Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Judge Dredd (1995)

Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd is based on the comic of the same name. I have not read these comics so I'm judging it only as a movie and not an adaptation. I have heard that in the comics Dredd never takes his helmet off but in this movie he does. There are probably other differences that I'm not aware of but since I wasn't already familiar with the character and stories it didn't bother me.
Judge Dredd opens with a comic book introduction and while I'm sure this is not the first movie based on a comic to do so, it was still before the Marvel movies made this common. James Earl Jones provides the opening narration setting up the story though he is not actually in the movie.
Sylvester Stallone plays our title character who gets convicted for a crime he didn't commit and discovers that the law of the future is not as perfect as he used to think. The rest of the cast is solid with Diane Lane, Max von Sydow, and Jurgen Prochnow as other judges. Armand Assante is the main villain, Rico, who is a former Judge that was jailed for murder but breaks out of prison near the beginning of the film. It is later revealed that Rico has a connection to Dredd. I remember Assante as Odysseus in the enjoyable 1997 miniseries The Odyssey based on Homer's ancient Greek epic poem of the same name. Joan Chen plays scientist Dr. Ilsa Hayden who helps Rico. However, she doesn't do much as her character is just there to be evil and sexy.
Rob Schneider does a decent job as the comic relief. I generally liked his run on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s and Schneider had fun supporting roles in stuff like Home Alone 2 and Surf Ninjas even though those movies weren't very good.

Despite the fact that Judge Dredd is now over 15 years old, the special effects and Blade Runner-esque set design are surprisingly good. Practical effects, or those combined with CGI, always age better than CGI alone. Although the movie was a box office bomb, it had a big budget which shows. The overall look of both the dystopic city of the future (Mega City One) and the post-apocalyptic wasteland is the strongest aspect of the film. The action scenes are pretty fun but nothing groundbreaking or particularly memorable.
Stallone has a bunch of witty one liners such as "I'll be the judge of that!" My favorite humorous moment was when Dr. Hayden calls Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) a bitch and Hershey responds with the retort "Judge Bitch!" Of course the most well known dialogue from the movie is Dredd yelling "You betrayed the law!" at Rico who screams back "LAAAAAWWW!"
The satire seemed to have been toned down from the comics, though as I said earlier, I haven't read any yet. I wonder what someone like Paul Verhoeven would have done with the material as there were some thematic similarities to his films like RoboCop (which probably borrowed some concepts from the Judge Dredd comics) and Starship Troopers.
I had never heard of director Danny Cannon before. Cannon is still active but mostly directs TV shows now. I thought his directing was passable but that the story ran out of steam by the last act. 
Besides being a bomb with audiences, Judge Dredd was a commercial failure too. Despite the generally negative response, I did like it. It's not a bad movie but obviously not a great one either. I can understand fans of the comic being upset that things were changed and you could say this is a good Stallone movie but not a good Judge Dredd movie. Of course there have been many good movies made out of books or comics that were quite different than the source material.
The latest Judge Dredd movie, Dredd, came out last month. Like the 1995 Judge Dredd it also performed poorly at the box office in the US but did better in the UK and worldwide. Dredd did get very good reviews from critics so I'll have to check it out when it hits Blu-ray.


  1. Hey Chris, glad you gave this a chance. I agree on all your points. It's far from a perfect movie but it is still pretty fun. Definitely runs out of steam towards the end.

    Verhoeven would have been a great choice to direct. I thought Cannon did a decent job but I think it really needed someone with a bit more experience in directing big budget movies. He struggled a bit with set pieces.

    The new movie makes for an interesting comparison because it tackles the same subject matter in a totally different way. Check that one out too.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation Jack, this was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to seeing the new Dredd. It is a shame that it failed at box office despite the glowing positive reviews but maybe it will gain a cult following on DVD/Blu-ray.