Dredd 3D

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The mid 90’s was a strange time for movies. Sure, there were quite a few remembered fondly (just like with any era) but there were also many movies that are forgotten due to their ridiculousness. It was a time that gave us the style of adaptions on par with Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection, or the two Joel Schumacher Batman films. Likewise, there was a Judge Dredd film right in the middle of that time period.

It was a mess. It exemplified everything wrong with many adaptions in the 90’s. Big name actors, over-the-top designs, cheesy dialogue. It tried very hard to be akin to the original Total Recall but instead succeeded at only being a movie fun to laugh at. It featured Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider. That is all that needs to be said about that film. So, when Hollywood comes along and decides to make a new adaption, of course the original’s ridiculousness looms over the whole affair. Not helping is the fact that most of the cast and crew are relatively obscure, and its source material (the Judge Dredd comics) is not as well-known as most of Marvel’s or DC’s pantheon. Yet, this brand new adaption, Dredd 3D, soars much higher than the original and manages to be one of those well-hidden gems of Fall 2012. I don’t imagine this film breaking box office records, but it is a wholly worthwhile piece of screen entertainment, even if it has some notable flaws and is overshadowed by past outings in the franchise.

The future America is an irradiated waste land known as the Cursed Earth. On the east coast of North America lies Mega-City One, a vast, violent metropolis containing 800 million residents, where 17,000 crimes are reported daily and “Slo-Mo”, an addictive new drug that slows the user’s perception of time, has been introduced. The only force of order is the Judges, who act as police, judge, jury and executioner. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked by the Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) with evaluating rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who has failed the tests to become a full Judge. They become involved in a raid upon a crime and Slo-Mo ridden apartment complex known as Peach-Trees, which is ruled by a vicious crime boss Ma-Ma (Lena Heady).

You can guess from the title that the movie is meant to be watched in 3D. But that is where personal opinions of 3D come into play. For me personally, I cannot ding the film’s use of 3D because it uses it well enough that it becomes unnoticeable, which is to say it does not obnoxiously remind you at all times it is meant to be watched in 3D by throwing random things at the camera. But I will say that, although somewhat gimmicky, the “Slo-Mo” segments (which are shot from the perspective of those on the mind-altering drug ‘Slo-Mo’) do use 3D very well and manage to be some of the most visually striking and beautiful shots in the entire film.

The plot is simple to understand and straight forward. There are not huge twists and turns, and manages to be tightly written. It is not extremely memorable for plot standards, but it does not need to be. The story is held up by focusing on three major characters, which some good additional characterization of two more side characters. In that sense, the plot and characters do not pop off the screen into greatness, yet they are still tightly written enough that both elements (plot and characters) are not muddled or confusing. The simple plot, and the fact it all takes place in one apartment complex, makes it easier to focus on action and visuals.

While the visuals are all extremely well-done, the action could use some work. The setting of Mega-City One is extremely well established, as opposed to the original Judge Dredd adaption. It seems like it could be a real place not far off in the future, as it is set up with a realistic visual design – just with added grittiness and subtle science fictional elements. Also, there is not a huge amount of CG and the Judge uniforms especially look like iconic yet possibly realistic futuristic police suits. But the action could use some work, as stated. I could not help but constantly compare it to the recently released film, “The Raid: Redeption”, the Indonesian martial arts police film centering on a single police raid on an apartment complex. The similarities are there.

Both movies have very similar locations and plots, but the difference is that while Dredd has more interesting setting and science fiction elements (and arguably more interesting characters), The Raid: Redemption’s action is far more entertaining and engrossing. The real problem with Dredd is that there are never any real amazing feats of heroics on part of Judge Dredd. They set up the film in a sort of “’Die Hard’ in the future vibe” but that requires the hero to barely overcome overwhelming odds. As it stands, it never really feels like Judge Dredd is in a ton of danger. There are some cool shooting moments, and some even more interesting usage of Judge Anderson’s psychic powers. But at the end of the day, there simply are not many memorable action moments.

Overall, it does not ruin the film at all. It still manages to be an entertaining and interesting movie regardless of memorable action sequences. It has a tightly plotted narrative with fairly well done characters, not muddled by overuse of complexity or plot twists. It manages to be visually excellent with interesting science fictional elements, but never does it soar with its action set-pieces. It would have benefitted with some better use of gunplay or more clever feats of heroics on Judge Dredd’s part. But at least it takes itself seriously enough to not have anything akin to Rob Schneider following Sylvester Stallone around in a cheesy script.

3.5 stars out of 5