Movie Review: "Dredd" by Derek Clem

Release: 2012
Directors: Pete Travis
Written By: Alex Garland (screenplay), Carlos Ezquerra (characters), John Wagner (characters)
Actors: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby
Rated: R
Run Time: 95 min

Karl Urban takes a shot at playing Judge Dredd. Many of us are familiar with the 1995 version in which Sylvester Stallone infamously played the titular character. Does this updated remake have what it takes to wipe our memory of the 1995 campy film?

Dredd and his trainee, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who doesn't quite have what it takes to be a judge, get locked in a Slum Tower known as Peach Trees by a drug lord named Ma-Ma, while investigating murders that had taken place within the tower. Ma-Ma locks down the tower and sets all the inhabitants against the two judges. The judges make an attempt to get to the top of the tower to put an end to Ma-Ma and her drug trafficking. The story is simple and comparable to Donkey Kong: get to the top. I wish it was a little more complex with a few twists and turns along the way to keep the viewer guessing, but the nice thing about the story being so simple is that it really lets the action and effects shine through giving those aspects of the film the spotlight.

The story is unique in that Dredd is the lead character, yet we're (almost) never given an insight into his back-story or psyche. We know he's a tough and hardened man with a strong sense of duty, but we don't know why. He merely facilitates a place for the supporting character's story to thrive. It's Judge Anderson that provides the majority of the character growth within the story.

Urban's mannerisms give him a sense of reality as apposed to invincibility, which I appreciated. Much of that comes from how scrawny his over-sized helmet makes him look. Stallone definitely wore the helmet better. Maybe I should say the costume designers made a better looking/fitting helmet for Stallone. Even with Urban wearing the helmet and literally never taking it off, we are still able to follow the character without losing any interest.

There is a great use of economy in the setting. Taking place almost solely within a city tower allows the visual landscape of the modestly budgeted film to never implode on itself by becoming too overwhelming. There is always a sense of place. We never get lost in the whereabouts. Even with the setting being limited you still get a strong sense of the futuristic times in which the film takes place, through the craftsmanship in the set design. This use of economy in a futuristic world helps create a nice 80's vibe. The music also helps in setting this tone. Even though the movie offers a minimal amount of cheese factor, you could easily slip this into a movie marathon that involves watching Running Man (1987) and Total Recall (1990).

You can't walk away from this movie without giving it props for the strong action. Great gun fights all throughout. The gore was especially outstanding. The CGI in creating the gore was particularly impressive. I usually tend to think that practical is the only way to go when it comes to gore, but I'd say this movie succeeded in CGI created gore, which is a rare praise for me.

I watched the movie in 2D but it's obvious what scenes were intended to enhance the 3D experience. In most cases scenes designed specifically for 3D can look gimmicky by compromising good composition. The nice thing about the 3D for this movie is that it was used to enhance the story and not as a gimmick. Much like Martin Scorsese's Hugo, the 3D is used effectively as part of the storytelling. The drug being used in the movie is called SLO-MO and when taken the user experiences everything in... you guessed it, slow motion. These scenes resemble a bend of artistry similar to photographer David LaChappelle and graphic designer Chuck Anderson of NoPattern. Very beautiful, crisp, and sparkly imagery giving a real sense of what those using the drug might be experiencing.

A lot of remakes or reboots thrive on the fact that the audience has seen the original in order to pull in those nostalgic viewers. This movie tries to set itself far away from the 1995 film making zero reference to it at all. I think that was a smart decision. I'm not sure if there is anyone on the planet that holds any great nostalgia for the 1995 Judge Dredd movie.

Overall I wish the story had gotten a little more complex than it did, but I have to hand it to the movie for everything it did with its beautiful visuals, dynamic action, and economy. Definitely a major step up from that abomination of 1995. Give it a watch, outside of the simple story, you'll be pleased with what you get.