Dredd: Bringing Respect Back to Judge Joseph Dredd (and the Law)?

When I first heard about the upcoming Dredd 3D movie, I was filled with quite a few conflicting emotions. Mostly excitement and a gnawing fear.

As a graphic novel fan, a politics nerd, and a fan of dystopian futures in general, I am a huge fan of 2000 AD. The groundbreaking graphic novels, starting in 1977, had a huge impact in British culture. Judge Dredd is still brought up in debates on Parliament when discussing police states, the rule of law, and how society should be ordered. 2000 AD influenced Robocop and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. So, those parts of me were indeed excited.

On the other hand, you have the perception of Judge Dredd in America. The 1995 camp-fest, Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone is forever burned into the American subconscious. Remember, the promised land of good comic book movies in the 2000s was 5 years away. For every Superman 1, you had a Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Stallone, cast mostly for name recognition and his uncanny ability to spit out angry mumbled words, was immediately unmasked (in 2000 AD, Dredd never removes his helmet. I think. Any bigger nerds out there than me want to correct me?). From a studio standpoint, this made sense. If you are going to pay Sylvester Stallone (believe it or not, for some reason he used to be taken seriously as an actor, not just make movies that make fun of himself) to star in your movie, you are going to show Stallone’s face. Remember, comic book nerds weren’t the ones directing movies yet. He is of course given a love interest, a zany sidekick (Rob Schneider, the less said the better), a generically foreign puppet master villain, and sent out to mumble/yell something about the law while sneering and blowing things up. And so, in America, the 1995 movie is usually only brought out when you are drinking, and feel like taking a shot every time somebody (hint: Sylvester Stallone) yells “I AM THE LAW!” So yeah, when I hear they are making a new Dredd movie, a big part of me is filled with gnawing fear and a need to get more oxygen into my bloodstream.

Now, the phrase “gritty reboot” has become something a meme in the comic book movie community. Is your series winding down? Losing your audience? Cast Topher Grace as Venom and made Spiderman some horrible womanizing hipster emo brat? Forced Arnold Schwarzenegger to do some 200 ice-related puns? Heck even if you just did three movies and need a change of scenery. Time for the gritty reboot! But, sometimes that is necessary. We needed Batman Begins to get Batman and Robin out of our brains. Superman has attempted so many remakes and reboots it’s hard to decide which ones are gritty and which ones were not meant to be taken seriously.

So, understand what I mean when I say this movie promises to be a gritty reboot for Judge Dredd. Rather than go with the star power (once again, at the time) of an actor like Stallone, they chose Karl Urban. Urban, while not unknown (some of his biggest credits thus far are Dr. McCoy in 2009’s Star Trek and Vaako in Chronicles of Riddick) is not so big that money for his name demands seeing his face. So it has been confirmed that said face will not be shown. The budget is a fraction of the size, which in this case is a good thing. One of the failings of the big-budget 1995 movie, according to 2000 AD creator John Wagner, is that the tried to do much, so it ended up doing not enough. Rather than attempting to give us the whole world of Mega-City-One, Dredd brings us a limited number of sets, the majority of the film takes place in one (huge) apartment complex, where the titular character Judge Joseph Dredd fights a criminal empire to rescue a rookie Judge with incredible psychic powers. By narrowing the scope, and reducing the budget, the creators give a smaller, more focused look at the characters. They show us the future through people, not hover-cars and flashy buildings.

So, I am looking forwards to giving Dredd a chance to wow me.

P.S.
I’d also like to point out not ONCE in the 1995 version does anyone yell “GAZE INTO THE FIST OF DREDD!” while exploding a face with one punch. Poor show Stallone, poor show.

Gregory Hartmann