After years of being told how bad the 1995 Judge Dredd movie adaptation was I finally took the time to give it a go for myself on a lazy afternoon. Since I was already going through a mini 90s dystopian future Sci-Fi phase, I felt it was important to include this one on the watch list.
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. It looked cool, with one of the most complete dystopian cities ever put together on film (think Blade Runner, Fifth Element, etc). This alone shocked me, as I was expecting some really bad sets, props and special effects, considering the film was rated so low. Overall, it featured a brilliant visual style which was consistent right through and surprisingly, the crew wasn't too scared to show a little blood.
Clearly, there was a big budget behind this one and the great costumes were being worn by not only the star, Stallone, but also by a top-notch support cast including Max Von Sydow, Armand Assante, Diane Lane and Jürgen Prochnow amoung others. The case also included every one's favourite stapler, Rob Schneider, for nothing other than some at times cringy comic relief.
Upon further investigation I found out that the only real consistent gripe against the film was that Judge Dredd removes his helmet (actually hardly wears it) and he apparently never did that in the comics. This has translated into a belief that the film's creators weren't being faithful to the source material at all. However, the film's director Danny Cannon is actually a huge fan of the comic and I believe he did a great job of bringing a lot of the key 2000AD Dredd canon and concepts to the screen despite working in a Hollywood environment when still just an emerging young director.
The plot itself is often critised for being too complex and trying to tell too much of an epic Dredd story instead of sticking to a simple open and shut case. However, my belief is that Dredd was always better when the epic stories came along and considering the grandiose nature of the film's setting and style, I think they did a decent job of blending all the different elements into one plot line. By doing so, they managed to really build the landscape and culture of Mega-City One and its judges throughout the movie rather than with just a few early establishing shots which is common in a lot of Sci-Fi movies; you get a great little run down as an introduction but then you're taken out of the fantasy because they run out of budget.
The writer's here however, took elements from many classic Dredd stories such as The Return of Rico, The Cursed Earth and The Judge Child and tied them together to create a complex yet 'good-enough-for-an-action-movie' story which allowed them to show off classic characters, such as the Angel family and also touch on themes such as fascism, justice, the abuse of technology and human cloning. The addition of the ABC Warrior was an added nod to 2000AD fan base and looks amazing on screen.
All in all, when you consider that this movie was adapted from a comic, directed by a fan and funded by Hollywood producers to be the years big Stallone action movie during the peak of his career, you need to accept, there were always going to be a few too many cooks in the kitchen and it's a miracle that film actually holds together at all.
Fast forward 16 or so years and the second theatrical adaptation of Judge Dredd is released. After a simple teaser poster featuring Karl Urban in character and a trailer which could have been for any action movie, there seemed to be a consensus that this one was going to be more faithful to the source material and it was of course... darker! Rumor had it that the helmet would stay on too of course.
Aside from spoiling the death of the main villain, the trailer actually didn't do much for me, but still, I was going to give it a go. In the end, I really enjoyed the film and despite its modest budget, the creators did a good job of re-imagining Dredd on screen, and they even used 3D as well as I've seen.
The setting was far from the Sci-Fi comic book style. This was a more grounded and gritty future (such as that seen in Looper) and doesn't exactly fly off the pages of 2000AD. The approach to the plot was smart and consistent, and with a small budget, opted for an isolated Die Hard type of story, all happening in the corridors of a City Block.
All in all, the new movie is a good tight action story, however we only get a taste of some of the weird and wonderful things that go on in Mega-City One (and most of them wouldn't fit into this very close-to-home realistic world). Now, this is okay if the movie is part of a series in which they world gets expanded, but if no further films are made it will feel like a missed opportunity.
So, now that I have seen both versions and find them both work and really enjoyable for differing reasons I began reading The Complete Case Files to see what the source material was really like for myself, as in my experience these things can often be clouded by romantic nostalgia when re-told by fans from back in the day. Shockingly, what I found within the pages of the complete case files was a 1970s English Sci-Fi comic strip filled with quirky characters, crazy situations and some-what silly plots. Saying all that, it's incredibly enjoyable and does have very serious undertones despite the symbolism given a very heavy handed approach at times. What I found refreshing, and not so surprising was the amount of comedy, with tongue-in-cheek pop culture references a plenty and comic relief from Dredd's servant robot and his stereotype Italian house-keeper.
When taking all this into account, I believe that Danny Cannon did a great job of bringing this comic tone to film even if the writer's could have admittedly done a better job of toning down on the comedy which works well in the comics but fails on screen coming through Rob Schneider. I can forgive that considering that the core element of the stoic fascist lawmen Dredd does come through.
This leads me to my opinion on the helmet coming off. I actually don't really care about that either way, I also don't feel that their is much cause to complain. In fact Dredd takes his helmet off a few times in the strip and its only with clever [censored] devices and shadowing that it is hidden from view. This would be too complicated to do on screen and when you consider that in the comic, Judge Dredd is always in the thick of it, there really isn't a time where his helmet shouldn't stay on and their aren't any situations in the comic where it seems awkward that he has it on. The focus on the new film also allows for the helmet to stay on without ever seeming strange. However in the 1995 film, there are too many scenes where it just wouldn't work. What is important is that the personification of a perfect and elite lawman came through and for that I think Stallone did the trick. The blue eyes looked pretty cool anyway!
So in conclusion, I'm not saying this is the best movie ever, or even the best comic book adaptation but I do believe time has been cruel to this one as it isn't as bad as it is made out to be. It also has a certain 90s charm which action films lack nowadays, seeing as they don't need to make movies that way anymore with it huge physical sets and traditional matte-paintings.
As far as a comic book adaptations go, which are seldom great movies, this one has been harshly judged. Since its release many a comic book movie has been butchered by Hollywood and in retrospect this is actually one of the better movies in the genre. Here are a whole lot of which, in my opinion, are worse than Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd: Daredevil, Elektra, Hulk, Cat Woman, The Fantastic Four, The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance, Iron Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men 3: Last Stand... you get the point...