It’s All The Deep End – “Dredd” Review

If Dredd came out when I was 12 it would have instantly become my favorite movie of all time. Dredd kicks ass and takes names for 95 lightning quick minutes. There really isn’t anything to dislike about this ultra-violent piece of slick science fiction.

The movie economically introduces its futuristic universe and monosyllabic title character. In a brief bit of voice over, Karl Urban (Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings) explains the particulars of Mega-City One. Over population and rampant crime have led to the Judges: special cops who can sentence and execute on the spot. Urban’s Judge Dredd is the most relentlessly badass in the city. He’s terse, tough, and really funny in a “just murdered a bunch of thugs without blinking” kind of way.

After a thrilling opening chase, Dredd is assigned a rookie to assess, Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson. She isn’t quite Judge material but the higher-ups want to keep her around for her psychic abilities. Gee, I wonder if those will come in handy later? Though the city is massive, the movie narrows its focus to one gargantuan tower block, where the Judges are called to investigate three dead bodies and wind up in an all out war with a hooker turned drug lord, Ma-Ma, played by a detached and vicious Lena Headey.

The trapped Judges spend the rest of the movie fighting to survive Ma-Ma’s hordes. Dredd straight up kills a lot of people and Anderson does likewise having learned from the master. The body count is ridiculous, and a lot of it is captured in gorgeous slo-mo by cinematographer extraordinaire Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, Antichrist). The 3D is solid throughout, but becomes truly special during these extended slo-mo scenes. The gore-ific mayhem avoids repetition by changing up the stakes and inventing many new ways for Dredd to kill people. I am particularly fond of Dredd’s special gun settings: “high-ex” and “incendiary.”

Urban and Thirlby have a relaxed chemistry that works well. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine) wisely avoid turning Anderson into a love interest or a meek victim. Meanwhile, Urban is a blast without ever taking his helmet off. He creates a hardcore badass but gives him just enough humanity that he’s not just a robot.

This is ultimately the film’s subtle theme, futility. A few rare shots of the expansive Mega-City reinforce this idea. The Judges can’t possibly stop all that crime and Ma-Ma knows she can’t possibly take over the city either. While no one man should have all that power, criminals like Ma-Ma won’t stop, so neither will Dredd.

But that’s really just food for thought. The real joy of the movie is the action. It might have some kind of record for blood spilled and killer one-liners. I’m not 12 anymore, but damn this was a great time at the movies.

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14 responses to “It’s All The Deep End – “Dredd” Review

  1. As a big fan of the comic book Dredd, I found the movie worked as a basic action flick, but not so much in terms of getting Dredd’s world right. Maybe the budget didn’t stretch to recreating Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra’s Mega City One. If it had, I would be more of a fan of the film. Where Stallone’s Judge Dredd got nothing right except the setting, this film gets everything right except the setting. It’s a shame that it comes so close to the ‘real’ Dredd and still falls short.

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good movie and I’ll probably end up buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out. I was just hoping for a bit more than a merely competent genre piece.

  2. The other big problem with the film is that it’s great for 12 year-olds, but no parent in their right mind is going to let their kid watch this gore-fest.

  3. Depends on the kid I suppose. I know I was watching stuff like this at that age. And I hope my own kids are mature enough to watch it too.

    As for the comic, I know very little. But what I’ve gathered is that the budget was small. They were stretched just getting the Wide Shots I spoke of. They decided to focus on a day in the life story and hope they could explore the city later in sequels.

    I’m curious. Other than not showing the whole universe, did they do something wrong with it? Or is it just wanting more of it?

  4. I’m a very progressive parent when it comes to what I let my very mature 9 year-old watch. She’s seen South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head, and many violent films, including Die Hard, First Blood, even Robocop, because most violent movies don’t portray it in the ‘Hey, look how much blood we can spray around’ style of Dredd, and if they do, at least they mix it with comedy so we all know it’s ridiculous. In Dredd, all the folks who are killed die in a splatter of gore unequaled in my 40+ years of experience at the movies, and what humor there is is dark and way too subtle for most adults, never mind kids.

