A Look Back: Dredd
Reboots, remakes, and sequels have become quite the controversial topic in today’s film community. Most are on the side of preferring that filmmakers and studios focus on more original IPs and new stories, however the general audience seems very content continuing with this new era of films. These rebooted franchises manage to rake in mass amounts of money with franchises such as Transformers, Jurassic World, and the constant stream of both DC and Marvel superhero-based films being the strongest examples of this.
While often times a reboot/remake will land somewhere near the quality of the 2017 reboot of The Mummy, and that is what the 1995 live-action adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic book was. That film starred Sylvester Stallone in the titular role of Judge Dredd, and it is to put it simply, a terrible movie. However, 17 years later the comic would be adapted for the big-screen once again.
This is a part of my ongoing series A Look Back, which takes a deeper look at underrated, overlooked, and forgotten pieces of cinema. Feel free to take a look back at my original story, A Look Back: Tron Legacy.
Dredd was directed by Pete Travis (Omagh, Endgame) and was written & produced by Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation). Truth be told, Alex Garland is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, so I may be a little biased here, but his influence within this film is very noticeable. While this does feel very different from his recent films, it still has signature Garland feel when watching it.
As for the casting of Dredd, this time around, rather than having the actor playing the infamous Judge unmasked for the majority of the film, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) now never takes his helmet off throughout the movie’s runtime. It is a nice touch that leans towards the comic’s style. It also helps to make it harder to empathize and side with him, as we only see him mouth. However, as the movie goes on the writing for his character excels and makes him more and more likable as we see him grow as a human rather than just as a killing machine.
Judge Dredd’s partner in this film is Anderson, and is played by Olivia Thirlby. She is the moral compass behind most of the movie and the foil to Dredd’s “all criminals deserve death” mentality. Thirlby plays the role excellently making it easy for the audience to latch onto & relate to her character. When she is first introduced she is made to feel special with her psychic powers, but then immediately feels out of place the second shit hits the fan. Like Judge Dredd, as the film progresses we see her learn about herself, as well as the darker side of life in Mega City One. Her growth as a character feels natural and she makes for an extremely likable sidekick.
The film’s antagonist is the character of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She is Mega City One’s top drug dealer and crime lord, pushing her drug named “slo-mo” onto the crime ridden and poverty-filled streets. Headey plays the character with the maniacal manner of Cersei Lannister, and similarly is very easy to hate. All in all, she once again does a great job at playing another memorable antagonist.
The cinematography and the visual style of this movie are simply breathtaking to say the least. The majority of the scenes in this movie were shot on sets that were built practically to make this world feel more realized. That is pretty clear with every scene that actually takes place inside of the block. Each floor feels like a real space that people are living in.
The sex scene showcased in that gif above is one of the standout scenes, cinematically speaking, throughout the movie. While the actual scene itself is brief, the use of slow motion is actually effective here in creating a dreamlike visual and also helps to establish Anderson’s powers early on in the story. The nudity does not feel gratuitous or exploitative either, as within the scene Anderson goes from being raped in her mind to entering the assailant’s mind and taking control herself in a very powerful character scene.
The bleak backdrop throughout the film is used effectively, making the sporadic usage of vibrant neon colors feel more refreshing throughout the movie during any of the drug trip or psychic sequences.
The music in Dredd is also excellent. Composed by Paul Leonard-Morgan (Limitless) the score for this movie acts as an extension of Mega City One. It manages to feel like music that might be listened to by the characters on-screen, whilst also acting as the musical backdrop to the action unfolding in front of the audience’s very eyes. Sounds vary from atmospheric electronic music with a track like Anderson’s Theme, to aggressively action oriented in a song like Mini-Guns.
The score is effective in it’s ability to construct a sonic image of the world created by the filmmakers. Coupled with the unique visual style of Dredd, the musical composition fits perfectly together forming an overwhelmingly incredible experience.
Alex Garland’s recent directorial work With Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018), he has continued his trend of working within the vast confines of the science fiction genre. However it seems that many forget that he was the screenwriter who penned the scripts for both Dredd and the 2007 sci-fi film Sunshine, starring pre-MCU Chris Evans, Benedict Wong, & Michelle Yeoh among others, and directed by Danny Boyle (a story for another time). One constant in almost of all of Alex Garland’s work is that he knows how to make his audience think. Whether it be through some mind-bending twist, or through some deeper psychological question raised, the man knows how to make intriguing works of science fiction. With these four very distinct films of the same genre, there is a very valid argument that could be made for Garland being one of the most influential individuals currently working within the science fiction genre.
In the years to come it will be interesting to see how he is remembered, and more importantly, the effect his work has on the genre itself. Despite under-performing financially, his films still garner support and praise from those who have seen it, and thus he consistently continues to get work.
*It really is a shame that Annihilation did poorly, as it was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’ve had in a movie theater to date. Seriously, go out of your way to see Annihilation if you have not already!!!
2012’s Dredd is exceedingly excellent at capturing the magic of the comic book where the 1990’s version fails. The violence is brutal, the one-liners hit almost every time, and most importantly it manages to make the character of Judge Dredd feel fully realized despite the audience never really getting to see his face (unlike the Stallone version). It builds a narrative that is easy to get immersed into and leaves you wanting more. For those individuals tired of the constant Hollywood reboots, sequels, and adaptations, this film is one of the strongest examples of doing an adaptation successfully while also bringing a fair amount of originality to the source material as well.
Thanks for joining me in this revisit to the world of Dredd. If you enjoyed this article be sure to take a look through the rest of my stories!