Rambling Dispatches: “Dredd”


Every week in Rambling Dispatches, resident malcontent Quinn McGee rants about whatever he damn well pleases.

Believe me, when I heard of the remake of Judge Dredd, I got kind of excited. I loved the 90s Judge Dredd for what it was. It had Sylvester Stallone and enough camp to make just about anyone who is a fan of the genre happy. When I heard about the remake, I didn’t expect a blow-for-blow remake of the original, and it’s good that Dredd didn’t go in that direction. Total remakes of movies hardly ever work, and I rarely see the point of them. But looking at remakes is something of great importance, since it appears that Hollywood has run out of ideas and remakes are sticking around now. If it has been done, try to do it harder, or better, or whatever they think the new direction should go. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail pretty miserably.

Dredd is, in itself, a gritty and violent action flick. I don’t know if it can be summed up any differently, since that’s about all it brings to the table. The story is about as complex as action movies are: Protagonists enter into a dire situation, get trapped in that dire situation, escape that dire situation somehow. It’s a premise that works and is time-tested. This movie is no different than other movies in this same vein, which oddly enough is a boon in this case. I read that this movie is more accurate to the comics than the 1995 version was, and while I have not read the comic, I do believe that a great deal of value should be placed on how well the adaptation correlates with the source material. Those who have read and are fans of the comics gave the film near-universal praise for sticking to one of the main quirks about Dredd: that you never see his face.

The iconic Dredd is almost faceless in a Master Chief kind of way, to where you would want to see his face, but fear that it would ruin the character and humanize the role too much. And to be honest, while I knew that Karl Urban was under the helmet, not seeing his face for the entirety of the movie did do some service to the idea that Dredd should be machine-like, analytical in thinking and dispatching of law. And speaking of casting, I have to say that the movie did a fantastic job of it. Urban played the emotionless juggernaut fantastically, but the best casting was Lena Headey as the gang leader Ma-Ma. I never knew who she was until Game of Thrones, and she did not disappoint in Dredd. She is crazy, and the make-up staff did a fantastic job making her appear deranged. The Rookie could have been a stronger character, though the lovely Olivia Thrilby did shine in certain scenes.

However, I did have mixed feelings about the whole affair, and part of that came from being a fan of the original. Dredd is all about gore and violence for the blood and guts enthusiast. There is none of that off-kilter humor of the original. Now, I know that’s in stark contrast to what I said earlier. My problem is that many action movies tend to turn into monotonous sequences of setpieces that have the same intensity. When there is no contrast, the whole movie suffers. All of the action sequences in Dredd have the same tone, and since it all takes place within the same apartment complex, not even the scenery allows for a change of pace. The only moments where there is a change of pace come when the blatant 3D shots take place. I have heard that the 3D was very well done in this movie, but watching it on DVD shows that these scenes are just a distraction from the flaws in story and are obvious cash grabs. The scenes that are hyper-stylized for 3D revolve around a drug called Slo-Mo that makes the mind perceive time in slow motion. This allows for the filming explosions of light, flesh, and water in a very pretty way.

However, this does nothing for the story of the movie. One distraction Slo-Mo covers is the fact that the Rookie knows nothing of the drug, while Dredd is able to recognize the burn marks in the mouth of a corpse and tell that the person did Slo-Mo. You would think that since both are members of the police force, the Rookie would at least have heard of the drug. And the drug itself almost feels forced into the movie, since it is not introduced as a plot point until nearly halfway through and isn’t mentioned much after that. It almost feels as if the film is trying to legitimize the presence of 3D in the movie by making the building a manufacturing hub. This is one of the major issues I had with the film, since the 3D gimmick is not even thinly veiled; it’s very obvious to anyone who watches the movie and cares to notice.

After watching the movie, I don’t think I can completely agree with the majority of high scores that Dredd received. On Metacritic, Dredd got an aggregate score of 59 out of 100, which is around what I would give it. While it is a good action movie, it’s also a generic one. Being a generic action flick, it falls in the same category as a typical Jason Statham film, where the story doesn’t matter but the action is crisp. It’s enjoyable enough, but hardly a praise-worthy film.