I was wondering about my love for the movie Dredd, originally called Dredd 3D, and my loathing for the piece of trash, Judge Dredd. One is a recent film starring Karl Urban. The other stars Sylvester Stallone, who I like a lot, but I seriously dislike the movie. I have watched it a number of times, but it is from the 90s and been shown on tv often. It is a simple, trashy scifi flick to have on when you have better things to do. Not so Dredd. I have probably watched it more times in the shorter time it has existed, and each time I get sucked in.
So one I am passionately supportive of, one I am passionately despising of. I did wonder, am I just being a hipster or a snobbish geek? Am I just bitching against the film by Stallone because I truly dislike it or because that’s the consensus among geeks, especially 2000AD fans? Do I just like one and not the other for no rational reason? Possibly a simple case of taste?
So I thought and I came to the conclusion that, no, I really do have my passionate opinions and I have good reason for them.
For one, I love Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dredd. He plays the role. He keeps the helmet on. He dishes out tough justice with a grim face and nothing more. Dredd is an iconic character; almost an epitomy of the need for order in Mega City One. He is there to keep control by punishing any trespass. Dredd isn’t good or evil, nor even hero or anti-hero. He just is, administering justice and maintaining the status quo. That’s how Urban plays him. He is there to deal with the criminal element of Peachtrees and that’s that. He is the law.
Stallone’s Dredd is just Stallone playing yet another action hero in a scifi film. He removes the helmet so everyone can see it is him. He finds himself on the receiving end of justice so ends up being the renegade. It is basic Hollywood stuff. Early on, he is more Dredd-like, handing out sentences on any crime as the law states he must. But Stallone plays him almost gleeful as he does this. It comes across as comical. Dredd isn’t meant to be funny or enjoying the role of Judge. He just judges.
Another obvious difference is the mood and look of the films. Dredd is gritty, grimy, harsh, glum. Judge Dredd is colourful and flashy. Some grime, sure, and certainly some gore, but still feels more glamour than it should be. I also really like the soundtrack to Dredd.
I find there is a lack of reverence for the character of Dredd in Stallone’s movie too. Growing up in the UK, Dredd was always well known to me. I had read a number of the comics, I now own several graphic novels, but I was far from a knowledgeable fan. But Dredd was iconic to scifi loving Brits. Like the Doctor or Terrahawks. Okay, maybe not Terrahawks, but he was known as that grim lawman who never removed his helmet and never backed down. If you play James Bond, you wear the tux, drink your vodka martini, fire your Walther PPK and mark smart quips as you kill henchmen. That’s just how it is. Dredd isn’t nearly as famous and not bound by so many features, but if you play Dredd, you wear the damn helmet and you maintain your resolute demeanour. Stallone played a typical hero. Nothing wrong in that, but he wasn’t Dredd and it felt like they never tried to make a Dredd movie.
I feel similarly about the Conan films. Schwarzenegger’s Conan is a dumb thief, as much as I love those films. The newer movie I like a lot less, and while the Conan is better, he’s still not Conan for me. I’m still waiting for a true Conan film.
The new Dredd felt like they were trying to show us Dredd and his world. Mega City One, the apartment blocks that feel like their own insulated environments, and the desperate lifestyle of the inhabitants is brought to us. You can argue they still fall short of that. Sometimes the city scenes feel like a normal city today than a vast, crowded city state of a future. It was a low budget film, after all. But they were trying. They went for it. They wanted to give us that world.
I much preferred the villains of Dredd as well. Judge Dredd’s bad guys are fairly predictable and cartoonish. Ma-Ma, brilliantly played Lena Hedley, is a vicious gangster. Nothing fancy, but very intimidating and threatening. I love the moment when she has her men use mounted mini-guns to blast through numerous rooms just to kill the Judges. It is a character defining moment. She ruthlessly goes for the overkill to get what she wants.
Anderson was a much better second character than anything that goes along in Judge Dredd. The less said about fucking Rob Schneider’s sidekick the better. A few others get a bit of screentime, but nothing to give us a character to support, let alone character development. Anderson is a strong role that is the character we can engage with while watching Dredd be Dredd. She starts off doubting herself if hoping to prove her worth. She screws up yet that forces her to get stronger and see the whole thing through. She is a Judge by the end, whether given a pass or not, and Dredd knows it.
A great comparison is Anderson having to execute a man. Early on, Dredd makes her judge a man who tried to kill them, lying wounded on the floor. She hesitates but does it, and that act hurts later on when she meets the family of the man (yeah, bit contrived I know). Late on in the film, we see Dredd and Anderson pushing up the block, gunning down Ma-Ma’s crew as they go. We briefly see a few bodies on a stairway and Anderson finishes one man off as they pass by. She doesn’t even blink. The movie doesn’t slow down to exaggerate the moment either. Nothing is highlighted but that itself displays the difference. Anderson struggles early on, but by the end she has toughened up enough to just do the job. She can do it. You don’t want to cross her now.
Speaking of comparisons, I can bring up Conan again. Something I dislike about both old and new Conan is that they give an origin story. Howard never had that. We know something of Conan’s past, but the stories never told of how he came to be. We don’t need to know. Conan just is, a primal force in human form, come into the civilised worlds to plunder and achieve glory. We don’t need him explained. He is, for me anyway, better off not being explained.
Dredd is the same. I prefer Urban’s Dredd as being a Judge in the middle of a crisis, needing to survive while doing his duty. I prefer the simple plot of the film. I prefer the directness of the storytelling. I enjoy watching a movie where I come into it, find Dredd as he should be, watch him behave as Dredd would, and then it is over. I don’t need fake family photos, cloning plots and Dredd becoming praised by the people. I know the cloning thing is from the comics, but I didn’t need to explore Dredd’s character that far in one movie. I just want him to show up.
Oh, there is one scene I have to talk about, which links the two films.
Something I despise about most remakes is taking lines or scenes from the old movies and crowbarring them in just for the ‘reference’ factor. Dredd does this, but it works so damn well. I can’t recall if Dredd goes around saying ‘I am the law’ in the comics, but it became famous, maybe infamous, due to the shouty ways of Stallone. The over-the-top LARRWWW was as laughable as it was entertaining. It was also probably one of the few things people remembered by the time Dredd 3D came out. So into the film it went, only when used, it never felt crowbarred in. It was part of Dredd’s speech as he asserts his authority over the block. He reminds Peachtrees who is really in charge. He depicts himself as an agent of a authority even Ma-Ma cannot match. Urban’s matter-of-fact delivery is perfect. For me, it helped make clear this film was about depicting Dredd and his world, not sensationalising it.
So I love Dredd’s portrayal of the main character, of other characters, of Mega City One, as well as it’s tone, soundtrack and look. With Judge Dredd, it is just cheesy fun at best.
I must also declare I’m a full supporter for the demand for a sequel to Dredd. Every time a new and pointless sequel gets made, that Dredd meme shows up and I always give it a like.
Seriously, make a second one. Now. Or as soon as you can. Please. Please please please!