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Dredd-BD-cover-art-final-478x560Review by: David Stonehouse
Certificate 18 Out now on DVD and Blu-Ray

There aren’t many greater geek icons than Judge Dredd. Given that that’s the case you would think the prospect of putting him on the big screen would have fans drooling with expectation. Well, it did once, but that didn’t turn out too well. Danny Cannon’s 1995 Judge Dredd was a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone and, while it wasn’t a terrible film it certainly wasn’t a great one either. It was hampered by some badly misjudged comedy and, even worse, Dredd spent most of the film with his helmet off. What the drokk? Cult purists were outraged. So the big question for Pete Travis’ 2012 attempt was; could this film actually deliver a version of the Judge that would satisfy the fans?

Well thankfully the answer is largely yes. The screenplay was written by Alex Garland, author of The Beach and scripter of genre favourites including 28 Days Later and Sunshine. He’s a safe pair of hands and, as the extras make very clear, a massive long time fan of 2000AD who wanted to stay faithful to the comic book legend.

The plot is very straightforward. Dredd returns from a drug bust to find he’s been saddled with giving a rookie judge a field test. The rookie in question, Cassandra Anderson, shouldn’t really be eligible but she’s a powerful psychic and Chief Justices want her skills on the team. The first call is to Peach Trees, a giant mega-block, to investigate a triple homicide. Unfortunately, one of the perps they arrest is a gang-member who knows far too much. Rather than let them take their prisoner for interrogation the block’s drug boss and crime lord MaMa locks down the entire block and orders her crew to kill the judges. From there it’s a fight for survival as Dredd and Anderson fight to bring down the gang and get out of Peach Trees alive.

Karl Urban’s Dredd is spot on. We never see more of his face than his grizzled chin and he strides through the chaos with a cold and solid calm, talking in monosyllables and delivering justice with icy efficiency. There’s no character development with Dredd and there shouldn’t be. He is the law and that’s all there is to it. Instead it is Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson who gives the emotional depth to the movie. She is nervous but determined and naively hopes to become a Judge to help ‘make a difference’. When she explains this to Dredd all she gets back as a reply is a sarcastic ‘Admirable.’ but she proves her worth and wins his grudging respect as events spiral out of control. Anderson is a fan favourite almost as adored as Dredd himself and Thirlby’s layered, sympathetic performance really does her justice. On the other side of the fence, as the head of Team Bad, Lena Headey, fresh from playing Game of Throne’s psychotic Queen Cersei, has enormous fun chewing the furniture as the even more mental gang-boss and drug baron MaMa.

The design is pretty impressive. City shots of Megacity One show a grimy near future with the huge megablock structures towering over the old-world streets. The Judges’ kit is comic-book styling made real and the uniforms, weapons and ace Lawmaster bike all look solidly real. As the 18 certificate suggests there is no skimping on the graphic novel ultra-violence. Blood splatters, falling bodies explode, limbs get blown off and general carnage abounds. Mostly it’s grimly realistic but the use of the story’s designer drug ‘SloMo’ allows for some comic book visual excess. The drug makes the user experience events at 1% of their usual speed and with their senses heightened. Travis’ SloMo sequences are fantastic, with tiny particles glittering and shining in ultra slow motion – lovely in an early scene for a spray of bath water but not so gorgeous later on when bullets rip through chests and faces, impacts ripple flesh and blood arcs slowly out of wounds in grim fountains.

The limited budget (in sci-fi terms) is masked by the simple ‘trapped in a building’ premise. There are things fans might have hoped to see, the Cursed Earth perhaps, or a showdown with Judge Death, but the film-makers were wise enough to not over-reach themselves by trying to deliver something that their resources couldn’t cover. With any luck this outing has been well enough received to justify a sequel and a more generous budget.

It’s a shame that such a good film failed to find its audience, only taking 30 million at the box office. Hopefully good word-of-mouth will give Dredd a second life on DVD and Blu-Ray. I hope so, it’s a great film made faithfully by loving fans and deserves to become a cult classic.


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