A film review by Craig J. Koban September 24, 2012

DREDD 3D jjj

2012, R, 98 mins.


Karl Urban: Judge Dredd / Olivia Thirlby: Anderson / Lena Headey: Ma-ma / Wood Harris: Kay


Directed by Pete Travis / Written by Alex Garland, based on the comic book series created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra


Did the world really need another JUDGE DREDD film?  

Not really.  I was neither a lover or hater of the original 1995 Danny Cannon directed and Sylvester Stallone starring film adaptation of the 1977 created comic book series by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, but I will concede that JUDGE DREDD was not a thrilling or memorable appropriation of its graphic novel source material.  This new DREDD reboot – entitled rather simply DREDD 3D – does not radically reinvent the wheel or is particularly groundbreaking as far as action/sci-fi films are concerned, but it does something that it’s bloated and overproduced film antecedent didn’t accomplish: it’s a lean, mean, grungy, savagely ultra-violent, and unpretentious grindhouse effort.  

DREDD seems to – all throughout its remarkably nimble and exemplary paced 98 minutes –  take great pride in segregating itself from the ‘95 Stallone-centric action vehicle.  This new Pete Travis (VANTAGE POINT) directed homage to the character that first appeared in the British sci-fi anthology 2000 A.D. seems to successfully break the shackles of the inconsistent tones and more decidedly mediocre elements of the original DREDD film outing, not to mention that it easily removes the sour taste that Cannon’s film left in many viewer’s mouths.  I think that this is largely attributed to the way this new film opts less for the large scale and obtrusive wow factor of over-indulgent and high costing Hollywood fantasy film labors and champions more for the gritty and visceral low-budget aesthetic of a, say, DISTRICT 9.  DREDD 3D is more agreeably old school and no-nonsense when it comes to its artery spewing carnage and mayhem...and is better for it. 



DREDD 3D is fairly limited when it comes to an actual plot, which seems to have a very clear-cut similarity to this year’s THE RAID REDEMPTION in terms of both containing story arcs involving law enforcement officers trying to infiltrate a large scale apartment building being ruled over by despotic criminal scumbags.  In DREDD’s case, of course, its story – like the comic before it – takes place in a massive continent-spanning ultra-metropolis that contains 800 million souls dubbed Mega City One, which resides outside of the rest of the U.S. that has been reduced to an uninhabitable post-nuclear war wasteland.   With so much human undesirables living in the city, rampant criminal activity is a fact of life, which inevitably led to the creation of a special Justice Department whose special op police officers – or "Judges" – are singularly made up of one-man (or woman) judge, jury, and executioners that have the ability to shoot to kill with just about any reasonable grounds. 

One judge, of course, is the title character, Dredd, played by Karl Urban (who played McCoy in the recent STAR TREK reboot), who plays the largely one-note character as he was original envisioned: as an unapologetically one-note and merciless figure of brutal law dispensing justice.  Unlike the Stallone iteration, Urban’s Dredd – as was almost always the case in the comic – never shows his actual face throughout the film, which is covered (outside of his perpetually grimacing mouth and five-o’clock shadow covered jaw line) with the mandatory mask and helmet of the judge.  Most actors may not have appreciated playing a role with their face obscured through the entirety of the film’s running time, but Urban seems game and up to the task.   His Clint Eastwood-like growls and complete unwaveringness as a man of few words and shocking lethality is faithful, I guess, to Dredd’s comic origins; he’s not much of a well rounded character, but he is nonetheless an intimidating symbol in the film. 

This lovable anti-hero with an oftentimes-hysterical penchant for bloodletting is teamed up with a new female rookie in the film, Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby; talk about atypical casting) who is a psychic that spends most of the film with her judge helmet off, largely because her abilities are stymied with it on, but mostly because it would cover the face of an attractive actress.  Dredd's assignment is to assess her in the field during what looks like a routine raid of the Peach Tree high rise, one of the city’s many unfathomably tall skyscraper-tenements.  Peach Tree is ruled over by Ma-ma (a viciously scarred-up Lena Headey) that oversees production of a drug called “slo-mo” that makes the user think that time is passing at 1% of normal speed (whoa!).  Needless to say, she hates judges, and since she controls Peach Tree, she fortifies the whole building with massive iron barricades and traps Dredd and his rookie partner inside in hopes of killing them.  

For a film that cost a remarkably low sum of just $45 million, DREDD 3D is far more expensive and lavish looking than its funding lets on.  Shot in Cape Town, Africa, DREDD 3D mixes location shooting with stunning production design and efficient usage of CGI augmentation to create a sense of Mega City One’s vermin-riddled vastness and sense of moral decay and corruption.  It should be noted that the film was mostly shot with 3D cameras (with some post-production upconversion) and the results are readily apparent in some of the film’s more surprisingly immersive, hypnotic, and novel visual flourishes.  There are some perversely eerie and beautifully rendered shots that try to visually represent the effects of slo-mo on its addicts in an explosion of saturated and over-exposed colors and eye-popping high speed photography.  I love it when films like DREDD 3D find new and imaginative ways to take standard scenes and breath new creative life into them.  This is also one of the very rare exceptions where 3D actually enhances a film’s overall look and feel.  Complimenting all of this is Paul Leonard Morgan’s bass-heavy techo-infused musical score that gives the surreal visual palate an added sense of head-spinning trippiness. 

Of course, DREDD 3D is wall-to-wall with wanton violence, as Dredd and his very capable new partner traverse up Ma-man’s 200-story building and proceed to plough through her minions via hide and seek guerrilla tactics like their were harmless flies.  Part of the absurd delight in the film is to witness the always sneering and steadfastly confident Dredd proudly and dutifully massacre goons by the dozens with his weapon that is niftily voice activated and can change ammunition type with grunted verbal cues.  Even though Headey’s baddie is a nasty, vile, and oddly alluring creation, she never really emerges as a solitaire threat to Dredd, especially when they meet head-to-head at the film’s conclusion. 

The film’s other weakness is that it rarely taps into the comic’s dark and satiric humor, nor does it compellingly reflect on its themes of a totalitarian police force that rules over everyone with an oppressive hand.  Yet, DREDD 3D is not really trying to be contemplative, ideas-driven sci-fi; rather, the film is more about its stylish and evocative visuals, it’s frequently enthralling intensity, and its disreputable level of hardcore gory action that’s presented with a straightforward deadpan relish.  DREDD 3D makes no apologies for what it is and how well it accomplishes what’s it trying to be, nor do I apologize for liking and appreciating it as a brutally proficient piece of action/fantasy filmmaking.  

Court’s adjourned. 



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