Hey, this blog pot has been synched with Jamas' review over at The Truth Behind!
Hard to credit though it is, it's nearly twenty years since Judge Dredd was last committed to celluloid, in Danny Cannon's ill-fated movie of the same name, starring then-hot-property Sylvester Stallone as Old Stony Face himself.
Judge Dredd gets a lot of stick from Dredd fans, and more recently from Dredd 3D fans. It will probably be ever thus, enjoyed by few as nothing more than a guilty pleasure, an aborted taster before Pete Travis and Alex Garland's grimmer, earthier 2012 reboot. I've mentioned how this movie's emergence was a contributing factor to giving up on 2000AD for nearly ten years, but I don't actually recall having seen the whole thing - only bits and pieces. And so, with this confessed to Jamas recently, we both agreed to give the movie a second spin and see how things turned out.
You're still here? Okay. Well, I watched it over two nights with a small screen but at the normal speed. It's difficult for a long-time 2000AD fan as I am to separate the movie from its comic origins, but I think that as with any adaptation it's somehting that just needs to be done - even with the 2012 version, which is hardly the strip brought to life omn the screen either. In toto Cannon's Judge Dredd is a Nineties film. It has Nineties all over it - the Eighties tech hangover (very clunky looking hovercars, new wave punk citizens, neon signage, cod-Blade Runner streets), and an Eighties action vibe with a scheen of mid-Nineties popcorn harvesting movie stylings: in short, it looks like it was once neighbours with the Schumaker Batman movies, Schwarzennegger's Last Action Hero and Verhoeven's Total Recall, and guess what? It Was.
To that end I cut it some slack - it's not aged well and nor have its neighbours. Judge Dredd is also a Hollywood movie in intent, as much as Dredd 3D is an independent film courting Hollywood success (both failed for similar but not identical reasons; arguably Stallone's movie damned Urban's reinvention)
The mess that is Judge Dredd's script (and that's a good place to start) is maybe an example of the ill fit that the black, satiric strip's world makes into a traditional clean-vut Summer Blockbuster model. There's no questioning of the figure of Dredd in the movie, although the script tries gamely to do this through the character of Hershey without really pausing to ask why. The story of Joe Dredd is presented as a hero's journey of self-discovery, but Dredd's perceived conflict with his clone origins isn't fully played out, and as far as I could see there was little made of the significance of him being a clone, particularly when Fargo's revelation underlines the moral difference between the two brothers (as if we hadn't already seen this onscreen already.) There's no seduction of the dark side of Dredd's origins, and the search for his 'humanity' isn't played out in his actions beyond a rejection of his genetic heritage - again, we don't know what the consequence of being Rico's good clone mean, so Dredd's rejection of this comes across as less of a Damascus moment and more of a shrug of gilded shoulderpads. It's a shame, but it demonstrates to me the vague execution of the storyline overall - it doesn't succeed as a Hollywood blockbuster and is guilty of doffing too many hats to its comic origins (elements of The Return of Rico, The Day the Law Died, the Angel Gang and the clone/android replacement panics of the Oz and Mechanismo storylines) without seeing any f these plotlines through. As a hero's journey it's perfunctory, and Dredd's sidekicks in Hershey (Diane Lane pushing a little hard in places with a two-dimensional character) and gag-factory Fergie (and early Rob Schneider not yet in full mugging mode) are just a little too functional. Seventeen years later the reboot would deliver somehting much more impressive and generous to its talent.
That said, I found Judge Dredd to be mostly harmless. It doesn't look bad at all - the Mega City skyline and city wall look like they came out of the comics, and the oft-lauded ABC robot and Mean Machine make up are really good, even for simple eye candy. There's some sad tail-end bluescreen, however, and while flying bikes and a first reel hovertaxi tour initially sell the dizzy heights ans scale of Dredd's metropolis, it's not essential to the plot. As for the Versace judge uniforms - I think the fans protest a little too much. Yeah, the codpieces are a mistake, but boy, consider the earlier concepts, and en masse the uniforms don't look bad at all. And Max Von Sydow is a class act.
In all I found myself a little better disposed to Judge Dredd than I thought I'd be. perhaps partly due to some hefty criticism from Hypnobobs, Witless For the Defence and the Black Dog Podcast, I wanted to like it more, and came away not hating it as much. What I'd have liked to have seen more of or less of have been informed by my knowledge of the character's vast history, and for better or worse that's a prejudice already. Judge Dredd's not a great movie, but it has moments of humour closer to the strip than Garland and Travis' reboot strives for ("Eat Recycled Food!"), and like its equally doomed successor, had it been mrketed better to its most significant audience then it might have had less of a drubbing. I might yet watch it again some time - in a while, of course...