When I saw the trailer for Dredd in the summer of 2012, I was pretty psyched. It looked grim and violent and everything that a post-apocalyptic superhero movie should be. Even if the first movie was pretty awful, this one looks like a more exciting action film, not to mention a more faithful adaptation of the source material.
Here's some quick background info on Dredd. It's an adaptation of the long-running comic series first seen in the pages of British science-fiction anthology 2000 AD. Roughly 100+ years in the future, following global nuclear war, much of the planet is an irradiated wasteland known as The Cursed Earth. The few remaining safe zones are occupied by massive walled cities where the last humans live. Inside those mega-cities, overpopulation is a major concern, and crime rates are extremely high. To counter this, the police force and judicial system have been combined. In this system, the legal process has been streamlined so much that one Judge can make arrests, pass sentence, and carry out executions (literal Judge/Jury/Executioner). Badass as that sounds, the comic is a satire of the stereotypical "cowboy cop" genre and functions as a commentary on themes of fascism and the nature of the police state. Judge Dredd is one of those enforcers, something of a legend among the citizens and criminals of Mega City One.
The first film adaptation of Judge Dredd was released in 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone. It was a fairly typical mid-90s superhero flick, lots of color and noise and cheesy one-liners. It's on-par with most of Stallone's work from that era of his career (see: Demolition Man, Tango & Cash, Cobra), and while it's a decent popcorn flick, it's a stunning disappointment to fans of the original comic. For one thing, Dredd only has his helmet on for roughly 5% of his screen time, taking away the mystique of the character. As mentioned above, Dredd exists more as a symbol than an individual, a faceless tool of the system he serves. The movie decided to examine Dredd as a person, probably because Stallone was too big of a star to let himself go through a whole movie without showing his face.
Nevertheless, the second attempt was looking to be a major improvement, and I went in on opening weekend with high expectations. And damn if it wasn't awesome. I could do a whole blog post about how great the movie is, but since it's out on DVD/Blu-Ray tomorrow, you can just take my word for it and watch it yourself. It's tense, dark, there's gunplay and gore and grit up to the gills and it's great. I'll summarize it anyway because I can't stop myself.
A new drug is hitting the streets in Mega City One, dubbed Slo-Mo because its users experience the sensation that time is passing slower. While only implied within the movie, I remember reading somewhere that the concept behind the drug is that with the city being so grim and ugly, anything that could turn something ordinary (like splashing water) into a cascade of light and color would be a welcome escape for the suffering masses. On a practical level, this gives the movie an excuse to show off some gratuitous slow-motion sequences through the perspective of the users of the drug. One particularly impressive shot occurs when Dredd shoots a guy in the face, and the exit wound through the cheek expands to show teeth and gums inside. Seriously, AWESOME.
Anyway, while Dredd is investigating the site of a triple-homicide and potential gang activity tied to the drug, he is also evaluating a new recruit. Anderson is a young, naive rookie, who also happens to be a mutant with psychic abilities (something explored further in the comic) that make her an asset to the Judges. When they accidentally stumble upon the secret operation of local crime boss Ma-Ma inside a massive housing complex (known as a Block), Ma-Ma seals off the entire building and sends her army of thugs after the two isolated Judges, forcing Dredd and Anderson to fight their way to the top. If that plot sounds familiar, you might have seen The Raid: Redemption which has a nearly identical premise. While some have accused Dredd writers of stealing ideas, it's largely considered a coincidence because Dredd spent years in production before it was finally released.
Karl Urban (Doom, Star Trek) plays Dredd, and thankfully has no problem keeping his helmet on. He pulls off a decently gruff voice and manages to convey a decent range of emotion (from angry to annoyed to surprised to angry again) using only his mouth, and is no stranger to sci-fi action, making him a great fit. Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Darkest Hour) as Anderson gives a great performance as an inexperienced rookie in a life-or-death situation who has to rise to the challenge, and her character has a noticeable arc as she is hardened into a badass in her own right. Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) gets to have the most fun with her role as the psychotic addict Ma-Ma, though every time I see her I just think: "Holy crap, Sarah Connor really went nuts after her son went to the future to fight SkyNET".
So, that's the basic rundown of Dredd: Great action, character development, special effects, and a faithful adaptation of the source material. It's in my top five movies of the year (next to The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Looper, and Skyfall) and I highly recommend it. Which is why after I saw it in theaters, I told everyone I know about how awesome it is and that they should all make time to see it...
Dredd Budget: $45 million
Dredd Box Office: $36.4 million
WHAT THE FUCK, PEOPLE?!?
Okay, I need to calm down. There's a perfectly logical reason for this, I'm sure. So let's think it through: Why Didn't You See Dredd?
Maybe something better was playing at the same time? Dredd came out September 2012, so what else was playing around then?
- Resident Evil: Retribution - $221 million
- Hotel Transylvania - $311 million
- Looper - $166 million
Judge Dredd Budget: $90 million
Judge Dredd Box Office: $113 million
Aw, come on! And that's in 1995 dollars! Pizza was 99 cents a slice back then, remember that? You could rent a movie for less than $5! (Wow, I feel old...) Imagine if you adjusted that for present-day ticket prices! And that movie still made more money than Dredd. In fact, Stallone will inadvertently help me prove my next point: This is a movie that any self-respecting action fan should have seen. When movies like this don't make money, it sends a message to Hollywood: The action genre is dead, better make another Twilight franchise. Something similar happened with the release of The Expendables, an action film from 2010 starring Stallone and roughly a dozen more of the manliest men in living film history. It was a love letter to the classic action movies of the past thirty years and was hyped up to an absurd degree due to the number of big-name action stars attached to the project. A fan-edited trailer was posted to YouTube prior to the film's release that perfectly encapsulates my feelings on this subject.
See, this is why Judge Dredd made so much money in 1995. Do you remember what the Internet was like in 1995? Do you remember Windows 95? Dial-up modems and Internet Explorer? Hell, Napster wasn't even around back then. People only knew about movies from newspaper write-ups and watching Siskel & Ebert on TV. Movie piracy wasn't nearly the phenomenon it is today, at the infancy of the digital age. I'm not going to pin the blame entirely on illegal downloading, but it doesn't help.
It's not just Dredd, it happens all the time. People wonder why shows like Arrested Development, Chuck, Community, Eureka, Sanctuary, Stargate, Terminator, and dozens of others get cancelled despite being critically well received with devoted fan bases. It's because not all of those fans ever get around to actually watching the show. They stick to downloading torrents, and can't even be bothered to buy the DVD releases. To those people I say: This is why we can't have nice things.
A quick check of the Wikipedia page tells me that writer/producer Alex Garland has plans for a possible trilogy for Dredd, if the film manages to break $50 million in sales. I don't know if that counts home video sales, but I still really hope people decide to actually pick up a copy of Dredd when it's released tomorrow. It's worth your money, and you might just get to see another film in the series if we can get the figures up. Bigger budget means more locations and special effects, which gives the writers more freedom to get creative. I want to see that, and I'm willing to fork over some cash to make it happen. How about you?