Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dredd (2012)

I'm going to start off by discussing the elephant in the room. I saw Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone a while ago and wrote about it on this blog. Even though that movie does not have a good reputation I enjoyed it for what it was. It probably helped that I had not read the comics before watching it. Coming into Dredd I knew it had very good reviews and was billed as the Judge Dredd movie everyone had always wanted. Luckily Dredd met my high expectations. In fact, I liked it so much that it actually inspired me to go read some Judge Dredd comics, which I enjoyed.
Dredd is a contained action film that mostly takes place inside Peach Trees, an apartment building with over 200 floors. Judge Dredd and his Judge in training Anderson, go to Peach Trees on a mission to take down a gang run by the drug lord Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma's clan is selling the drug SLO-MO, which slows down the perception of reality in its users. Dredd is a relatively small scale story which is unusual for a comic book/super hero movie. Instead of the whole city or world being at stake, the focus is just on stopping a crime gang in one building and hoping that Dredd and Anderson will make it out alive. I found this a refreshing change of pace and wouldn't mind seeing other comic book movies, like the Batman franchise for instance, do something similar.

The acting is quite good, with the standouts being the three leads. Karl Urban (who I remembered as Dr. McCoy in the 2009 Star Trek movie), plays the title role of Judge Dredd. Unlike the Stallone Judge Dredd, Urban never takes his helmet off. Urban's voice and presence are perfect for the character. The rookie Judge, Anderson, is played by Olivia Thirlby. Anderson just misses the minimum requirements for being a Judge, but is given another chance due to her psychic abilities. Thirlby does a nice job of portraying a character who has to face her first true test in the brutal crime ridden Mega-City One. While Dredd is the law, Anderson is a much more human character. Making the two partners allows for the audience to have a character we can relate to both emotionally and story wise since Anderson is new to being a Judge. Since Anderson fulfills that role, it doesn't have to go to Judge Dredd, which therefore means Dredd's helmet gets to stay on! Thirlby does a good job portraying Anderson as a multifaceted character who is inexperienced as a Judge, yet still strong willed and determined. Our villain is the crime lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), whose gang runs the Peach Trees apartment complex. It was interesting to see a female play the heavy in this type of movie and Headey does a great job. Headey is no stranger to playing tough, violent female characters having previous roles such as Queen Gorgo in 300 and Sarah Connor in the TV show "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Besides our three leads, Wood Harris puts in a nice supporting performance as Kay, one of Ma-Ma's henchmen.

Although I loved Dredd I did have a few quibbles. One member of Ma-Ma's clan is a computer expert with what appears to be a cybernetic eye that can interface with computers. I found the concept and character interesting, but think he could've been explained better as I found it confusing at times. He wasn't even given a name and only credited as "clan techie."
CGI blood almost always looks like crap and its appearance here is no exception. I guess that CGI blood was used because the SLO-MO special effects were also used in that scene, which off-hand I believe was the only time it was used. If there was no other way to show the blood during these SLO-MO scenes then I understand. But I'm still not sure why fake blood couldn't have just been sprayed in slow motion. No matter what, it still looks bad and briefly took me out of the film since the rest of the special effects (practical or CGI) looked great.
Personally I would've liked to have seen more satire in the style of Robocop. Dredd certainly isn't worse for a lack of satire, but a bit more well-placed humor could have given the tone some more balance as the film can be quite grim at times. However, the tone is consistent and when the film uses humor it works well, which is what counts.

Although I watched Dredd in 2-D and thought it looked great, I bet the SLO-MO scenes are fantastic in 3-D. However, I think that the emphasis on the 3-D in the marketing was one of the reasons that Dredd didn't do well in theaters. I've heard that 2-D showings were hard to come by, so I imagine many people who don't like 3-D just decided to wait for it to hit video.
I saw Dredd right when it came out on Blu-ray and then watched it again a couple of months ago. Dredd holds up on repeat viewings as I liked it just as much the second time around. Although Dredd didn't do well at the box office, it has been selling like hotcakes on Blu-ray. I would love to see another Judge Dredd movie in this universe so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel.
My next post will compare and contrast Dredd with The Raid.

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