Saturday, September 29, 2012


Wow, the West remade "The Raid" a heck of a lot faster than I thought.  Six months?  That's efficiency.

I kid, I kid.  I'm not going to call this a rip-off of "The Raid", because it isn't.  "Dredd" is actually the second movie based upon the "Judge Dredd" franchise.  Its a remake* - I guess - of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie, "Judge Dredd", though the two movies could not be more different in style.  Its basically the difference between "Batman Forever" and "Batman Begins".  One is a massively campy 90s action blockbuster, with all the overblown silliness that you'd expect from that era, and the other is a gritty bloody as hell delicious death machine.  And apparently this one is more faithful to comics, so if you're one of those people who have actually read the comics, good for you.  I know a lot of people hated the Stallone version, partially because its over-the-top, partially because Rob Schneider, and partially because... Judge Dredd takes his helmet off?  Oh whatever, fanboys, Stallone is beautiful in that movie, I regret nothing.  Also, you have to love the way Stallone and Armand Assante are able to growl out the word "LAWWWWW!!!!"

The new version has no LAWWW!!, no comic reliefs, no giant robots, no Hershey, and no catchphrases.  The story is down to simplest narrative efficiency.  Rather than adapting a huge comic book story arc and dealing with dozens of characters, writer Alex Garland just cut through the knot and decided to do one single day in Judge Dredd's life of fighting crime.  Dredd and his rookie partner, "Other M"-style Samus Aran walk into a tower to investigate a few murders.  Then the local crime lord locks the place down, and Karl Urban has to kung-fu his way up and kung-fu his way down to stay away.  Actually, no, unlike "The Raid", Dredd doesn't use Indonesian martial arts, instead he shoots people in the face.  "Dredd" should have been named "Bullets Explode Heads: The Movie... In Brain Blasting 3D".  And this is a hard R, they don't spare a second of blood or gore.  People die, and they die badly.

If you're one of those people who hate violent movies and complained in the 80s about all those greasy action movie that glorified violence... well, fuck off.  "Dredd" is awesome.  Violence is cool, PG-13 needs to die and I know exactly how to kill it.  Put Karl Urban in a Judge helmet and have him blow PG-13's face right off.

Of course, I'm fighting the losing battle against PG-13.  "Dredd" is doing terribly at the box office.  In fact, its doing so bad that I went saw this in an empty theater.  On Friday night.  And this was the biggest auditorium at the cinema!  NOBODY was there.  Not a single soul besides myself and a Nintendo DS full of Pokemon.  I guess raw gritty action is too real for America these days.  Let's instead see Catnip Everclear in a pussified PG-13 horror movie, if you can even call it that.  Obviously we've lost the war for America's soul, the preteens won.  Enjoy "Hunger Games 2" with its shaky cam protecting our youth from the sight of blood, assholes.

Anyway, back on "Dredd".  The plot, as I mentioned before, is just Judge Dredd during one day on the job.  He's given a Rookie Trainee to come along as part of her final test to become a Judge, this girl named Anderson.  Anderson is a blond girl with a constant look of confusion on her face, which might result from her actress existing mostly to look pretty (and succeeding) or the movie might be justifying it because she's a super psychic.  Worse, Anderson has never actually been in combat before, and never killed anybody.  So of course, they wind up in the most violent situation possible when an entire slum tower is fighting against them.  Unlike "The Raid"'s little housing project, "Dredd" features a building roughly a kilometer high with thousands and thousands of people all trying to kill them.  Against thousands of heavily armed drugged-up poor people come the two Judges, Justice with a gun.  The best way to work for justice?  Shoot people in the face.  Or blow their heads off.  Or set their heads on fire.  Or just set them on fire.  There are lots of options, killing people is a creative business.

What's interesting is how incredibly flat Judge Dredd comes off here.  He never takes the helmet off, for one, but that's mostly fanservice.  Dredd is not particularly tested by his struggled against leading drug clan, the main villain is pretty fierce, but only once is his life ever really threatened.  The enemy drug clan is led by this cool-looking scarred chick, Mama, but despite everything she tried, Dredd is only ever harmed by traitor judges.  And when they show up, Dredd doesn't really care.  Karl Urban's performance is a Clint Eastwood-impression for a voice and his chin, he adds nothing else.  And that's all the movie called for:  an archetype of gritty comic book antiheroes, grizzled, sarcastic, and badass.  We don't learn anything about who Judge Dredd is, why he cares, where he came from, what he loves, and despite the odds stacked against him, all it ever does is make him more angry.  Even if you shoot the guy he'll only get pissed.  Ultimately after everything its just another day on the job.

