Us comic geeks are pretty rabid fans. If one thing isn’t quite the way we want it, we can orchestrate an online riot. Sure, it can be pretty dumb sometimes (I once saw someone advising fans to boycott The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug because reasons) but other times, it’s allowed a large group of people to bond together over a common cause and put their man- and woman-power into something that’s important to them. There’s been pages and pages of conjecture about what the Fantastic Four film is gonna be like, or who’s gonna be in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but it all pales in comparison to the Dredd fans and what they want.
Dredd. This British-made 2012 film stands as being one of the most faithful comic book adaptations out there. It succeeded in capturing the dark, dystopian world of 2000AD’s Judge Dredd, arguably one of the most successful properties to come out of 2000AD. Judge Dredd strips have been on the go since 1977, and he appeared in #2 of the weekly British sci-fi anthology and has been one of the most enduring characters to date, with annuals, 24 strip collections on Amazon, toys, two films and countless fan films. As well as this, Judge Dredd and 2000AD have been a rock within the British comics industry and have proven a jumping point for many famous comic writers and authors, with people such as Grant Morrison and Alan Moore finding their feet there. Judge Dredd and his world have had a huge influence on the world (and not just because I’m named after Psi-Judge Cassandra Anderson!) and that is how we came to have two films about Judge Joe Dredd.
However, those two films are very, very different.
For an example of how different the films are, just look at the costumes. LOOK AT STALLONE’S HORRIBLE CODPIECE! No-one needs their eyes drawn to that.
On the left, we have a still from Judge Dredd, the 1995 flick starring Sylvester Stallone. On the right, we have a still from Dredd, with Karl Urban as the eponymous character. The outfits are enough to see the differences between the films. Judge Dredd was a horrendously campy buddy-cop film which acted only as a vehicle to progress Stallone, and let him show off his ‘acting chops’. With only one shot in the film even vaguely resembling the true world of Judge Dredd from the comics, you can see why so many fans are bitter. Sure, it was the 90s. You can’t really blame anyone for anything to do with that trainwreck. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I hear Stallone slur “I am the law!” and I shudder, as if the ghost of a potentially great film has walked over my grave.
However, that’s where Dredd steps in. Made by people who truly love the source material which is clear from the film itself which has layers of easter eggs aimed at fast-eyed viewers, it stays true to the source material whilst also creating a new story. The story itself was set-up in 2000AD, with a brief comic explaining the history of the main antagonist, Ma-Ma appearing online previously, and a comic-novelisation of the film being released earlier this year with art by the inimitable Jock, Dredd was able to cross the line between comic and film extremely easy. You didn’t have to know a huge amount of the back-story of Dredd to enjoy the film, and you could enjoy the short-comic as it was- a short comic with some downright dark origins.
Part of what makes Dredd as a film so good to fans is that is simultaneously captured the dark, dystopian world of Judge Dredd, whilst still maintaining some of it’s more overtly sci-fi factors. It streamlines everything down, and makes it a believable, futuristic cop film about law and justice. Everything is slick, functional and no-nonsense. It’s not excessive, and it’s beautiful in its minimalism. Because it’s been a runaway hit with fans around the world, it’s been designated a cult classic, having received huge DVD sales and streaming records. However, with so much source material existing, why isn’t there a sequel for this incredible film?
Well, that’s a good question. There’s sequels for every other dumb comedy (Dumb and Dumber To, just as an example), and there’s adaptations, or at least rumours of adaptations, for pretty much every property out there (the recent news of a Tetris film just has me shaking my head) but there’s nothing about a Dredd sequel. There are so many stories that could be adapted for it. A Dark Judges film, with a more dark, supernatural leaning would be fantastic. A film about the rise of Judge Death ending in the Pyrrhic victory for Dredd would be superb. However, it’s the same story with a lot of other 2000AD properties. There was an adaptation of Hardware, a Future Shocks strip which was alright. There’s been rumours of an adaptation based on Arthur Ranson and John Wagner’s epic Button Man story for years, but nothing ever came of it. It’s certainly not that there’s no interest in the film; a quick google of ‘Dredd’ or ‘Dredd sequel’ offers dozens of fans writing about how they want a sequel, and how the film-makers want a sequel.
However, to the average layperson, what’s the big deal? What is it that makes Dredd so amazing?
There’s a number of things. As I’ve already mentioned, it was made by people who loved the source material, and that shows through in the impeccable cinematography, creative camerawork, and pretty ace story. Even if you don’t know the world of Dredd, you can appreciate it as being a cool, futuristic cop film with guns that explode if picked up by someone other than their owner. What other film are you gonna find that in? Furthermore, dystopian films and properties are very in right now. While it kills me to admit that the dystopian society of Dredd can fit right alongside the other films that are like that right now, this subgenre gave it promise. Except, whereas in other dystopian films we’re cheering for the ‘good guys’ in Dredd… It’s kind of questionable. Everyone’s morals are at question, and that’s what makes it interesting. Another pull for Dredd is that it represents a horrible possibility. It’s no big secret that the world is getting paranoid with CCTV on every corner, and slowly becoming an Owellian wonderland. Police are getting harsh; in the world of Dredd, the police are judge, jury and executioner and being harsh is their bread and butter. Simply put, it doesn’t take a conspiracy nut, a genius or a film student to note the comparisons.
As well as all the cool subtextual stuff (I’m a film student, I go looking for this stuff) it just looks cool. I saw it in cinemas in 3D, and my only regret is that I didn’t catch it in iMax. Every action scene throughout the film, every fist fight, every gun fight, everything has spectacular choreography, which when coupled with the stunning cinematography, makes it amazing to look at. Everything is done with care and attention. Unlike a lot of other action films, although still alike British action films, it’s gritty. It’s unbelievably gritty, and this adds to the effect. At it’s heart, Dredd is about two cops going into a drug-dealers land and fucking shit up. Right up. And it looks great. You find yourself cheering for Dredd and Anderson, only because their wrongdoings and morals are better (but how much better?) than Ma-Ma’s.
It is most certainly a cop film, and to an extent, it’s buddy cop film, but an unwilling one. That said, the female character, Psi-Judge Anderson may be a rookie, but she is by no means harmless and pathetic. She’s strong, she’s powerful, and she does it in her own way. She can take a guy out using her mind just as quickly as Dredd can with his lawgiver. Yeah, she’s feisty, and funny, and Dredd ends up saving her at the end, but there’s no tacked-on romance. It’s work between colleagues, and life will go on afterwards. Olivia Thirlby plays her excellently, and combines a certain degree of naivete with quiet determination. The interactions between Anderson and Dredd (Karl Urban) work spectacularly, and both actors show off what they can do. Obviously Karl Urban’s role as Judge Dredd requires him to keep his helmet on at all times and restricts vision of the face, but he works around it, and he makes Judge Dredd work. Dredd is strong, powerful, and threatening all in one, and Urban plays him perfectly.
Yes, the film is gory. It’s violent, it’s bloody… But it couldn’t be any other way. It’s a reflection of the world that Judge Dredd lives in, a dark, dystopian America where everyone is guilty until proven innocent, and heavy-handed and violent is the way it has to be.
Day of Dredd is a day of petitioning, of buying the film, of streaming it in an attempt to get it noticed and to further the petition to get a sequel made.
Now are you with me, creep? Or do you need some time in the iso-cubes to decide?
You can buy Dredd on Amazon here:
You can stream it on Netflix if you’re in the UK.
You can read mine and my Dad’s reviews on Dredd here and here.
Sign the petition for a sequel here.
You can find more information about the petition and numerous memes featuring ol’ Stoneyface here on Facebook.