On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Dredd (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
Who would have thought that the best comic book film adaptation of 2012 would be of Judge Dredd? The character first appeared in 1977 and even though the dreadful (pun intended) Sylvester Stallone vehicle exists, the character still remains relatively unknown across the globe. But after watching this South African/UK co-production, I have a feeling that Dredd will be making a big comeback, and soon.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the Earth is entirely irradiated; it’s been aptly named The Cursed Earth. Some cities still remain but are referred to as Megacities because each one encompasses several cities within. And within each Megacity exist several Megablocks. Megablocks are… you guessed it! Gigantic buildings that house tens of thousands of tenants.
Dredd takes place inside of Megacity 1. In this version of a possible future all manners of law enforcement are combined in the form of judges. Judges are basically police officers that have the power to exercise the law to its full extent on the spot, thus nullifying courts. Judges also are able to carry out on the spot executions if necessary, and therefore, extreme caution is advised when a Judge is around.
At the start of the film we meet Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). He’s a no-nonsense type of Judge who seems terribly tough but is always entirely fair. He knows the law to the tee and is able to compute and deliver appropriate sentences rather quickly. We also meet his new partner, a Judge in training named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), and right from the get-go they are thrust into a job. They answer the call of a triple homicide that took place within a Megablock named Peach Trees and soon after, they follow the clues to their first quick and bloody shoot-out. They arrest one man and while on their way out of Peach Trees the entire Megablock (housing 75,000 people with an unemployment rate of 96%) is shut down and sealed off.
And this brings us to Madeline Madrigal (Lena Headey), also known as Ma-Ma: she’s an ex-prostitute who murdered her pimp after he cut up her face and who’s now taken over all of Peach Trees by eliminating every single opposing gang and gang member in it. She’s called for Peach Trees to be sealed off and asks every tenant to kill the judges.
From that moment on, the film shifts into the next gear and never slows down. That being said, it’s not a fast paced film. It has a rather steady pace throughout. The camera never shakes and is never (or almost never) handheld, and the action and bloody violence are always composed entirely within frame. As a result, the audience never grows bored or tired by the onslaught of the on-screen gunplay and murder and is always able to discern what is happening in each shot. The geography of each floor in Peach Trees is explored and the audience is always aware of what’s happening.
Karl Urban is an excellent Dredd. Just like in the original comics, his character never removes his helmet (a stipulation that he worked into his contract) and Dredd is always presented as calm and professional. He never panics, knows exactly how much ammo is left in his gun (with help from an LED display), and always lets Anderson call the shots. That’s one of the many things that I love about this film; I love that Dredd never forgets that Anderson’s there solely to be tested for potential position as a Judge. He allows her to cite tickets to vagrants and to execute armed enemies that threatened their lives but are incapacitated. For the most part, she’s a pass.
Lena Headey is also terrific as Ma-Ma. She almost never smiles or even smirks, she’s never angry, and also, much like Dredd, never loses control or shows any emotions. But that’s because she’s a homicidal psychopath and as such, Headey delivers the goods. She’s frightening because she’s always calm and doesn’t have time for theatrics. Plus, she’s a dope fiend just like many of Megacity 1’s citizens who dope up, ironically because the city is in a terrible shape.
I love Dredd. This is my favorite film of 2012 because it does everything right. It reminds the audience through and through that it’s based on a remarkably violent comic book but instead of theatrics and silliness it goes for hyper-realism. The violence depicted within the film is thoroughly bloody and also quite gruesome at times (we see exactly what happens to a cheek when a bullet exits one) but the color schemes are surreal. They’re made up of a mishmash of pastels and neons reminiscent of neo-noir films, like those pinks, greens, reds, and blues that are found on the streets of L.A. in Blade Runner. Dredd paints Peach Trees’ walls green and red and lights them with pinks and purples; then it adds lots of good looking CG blood that’s too bright to actually look realistic.
It’s a terrific looking film that was shot by Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire and The Eagle) and directed by Pete Travis (who’s mostly worked in TV and has directed a couple of really bad straight-to-video films). Together they made one of the most pure and exciting comic book-based films that I’ve ever seen.
Dredd is a total blast, has a terrific electronica-based soundtrack, and effectively kills 95 minutes. This one is a blind buy.
The special features include Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd; Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd; Dredd Featurette; Dredd’s Gear; The 3rd Dimension; Welcome to Peachtrees; Dredd Motion Comic Prequel; and the theatrical trailer.
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