Remakes are a tense subject in movie fan circles. There are those who see no problem with the growing trend and those people are usually drowned out by a crazed horde of violent remake haters. Personally I think remakes are acceptable under one or all of the following circumstances:
1.) The original film was made in a foreign language (The Departed is a good example);
2.) The original film is over 25 years old and is NOT considered to be a true classic (RoboCop should be remade, Jaws should not);
3.) The original film was based on another source (book, comic, play, etc.) but was poorly adapted.
Dredd falls into the latter category as the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film, Judge Dredd, didn’t exactly hit home with fanboys of the graphic novels, mostly due to the presence of Rob Schneider, one of the world’s great cinematic ruiners. This is one remake that people, even if it is a vocal minority, have been clamoring for and I imagine it fits the bill for the fans, though it’s certainly not for everyone.
The future of America is bleak indeed. With the remaining 800 million residents of the country jammed into one megacity that stretches from Boston to D.C., the world has become a dirty, grimy place. Only one symbol of the law remains: the Judges, who operate out of the Hall of Justice. Assigned the task of training a newbie (Olivia Thirlby), one of the most fearsome judges, aptly named Dredd (Karl Urban), begins the investigation of a triple homicide at Peach Trees, a 200 story apartment complex. Soon, though, he runs up against a ferocious opponent in the drug kingpin known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who will stop at nothing to prevent the judges from leaving Peach Trees alive.
It’s been years since I saw the Stallone version of Judge Dredd but I remember it being a hot, cheesy, mess of a movie. This time around, director Pete Travis takes all the cheesy foolishness of that film and replaces it with blood…mass amounts of blood. The best quote I’ve seen about this film pegged it as, “the comic book version of a British independent film.” (I tried to find the author of this quote but failed; I apologize for the inadvertent plagiarism.) That’s quite fitting as Dredd has an indisputable British/European sensibility that comes out to play in the stark and often gruesome depiction of action and violence. This is a serious affair the likes of which we don’t usually see in comic book films, though Travis does take the time to allow for a few VERY American one-liners which are all knee-slapping good. Personally I found the brutal nature of this blood and guts approach to be gratuitous and distracting from what turns out to be a much better plot than I would have expected going in. Dredd isn’t so much gritty as it is viscerally and mercilessly savage. If you’re a horror movie fan, this approach shouldn’t be a problem but I could have used a slightly softer edge in this department. That’s not to say it isn’t fitting or doesn’t necessarily work, I’m just saying it’s not for everyone and the rough, hard edge will eliminate a large portion of the film’s potential audience (as illustrated by the miserable box office total).
Brutal violence aside, Dredd is an extremely well-made film filled to the brim with slick, sophisticated shots and some excellent effects. Travis’ world is small and contained and that leads to a feeling of claustrophobia that adds to the film’s frenetic intensity. In addition, Urban should be commended for a strong performance under very difficult circumstances. Acting with a mask on one’s face is tough and it becomes even more difficult when the mask never, ever comes off. Urban is basically asked to “act” and emote with only the bottom third of his face and he does it very well. He is sufficiently menacing when he needs to be and Urban’s robotic approach to the character hits just the right tone. Thirlby and Headey are both strong as well though, like Dredd, there’s not much in the way of character development with which to work.
All in all, I thought Dredd achieved what it set out to and did its job quite effectively. It could stand for a bit of character development and I feel like Dredd’s reputation should have been built up better within the context of the film itself rather than relying on the audience’s prior knowledge of the character. But the artistry of the post production effects and the overall tone that carries from beginning to end makes Dredda solid, if imperfect, action flick.