The new Judge Dredd movie, Dredd 3D, stars Karl Urban as a law provider in Mega City One and Olivia Thirlby as rookie Judge Anderson. Yes, that Judge Anderson. This movie claims nothing to do with the Stallone-Assante-Schneider-Prochnow-von Sydow-Lane movie from 1995.
Judge Dredd is a British comic book first published in 1977 (making it the same age as my little brother).
The movie opens up with a brief voice-over by Urban slightly explaining the world. For those not familiar with Judge Dredd, it is a bad time to be alive. One megacity runs along the east coast from around Boston to south of the District of Columbia. Mortality rates are high, unemployment rates are high, and crime is so bad the “Judges” are created. In this dystopian future, the judicial system became so back logged that police officers were given the right to become judge, jury, and (when necessary) executioner. These are the Judges. The Judges are armed with special weapons (“lawgivers”), wear good equipment, and ride rad motorcycles (“lawmasters”). The movie does not spend much time going into the inner workings of the Judges, the hall of justice, and other background information such as those. It provides us with touch pieces we can relate to, twists them enough for us to realize they are different, and then shows them to us in this new world.
For me, that is exactly where this movie fails. The first Dredd movie made sure we understood the world. We knew what the judicial system was about. We understood what Judges were up against on a day to day basis. Here, we just know that Judges are similar to our police. We know the world is a gritty, ugly place. We do not know that the Judges are the ruling body of law in Mega City One. We do not know that Judges like Joe Dredd and his brother Rico were genetically created.
If you do not know the setting going into the movie, you will not know the setting leaving the movie.
That said, as a fan of Judge Dredd via the British comics and not the horrible DC comics, I thought the producers did several things correct. First, this movie is a “day in the life” look at what Judges go through. The movie opens with a chase sequence that ends poorly for the perp. By shooting the movie in South Africa, Americans will likely not recognize the scenery, lending it an otherworldly presence. The movie furthers the “day in the life” feel by only dealing with one real scenario – the investigation of three deaths in a “block.” There is no big, overarching metaplot about Judges losing control, ABC Warriors being used by an evil twin, or a big, dumb, resident of the Big Stinkie being reduced to a comedic sidekick whose best line is a “Cursed Earth Pizza” joke. Instead we receive a less than thirty minute intro to the movie with voice over, chase sequence, and introduction of the rookie Judge that Dredd must take out on the street and judge her performance.
That is what the comic did, issue after issue. It kept the main storyline in your face and focused. If there was a metaplot, it had to stay in the background. As a serial comic book series, it could not sit out front and hog the limelight. Yes, there were strips where the metaplot was in your face, but that was all that was in focus. It allows for the forest versus trees versus forest view.
The 3D special effects are put to great use in the movie. The bad guys control a city block, which in this case is a 200-story tall apartment complex, complete with shops and a medical center. Within this block, they produce a drug they call, “Slo-Mo.” The affects of Slo-Mo is that your brain processes everything in slow motion. The movie often switches view from our perception to that of the drug users, utilizing the 3D technology to give us insight into their world. Colors are more vibrant, streams of water can be seen instead of gouts of water, falling water droplets can be seen at different depths on screen, and the facial expressions of the users are slowed down to exaggerate the effect. There are not many combat 3D special effects in the movie. They are not needed.
Speaking of combat and violence, there is more in this movie than you might expect. If you find yourself thinking, “Oh, they won’t show that perp falling 200 stories and splatting on the deck,” you would be wrong. They do show it. They show bullets entering and exiting bodies. They show glimpses of skinning bodies. They show the remnants of those bodies that feel 200 stories and went splat. I would put the amount of violence and gore in this movie on par with Punisher: War Zone. In fact, there is quite a resemblance between the two movies. Both are about ultra-violent ant-heroes going through a building killing bad guys. In fact, PWZ may have more plot to it than Dredd 3D.
The look and feel of the movie is dark and gritty. I have seen it referred to as “neo-noir” and it does appear to fit that moniker. We see the tall blocks, we see waste and trash, the hall of justice stands out in cleanliness and sterility. Judge Dredd has the look of a mean Dirty Harry* combined with Mad Max's leather, while rookie Judge Anderson is cleaner, more innocent looking. Shadows abound in this movie, providing depth and potential for meaning. Judge Anderson also provides subjectivity against Judge Dredd’s more black and white world-view. She has a life background that provides her the ability to see more possibilities while on the job than review, arrest, judge. The action is hard boiled with the Judges and perps playing for keeps in this non-stop action flick. You want machine guns? You get them. You want gas grenades? You get those, too. You want lawgivers that don’t like incorrectly DNA-coded hands trying to use them? Yes, you will see what happens to those perps, as well.
At the end of the day, this is a movie for fans of the Judge Dredd comic book series who want an over the top, action packed, helmet never being removed, gore fest where at the end of the day, perps are adjudicated.
*Has anyone else noticed that Arnie appears to be doing an impression of Clint Eastwood in the trailers for The Last Stand?