God bless Netflix. The online streaming service has never really let me down with things to watch, and last night after a weird weekend with my best friend, I needed something mindless to watch.
Sylvester Stallone headlined the 1995 film, based off of the brutal yet totally amazing comic 2000 AD. I never saw the movie as a kid, but I did see bits and pieces through the years. The major glaring issue with the movie (there’s a lot of them, honestly) is that Dredd does take his helmet off, so we see Stallone’s face through pretty much most of the film. In the comic Dredd never takes it off, adding to his mythos and downright bad assery. For the most part, Stallone physically looks like Dredd. The costumes were dead on, the Mega City blocks looked accurate, and while there was gracious amounts of violence, it was toned down for the film. I won’t bore you with a movie synopsis, since the Judge Dredd Fan Wiki does a better job of it than I ever will, but there is one question I am asking myself for this article; was this movie really that bad?
The short answer is not really.
The acting in the movie is good. Stallone plays his role very over the top, especially when we’re first introduced to Dredd in the beginning of the movie, and at the end when he’s fighting the big bad. When we meet Dredd in the movie, we see this menacing, grimacing Judge who gets off his bike and announces to the criminals at hand “I AM THE LAW.” While Dredd does say this numerous times in the comic, it’s pretty hilarious to hear it delivered in this movie (and it’s repeated a lot). He also does a fair job of trying to show that Dredd has no emotions, but in this adaptation director Danny Cannon wanted to break through that gruff exterior. Would anyone familiar with the comic want a softer Dredd? Have we all kind of silently accepted (and love) that he’s just a bad ass and there’s nothing wrong with that? But in order to force the tone deaf romance between Dredd and Judge Hershey–played by Diane Lane–Dredd needed to be softened up.
Lane is the highlight of this movie. Hershey is a fairly new Judge on the streets, so she hasn’t been hardened like Dredd has been. She does things logically but with a heavy dose of regular human emotion. When Dredd is falsely accused of murder, Hershey represents him as his lawyer and really does her best at proving Dredd innocent. The frustration and disappointment across her face when the Grand Counsel determines Dredd is in fact guilty is convincing. I also admire her tenacity. Even after Dredd is found guilty, she doesn’t give up in proving him rightfully innocent. The only downfall to this is she is slightly motivated by her feelings for Dredd to prove him innocent. Lane is good at carrying her roles, and frankly I’m glad she was more of a focal point in the second half of the movie. It was unnecessary to make her a love interest since that is very clearly outside the realm of Dredd, but was forced into this film.
While watching Dredd and Fergie (played by Rob Schneider of all people) trying to survive outside of Mega-City, it wasn’t interesting. Schneider is there as pure comedic relief, since that’s what he’s mostly good at doing. That being said, he was an unnecessary character. He was used as a plot device to humanize Dredd more, but other than being a sort of Deus Ex Machina at the end of the film when he heroically takes down the ABC Robot, his character provided little else. Using Dredd’s brother Rico (who was introduced in one story in 1977 and promptly killed off) was a good plot device, but they could have used any number of villains and had the same outcome. Armand Assante‘s Rico was used to primarily soften and humanize Dredd, but otherwise was written to be forgettable.
Visually the movie is great. As I said earlier, the costume designs are fantastic. The gold Eagle on the Judges shoulders are looming giant reminders of the swift justice each Judge delivers. The helmets (while altered slightly) are terrific, and Stallone’s grimace fit in well under the visor. Mega-City looked harrowing and uninviting, while also beating consumerism over it’s inhabitants heads. The use of the Cursed Earth was jarring compared to the crammed and gloomy Mega-City, and provided a nice contrast. Some of the stunts and effects look dated, but they aren’t glaringly offensive. While it isn’t by any means a 100% true adaptation and took a lot of liberties, it’s really not the worst scifi action film I’ve ever watched. The 2012 reboot is by far and large better, but wasn’t without it’s flaws either. I’m still holding out for another Dredd movie, but I’m ok with the two films we have as well as all of the amazing fan films floating around on YouTube.