate of the nation is receptive to the themes of the film. The current variation shows greater attention to the elements of storytelling than were present in the 1995 variation. There is a juxtaposition of familiar archetypes. Dredd is the standard staunch lawman, similar to the ones exemplified by the old west marshal; resolute in his unrelenting quest for justice filtered through his undaunted moral certainty. Like those stalwart men in white hats Judd has absolutely no qualms or hesitation in dispatching criminal. He resides in a universe that consists of black and white, good and evil; those that break the law and those that live.
The contrast is provided by the character of Anderson. Her psychic abilities literally put her inside the mind of the suspect. Whereas Dredd was only concerned with the crime Anderson felt a need to understand the motivation. She resided in a landscape of shades of grey. Dredd was driven by the visceral but Anderson found motivation on a cerebral, psychological level. The audience would like to believe they share the enlightenment displayed by Judge Recruit Anderson but most harbor the primal enforcement of Dredd. The original overly complicated the plot with genetic manipulation and covert conspiracies. Here the story has been returned to the basics; an old fashion drug lord gone wild, this kind of story does best when presented in a streamline fashion; avoiding overly complicated side plots. This film works better because it plays homage to the classic westerns.
From a purely technical perspective action oriented movie such as this benefits greatly from the illusion of depth afford by the 3D process. It was filmed with the latest generation of 3D cameras avoiding the artifacts commonly seen in an ‘upverted movie’. Tossing a person off a hundred plus story building takes on a new excitement when depth is added to the visual. While this is not among the new wave of films that infuse 3D as a fundamental of relating to the audience it remains confined by many of the standard gimmick popular in the format; thrusting cylindrical objects out of the plane of the movie at the audience, for an action movie a script forwarding a plot is reduced to little more than a scaffold on which to hold the action sequences together in some semblance of order. With this constrained viewpoint 3D even with the explorative affectations will work sufficiently. In all the film is a good beer and pizza flick.
Mega City Masters: 35 Years Of Judge Dredd Featurette