Judge Dredd is back on the streets. Judge, Jury and Executioner on the streets of Megacity One. Back in 1995, Sylvester Stallone filled the oversized biker boots of the ultimate Judge – in 2012 it’s the slightly more svelte Karl Urban (LOTR and Star Trek). Obvious critical antipathy aside the problem back then was not Stallone, quite frankly the iconography, CGI, battle sequences and hard edged machismo on display matched what was taking place in the pages of 2000AD at the time very well though in the intervening years it’s aged inevitably, Roy Schneider, too many plot lines and a weird ending derailing a promising comic book adaptation.
The modern remake looks to be taking a less bombastic approach to Megacity One, with intermittent Megablocks between normal buildings, more of a sprawling metropolis than a monolithic tech city – reminiscent of District 9 and Predator 2 rather than Attack of the Clones and Blade Runner – which fits in with the sombre rethinks of other iconic comic book characters in recent years – though is just as likely to date it for future generations. It appears smarter and more universal perhaps than its predecessor on the whole though.
The problem in 1995 was flash-in-the-pan silly voiced ‘comedy actor’ Rob Schneider, dropped in to provide some misjudged light relief. Max Von Sydow and Diane Lane as Chief Justice Fargo and Judge Hershey were well placed but a retread of an old ‘clone’ story in which Dredd’s ‘brother’ Rico (played by Armand Assante) pushed the Sci-fi too far too quickly before Dredd was properly developed. Cramming ABC Warrior references, The Angel Gang (in particular JD strip regular Mean Machine Angel, a clone storyline and an intro that used elements of Wagner’s original Block War storyline into one short film caused a mess to ensue. By the denouement, set in an unexplained hideout in the head of the Statue of Liberty, apparently moved to the middle of Megacity One for no other reason than to have an exciting setting for the ending, things were confusing and a little overblown.
The new version has involved the creative teams that created Dredd in the first place, screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) has worked closely with Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra to get the characters as close to the original concept as possible. Their plans seem to be very much more long term as well in this age of franchises, with the trailer suggesting only the utilisation of Wagner’s early Dredd storyline ‘Block Wars’ in which Dredd has to fight his way through one of the Megablocks (giant housing blocks) to take out Ma-Ma Madrigal, the dealer of Slo-Mo, a drug that causes the taker to slow their perception of time.
The other controversy back in 1995 was the decision to reveal Dredd’s face – as Sly – though really this could be a redundant concern as the world and his mates dog knew what Sylvester Stallone looked like and frankly Stallone filled the role very well, even down to the twisted lantern jaw.
This time it looks like the helmet is firmly stuck on, which is a shame in some respects as Karl Urban has a less interesting chin than Sylvester Stallone. This, in itself, might kick up it’s own controversy in film fans that are not so familiar with the source material. Never-the-less, hats off to anyone who wants to stick as resolutely as possible to any long standing character – made easier no doubt by Alex Garland’s position as Producer.
Never the less, both have moments of cleverness, the original’s section in the Cursed Earth and the depiction of the senior Judges (in particular Max Von Sydow’s Chief Judge Fargo) was well translated and the meaty, cartoon violence and tongue in cheek satire of rampant total martial law was imbedded nicely without becoming part of the plot, as in the books themselves. The action sequences were on the whole nicely put together (excluding the last) and Stallone was effectively born to play the Judge of Judges. Ultimately it’s flaws brought it down but it was a worthy attempt brought down through too much fiddling by the powers that be.
This version looks more careful and considered with a sharp eye on the future of the franchise as well as a neat look at the past that inspired it. Whether relying on Wagner and Ezquerra, geniuses though they are, to imbed ideas that have been developed since will prove a great idea is yet to be seen but the more I watch the trailer the more I think they’re on to something. However, in the cold, gritty realism they’ve claerly aimed at alla Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise is there room for Mean Machine Angel and more to the point, the snickering countenance of Judge Death…. probably not based on what we see here… but there’ll always be another franchise in another 17 years and franly I’m psyched to see what this one holds in store for us.
In the meantime, below is the 1995 trailer that inspired me to convince 50 mates to go see it – something I paid for dearly. I still blame Schneider. Pre-CGI Jar Jar that he was!! Compare and contrast – based on the trailer below you’d be a fool to miss it, sadly the end result wasn’t quite on par, but do note how irritating it gets the moment Schneider turns up. Fingers crossed for September 2012.