Dystoporama Review: Judge Dredd   January 31st, 2017

“I am the law!”

Many of the reviews in this series will be returning to old favorites, but for this film it was my first time viewing it. I had avoided the 1995 film”Judge Dredd” because of the reputation for how phenomenally bad it was. On viewing the movie, I was expecting the worst, which may have actually helped make it a bit more enjoyable. The film is certainly not good, but it’s not abysmal either. It resides in the wide “so bad it’s good” range, to be appreciated by fans of schlock cinema. However, the movie should certainly come with a two-drink minimum to help improve the viewing experience.

“Judge Dredd” is based on a series of British comic books. The title crawl at the start of the movie informs the viewer that due to a series of environmental and social collapses, the outside world has become inhospitable to human life and the vast wasteland is known as the “cursed earth.” The remaining surviving population has been collected together and housed in giant mega cities, where crowding and limited resources has led to increased lawlessness. To combat the growing street violence, the legal system was reformed, giving Judges the combined power of police, judge, jury and executioner. Street judges patrol the city and dispatch swift justice.

The plot takes place in Mega City One, a sprawling encapsulated metropolis which, when displayed on a map, looks to encompass a wide swath of the Northeast United States. There are a few nice visuals of the city which, while dated, effectively show the expanse of the seemingly-endless city. The Statue of Liberty is a nice touch to show the scale of the city, as the iconic landmark is dwarfed by the giant structures all around it.

The movie has decent props and sets as well, though some of the art design of the neon street scenes is kind of laughably silly. It does set the mood well for a 90’s dystopian future and the film starts out enjoyable. The story had promise, but unfortunately it’s hampered by bad a plot and writing, and some really horrible dialog.

The movie wants to show the lawless nature of the city streets, but the random violence and cartoon thugs is pretty ridiculous. That could be argued to be part of the movie’s dumb charm, but people seem to be firing massive amounts of weapons at one another without any real or believable motives, or any stated motives for that matter. At least in “Robocop” the rioting was believable because the police force had walked off the job. Here the judges are out on patrol, so the random violence doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, when the street judges show up, at least all the goofy villains team up against the law, which is more believable.

The casting choices for the movie are all over the map as well. Sylvester Stallone plays the titular Judge Dredd, who is emotionally cold from dealing with the hard realities of street warfare. On one hand he is perfectly cast as an unfeeling force of justice, but when he’s required to show some emotional turmoil later in the movie, the tragic backstory stretches Stallone’s acting chops. He has done better in some movies, so maybe he was just phoning it in, then again there’s only so much an actor do with a bad script

Then there’s Rob Schneider, who plays a hapless petty criminal caught in the crossfire and ending up on the wrong end of Judge Dredd’s street justice. His character returns later as an annoying sidekick. They were going for comic relief, but unfortunately Scheider is not that funny, and if he’s on screen for more than a few minutes, he gets tiring very quickly. What would’ve been fun instead, is to have had Steve Buscemi in that role.

One shining point of the film is the casting of Max von Sydow who plays a Chief Justice who is Judge Dredd’s old teacher and former mentor. The Chief Justice is a sympathetic character but perhaps too idealistic for his post. Unfortunately Sydow is under used in the film. His screen time is probably less than 10 minutes, which was a shame, because he always has a great presence in whatever roles he plays.

The plot of the film is simple. Judge Dredd is framed for murder, but there are also secrets long past in play. The Chief Justice steps down, and per tradition, takes the long walk into the wasteland outside of the city. His decision to leave was to save Judge Dredd’s life and keep those secrets hidden, while the disgraced Dredd is sentenced to life in prison. The prison shuttle is shot down in the cursed-earth wasteland by pirate canibals and Judge Dredd and Rob Schneider’s character have to work together to get back into the mega city safely, to find out and stop the corruption and clear his name.

As in the film “Demolition Man” a villain is released to try and bring about a desired change by a single person acting in secret, only to have it backfire as said villain cannot be easily controlled. The tropes are obvious, but interestingly enough, other than the chaotic villain, the goals of all sides of the conflict were to create an ordered city, though different people had different ideas of what that order entailed.

The film ends with law restored but the overall problem of the city eventually running out of resources due to the overcrowded and growing population is never addressed again. It was a plot point that ended up being thrown away. Much like a lot of the writing, there was a lot of missed potential in the film. It would be neat to see more of that world.

There is another film, from 2012, simply titled “Dredd,” which revisited the source material. The movie had a more straight-forward plot and while it was limited in scope, it was a tighter film overall. That movie centered around Dredd and a rookie judge getting caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs, inside a giant housing complex the size of a city block. The housing complex is put on lock-down with no way to escape, so the two law officers have to make it through the gauntlet and try and apprehend the criminals. What ensues is a series of set pieces, where the action was well scripted and the pacing was nice and snappy.

The movie also had a plot point of a new designer drug, SLO-MO which dramatically slowed down the user’s perception of time. That allowed for some fun and trippy visuals and also a darkly clever scene where members from a rival gang are tortured under the drug’s influence to prolong the agony.

The 2012 film is definitely more dark and gritty, in reflection of the movies of the time, while the 1995 is more fun and goofy. Both offer interesting looks into the world from the comics, but the latter film is definitely the better of the two.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 at 3:14 am and is filed under Dystoporama, Movies and TV, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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