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rochefort [Film Festival 09.21.12] scifi action

[This begins our Fanstastic Fest coverage. Stay tuned for more reviews from Austin in the coming days!]

The earth has fallen into ruin, much of it a barren wasteland called The Cursed Earth. In Mega City One, humanity's survivors are squeezed into a sprawling, dingy metropolis that stretches from Boston to Washington, D.C., and crime is so absurdly rampant that regular cops have given way to the Judges, who patrol, protect, enforce, and even execute according to a strict code of law. The best of them, Judge Joe Dredd (Karl Urban), has just been assigned to evaluate a new recruit named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who could be of serious value since she is a mutant with advanced psychic abilities. Their first assignment takes them to the 200-story tenement building called Peach Trees, headquarters for a vicious and calculating mob boss named Ma Ma (Lena Headey), who will do anything to protect her booming drug business as the chief supplier of Slo-Mo, a drug that makes time seem to pass at one percent its actual speed. When Ma Ma learns that Judges have arrived, she seals off the building and orders her hundreds of followers to do them in. Cue hundreds of thousands of bullets, more inventive kills than ten horror films and, at least as far as I'm personally concerned, one seriously satiated action movie lover.

One movie fan to another, allow me to make a suggestion that I strongly believe will increase your enjoyment of this, director Pete Travis' new adaptation of the iconic character from the pages of 2000 AD, Britain's punk-tinged sci-fi anthology comic that's been around since the late 70's. When you go to see Dredd, and man oh man should you go see it, try and forget two things, if you can. One, forget Judge Dredd, the Danny Cannon-directed Stallone movie from 1995. Cannon's film looked pretty good, admittedly, but got so, so much wrong. And two, forget "The Raid: Redemption", as excellent as it is. Both Dredd and The Raid (review) have extremely similar setups, but there's already plenty of copy out there that verifies the former was in development some time before the latter, and seems late out of the gate only because it took longer to make. If we're gonna compare Dredd to something, it should be Escape from New York, and I say this as a psychotically loyal fan of that film. Tonally, Dredd is a gleefully stubborn and bloody throwback to Carpenter's first outing with Snake Plissken, and has the same balance of hard-edged, macho action and sardonic and even brutal humor.

This is a sci-fi actioner that gets so much right it makes me want to smash a concrete block with my smiling face. I was a 2000 AD reader even before the Stallone film, so I was a bit sceptical that this new film could do justice to the comic, but it delivers, and in some ways is even darker than the source material. One reason for this may be that the satire and punk attitude of 2000 AD had already been strip-mined pretty thoroughly by Verhoeven's excellent Robocop, so Dredd opts to switch things around a bit, dialling down the political subtext and underground-flavored weirdness and upping the violence, menace, and style. And you can't make a movie about the Judge unless you take Mega City One very seriously as a character in itself, and Travis and company smartly choose to shoot most of the outside scenes in daylight to eke out a look that distances itself from both the previous adaptation and the Blade Runner syndrome. The lush, dense production design stays somewhat grounded and plausible, yet still successfully conveys the sense of a kind of metallic and frenetic human ant farm.

As for Dredd himself, Urban frankly owns the role. There's been a lot of online fan approval for his commitment; he keeps the helmet on the whole way through (in the comics, Dredd removed his helmet only a small handful of times over the course of hundreds of issues), and reportedly worked with writer Alex Garland to cut some of his dialogue to keep the character no-nonsense. Urban knows he can afford to be so loyal; what he loses in face time he'll more than make up in terms of fan respect, and his restrained, grimacing take is perfect. This is the guy you'd send to catch Snake Plissken, and damn if I wouldn't love to see what happens when he catches him. Urban is supported by great turns from Thirlby and Headey, and it's obvious that everyone involved wants to both do right by the source material and make a smart, standout action picture. And while I'm still cranky about the bitter pill of 3D that just won't go away, the Slo-Mo sequences in Dredd are the filmmakers' way of embracing the gimmick and pushing it into new territory. You have to see these sequence at least once in 3D on the big screen; the "gee whiz" factor here is just too cool to pass up. This is one action film that deserves a franchise, and I've got a feeling the filmmakers really have a sense of how to take it to some really interesting places. See this one. Do it for me and Snake.

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Lenny (8 years ago) Reply

Good to know. Seeing it in a few hours.


JUDGEFARGO (8 years ago) Reply

The film is great and your picture is backwards.


soma (8 years ago) Reply

I love DREDD. I need to see this


loco73 (6 years ago) Reply

This was an outstanding movie. Just good through and through, from the directing, acting, pacing, editing and the special effects!

It was the first time in quite awhile since I left the movietheatre feeling satisfied as a moviegoer!

And to think that this movie was done, by today's standards, on a shoestring budget, when compared to the ones of the huge blockbusters that have saturated the market...

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