Saturday, September 22, 2012

(Judge) Dredd

The original plan for the day was to go see Hamlet at CalShakes.  That plan fell through though when my wife realized that the tickets are actually for next weekend.  So, instead of that story about the Denmark's rottenness, the wifey and I saw a movie about the rottenness of Mega City One.  That's right, we went and saw Dredd.  (And no, not in 3D.)  It's somewhat fitting, because the character of Dredd is a lot like Hamlet in the sense that he's about as opposite of Hamlet as a character can possibly be.  While the prince is indecisive, the judge is always certain of exactly what he's doing.

I'm not the world's biggest Judge Dredd fan, but I've read a fair amount of comics.  I read the DC Comics series that came out some time ago.  I also read a lot of reprints of stories from 2000 A.D. when they were reprinted by Eagle Comics.  So, while not the biggest fan, I've got some drokkin' credentials.

I remember being enthusiastic about the Stallone film when it came out.  I remember liking it okay, but I also remember being disappointed that they didn't quite seem to get the spirit of the comic in the movie.  But hey, that was the same year that Batman Forever came out, so standards were pretty low.  There certainly were some things in there from the comics.  There was Mega City One.  There was the Cursed Earth.  There were traces of the nuttiness and over-the-top characters from the comics.  (The Mean Machine was in it, after all!)  I think that I saw it again on TV some time later, and it seemed worse than I had remembered it.

So, I was excited for the new film, especially when I heard that they got one important detail correct - DREDD NEVER TAKES OFF HIS HELMET.  That sounds like a small thing to non-fans, I'm sure, but it's just one of those things that helps to define the character.  One of the negative reviews that I read of the film complained about the "lack of character development".  Well, yeah, if you give Dredd too much character development, then you've somehow screwed him up as far as I'm concerned.  Keeping that mask on helps to symbolize his rigid, unyielding devotion to the law.

So, what about the new movie?  Did they get it right?  Well, for the most part, yes.  Dredd was most definitely Dredd.  He doesn't crack jokes, and when he says something funny, he's not trying to be funny.  He's unstoppable.  He's uncorruptable.  He's THE LAW.  Also, it was nice to see Judge Anderson, the psychic judge, play the role of the rookie.  She was there so the audience could have somebody with whom to identify.

Now, it's been a while, but I remember the comics as sometimes focusing heavily on satire and sometimes being downright kooky.  There was absolutely no trace of that whatsoever.  Basically, this film took all the dark elements of the comic and focused solely on that.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that they didn't even toss in a "Drokk!" or a "Stomm!" or even a "Grudd!" anywhere in there, instead just sticking with curse words that people actually use in the real world.  But still, it felt like Mega City One, just a no-holds barred, R-rated version of it that the comics only hinted at.

As for the story, it almost felt more like an episode of a TV series, and not even the pilot episode.  I thought that was an interesting approach.  It gave just enough information for the audience to follow along, and then it jumped into really minimalist story focusing on Dredd and Anderson fighting their way through a ridiculously high building in order to get to the drug dealer at the top.

So, this is hardly high-art, and it doesn't transcend the genre like Christopher Nolan's Batman films.  It's probably not even as good a film as a Judge Dredd film can possibly be.  However, it's entertaining as hell - provided that you can handle some pretty gruesome violence.  (My wife said that she felt like throwing up quite a few times.)  It also gives the audience a completely uncompromising vision.  The makers of this film knew exactly what they wanted to make, and they got it.  There's no forced love story.  There's no moment where you discover that deep down inside, Dredd's just a big softie.  There's no sense that Mega City is going to be a better place and the future's only going to get better.  All you know is that Dredd took down another perp, and he's probably going to have to do the same thing again tomorrow.

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