    I made the mistake of taking my daughter to see it, because Dredd was a big part of my childhood and I figured ‘What the heck – a little brutal violence never did anyone any harm unless they were already messed-up to start with. But the violence in Dredd is literally sickening. Many adults in the theater made noises that were clearly meant to convey their horror at the disgusting sights on the screen. But clearly, the movie does not intend to convey a message that violence is nasty – the gore in Dredd is meant to tittilate those who are jaded by the recent trend in schlock.

    I could have done with a little less money spent on what I can best describe as masturbatory slow-motion blood-fetishism, and a bit more money spent on storyline and entertainment. I don’t go to the movies to be sickened – I go to be entertained.

    This was the first time a movie actually made me feel embarrassed for bringing my kid to see a film. No movie has ever done that before.

  5. “I’m curious. Other than not showing the whole universe, did they do something wrong with it?”

    Comic book artist Carlos Ezquerra’s cityscapes are unique. Judge Dredd 1995 did a much better job of getting the look of Mega City One right. That first scene in the Stallone film, as the camera pans up onto the city – perfect! Then the rest of the movie goes south from there.

    In Dredd, we get city blocks that look like 1960s skyscrapers, with single story slums between them. In the comic, there’s no room for single-story buildings. Everything that isn’t a city block is a multi-lane freeway. And the city blocks have an organic look, as if they grew out from between the freeways.

  6. Don’t get me wrong – they got a lot of things right – the uniforms, Dredd himself, Anderson, the feel of a city barely held under control – all perfect. The judges were not quite as clearly ‘Trained from early childhood to be Judges’, and the movie failed to show the absolute fascism of Mega City One’s police state, but I can forgive the film that – there’s only so much you can show in 90 minutes.

  7. I wonder if I read the comics would the cityscape bug me. Not knowing that, I think it worked fine, I just really want a sequel to explore further.

  8. As for the violence. I think a couple walked out after a 100% innocent character got it bad.

    I don’t know what to say to this though. I think the gratuitous nature of the violence is meant to be a sly commentary. But at the same time, I think it is also suppose to titillate. And I will admit that it does entertain me.

    I’m not a gore hound. And I’ve certainly seen some movies that go too far in their perversity, but I think it is comically over-the-top in Dredd and right at the limit of good taste.

    That being said, I can at times enjoy bad taste, it’s all relative.

  9. I just wasn’t expecting that amount of gore in an action movie. I expect it in today’s horror films, and I’ve given up on trying to explain to my nephews why the horror genre died for me in the 1990s when they replaced suspense with gore. The thing is, I just don’t find blood spatter all that interesting. It has all the fear factor of a spilled latte, but without the personal investment in a drink gone to waste. Gore draws me into a movie in the same way that a rat or a cockroach makes me want to investigate my local sewer.

    If this is where action movies are headed, count me out. I’ll stick to romantic comedies until they find a way to insert gore there too.

  10. Pete Travis clearly does not know how to do gore with comical bad taste – to me it was just pure bad taste. Paul Verhoeven knows how to do it well (see Starship Troopers and Robocop – although Robocop has lost the edge it had when it first came out).

  11. I think it tries to be Verhoeven-esque.

    Robocop director’s cut is still brutal as all hell. And Starship Troopers is a personal fave.

    I don’t think this is where action films are headed. If anything they’re more defanged than ever to be summer tent poles.

    I try not to generalize a genre though. I thought Horror died for me in the early 2000’s and a one point I gave up animated films in late 90’s. But I just had to dig deeper to find better films. Popular culture might ruin some things, but it can’t kill all of it.

  12. Well, there are different definitions of ‘defanged’. As I said, gore is just boring to me – there are no fangs there. Now if a movie builds suspense and characters you really care for, there’s no need for cheap tricks to get the audience engaged. The original Halloween was a great example, as was pretty much every Hitchcock film. And there are times when explicit scenes can help a good movie, but the movie has to be good to start with, and it has to appear natural – unforced, in order for the scenes to work. I felt the US version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had the perfect balance, as did Fight Club. But if the schlock scenes are just added in there for shock value, it just seems desperate to me, and that’s where I thought Dredd fell down. I felt they were just trying to appeal to a puerile and perhaps even a kind of macabre prurient interest, in the way they showcase bodies being torn apart.

  13. Some good points.

  14. Pingback: Bryan’s Top Ten Movies of 2012 | Shooting the Script

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