Anderson is tested, since she's never had to kill people before.  But in the end, the final morality of the movie is just "do what you got to do".  Cut through the nonsense, scrupples get you killed.  Her character journey is from Pussy to Badass.  This is a B-action movie, there are only two people in this kind of psychology:  those who get fucked and those who do the fucking.  Luckily Anderson is psychic, so she can fuck people with bullets and with trippy sequences inside their own minds.

As you can probably gather, this isn't a very intelligent movie.  These days there are plenty of movies that try to equate this system, you got "Expandables 2", for example.  That wants to be a greasy action treat, it wants to just be simple fun, and it isn't fun enough because its actors are too damn old and the script was dull.  "Dredd" gets the formula down properly.  It isn't ever going to actually mean anything, but did we want it to?  Judge Dredd has always been an action fantasy, and if it ever had any kind of deeper social subtext or meaning I will eat my own shoes in shock.  He's basically the less-cool future Batman, minus all the depth.  But again, you don't really need depth when your movie was made to be nothing more than people shooting each other in the face.  Which is fine.  I would have liked more, but again, this is Judge Dredd here, I don't think he was ever supposed to be anything more.

The largest cinematographic achievement comes from the use of 3D and slow down.  Normally these two featuresare some of the worst fads in movie making and terrible scourges on the modern film landscape.  However, "Dredd" actually manages to make something beautiful out of them.  Mama is making this drug, descriptively named "Slow-Mo", which slows the brain's sense of time down to 1% real speed.  So what happens is everything in the world turns into this vibrant 3D sparkle effect, so even something as simple as splashing sludge water in a tub becomes this unbelievably beautiful shot.  3D filmmaking actually can create dazzling visual pieces, but only if used creatively like "Dredd" did.  This is probably the best use of 3D I've seen since "Tangled" had that gorgeous floating light moment.  I'm not sure what all this Slow Mo stuff actually means for the greater plot, it was mostly the CG guys showing off.  But it definitely didn't hurt the movie, it was amazing.

Speaking of composition, "Dredd" has one of the most diverse and interesting color pallets in a movie that I've seen in awhile.  Even thought they're stuck in a gunmetal grey building fighting humans, they didn't cheap out and just use the lazy blue-orange contrast effect.  Instead, scenes are saturated with all kinds of color, its often sickeningly colorful.  The criminally-underrated action film "Push" from a few years back did much the same thing.  In both films, characters walk past light sources that surround them with bright oranges, purples, blues, and even reds.  You see, the full spectrum of the rainbow still exists in the future!  And even though it is the future, there are no stupid J.J. Abrams-style lens flares!  Excellent!

I guess my only problem with the movie is really how relatively low impact it all felt compared to the original Stallone movie.  In that one, Armand Assante got very close to actually overthrowing the entire dystopian future, while here, Judge Dredd takes out the trash for one criminal syndicate, goes to bed, and presumably does it all again the next day.  Not all that much is lost or gained, its just another battle in an endless hopeless war to keep order in a rather stupidly-designed post apocalyptic universe.  Like really, who thought that building a single giant supercity was a good idea?  I knew next to nothing about Judge Dredd before this movie, and I still don't know... anything.  They were planning to make sequels, director Pete Travis had plans to adapt some comic book arcs after using this movie to set up the characters.  But thanks to nobody seeing it, we're never going to get any of them.

Perhaps in some other universe, in a world with some justice, "Dredd 2" was actually made.  And it came out the week after Guillermo Del Toro got to release his "At the Mountains of Madness", which fought for supremacy at the box office against "John Carter of Mars 2".  But the movie everybody was really talking about is "Kazaam!", the Captain Marvel film.  Oh well.

I'm getting off topic.  Final conclusion:  "Dredd" may not be as awesome as "The Raid", but its certainly the best attempt the West is going to be able to pull together to counter that movie's unbelievable badassary.  "The Raid" still wins.  And honestly, as great as this movie was... I think I have to go with the Stallone movie here as the better Judge Dredd film.  I just have a soft spot for campy 90s movies, I can't help myself.  Anybody want to watch "The Fifth Element" later?


* Modern Hollywood repackaging technology sometimes make it really murky what the movie you're seeing is based off of.  Like, is this is a remake of the Stallone movie?  Or is it based directly off the comic book?  And remember, Karl Urban was in last year's terrible Judge Dredd rip-off, "Priest", and now he's in this.  Is there a connection?  And it looks exactly like "The Raid", even though technically there was no creative connection between the two movies.  There are too many angles, I can't even see straight!  Everything leads into everything else!


  1. The sole reason i saw Priest was because i had a free rental and while it wasn't bad it almost seemed like a Castlevania rip-off more than a Dredd ,although i haven't seen the Stallone Dredd in years, i can see where you're coming from the whole futuristic battle priests was alright at first then it got stupid fast.