Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dredd 3D - Theatrical Review

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Dredd 3D has a lot to prove and it does so by blowing away any negative expectations you may have had for it.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 11:15 am September 22, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 35 min
Studio: Lionsgate

Loves: Extremely violent action mixed with beautiful cinematography, future worlds that make sense
Likes: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady
Neutral: The 1995 Judge Dredd
Hates: That it was over so soon
Where's Rob Schneider?: Thankfully not in this

After a plague of wars have rendered most of the Earth a desolate wasteland, known as the cursed Earth, only within the great walls of Mega City 1 can the remaining population survive. Living in the sprawling metropolis isn't easy though with rampant crime and poverty everywhere you look, so the populace must look to the Hall of Justice and its Judges for protection. These Judges serve as judge, jury and executioner for any crime they deem worthy of punishment.

One Judge stands above the rest however, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a man who is known as the most determined, cutthroat and efficient Judge to ever wear the badge. Partnered with the rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), their assignment is to investigate a homicide at the Peach Trees living establishment, an over 200 story tall mega tower run by the ruthless drug lord Ma Ma (Lena Headey). Once inside they soon find themselves trapped and must fight their way out and pass judgement on anyone who gets in their way.

He is the law!

The 1995 Sylvester Stallone "Judge Dredd" left an everlasting bad taste for the past 17 years in the mouths of anyone who ever had the displeasure of seeing it . Even now the few supporters the film has can't really defend it either. So when director Pete Travis decided to reintroduce the character to film audiences he had to decisively remove every element that made that first film the disaster it was. First to go was the star power, an unfortunate trait that still lingers today is this overwhelming need to showcase the actor instead of the character they are portraying. Second to go was the comic relief (sorry Rob Schneider fans) and third to go was the bright and colorful Blade Runner-esque cityscape. What that leaves you with is one lean and mean action flick that doesn't pull any punches.

The most important aspect to any film taking place in a future world is the credibility of that world and the world of Mega City 1 is established quite brilliantly here. It's even more impressive when you realize just how little time is actually devoted to its construction. Coming in at a breezy 90 minutes, "Dredd 3D" sets up the world, the characters and what's at stake in an extremely efficient manner making it so that we get to the good stuff as quick as possible. About the only real negative that can be leveled against it is that with such a richly developed world, it doesn't give us enough of it before the action moves indoors. That would have been an irredeemable failure only if what transpires indoors weren't as much fun as it ultimately is.

Mega City 1 is quite beautiful in a trashy sort of way.

Borrowing heavily from the winning formula of the brilliant action film "The Raid: Redemption", the idea of two officers of the law being mercilessly hunted down by a building full of head hunters is still enticing, but thankfully "Dredd 3D" has some extra tricks up its sleeve than just being a copycat. When you boil it down to its raw qualities, the film is a cops versus bad guys story, but where it sets itself apart is who the cops are, the tools they use (love those guns) and what rules they must abide buy. They aren't there to just serve and protect, they are there to judge and sentence. There is a morbid glee involved in watching a hardened criminal be judged and then executed on the spot as if it is business as usual and that happens a lot in "Dredd 3D".

Another place the original film failed is that the world itself never felt like it justified such a drastic law enforcement system as the Judges. It often felt like a totalitarian government that oppressed its citizens instead of serving them. In this new film, you can instantly see the necessity for having the police officers (or Judges in this case) pull triple duty as judge, jury and executioner in order to cut down on the time it takes to declare someones innocence or guilt. The criminals they hunt down and pass judgement on clearly aren't oppressed and the citizens they protect are clearly in need of constant protection. The Judge system is not just a public service, it is the last bastion of hope for the innocent citizens of Mega City 1.

Ma Ma is ready to take Judge Dredd on.

Then there is Judge Dredd himself, the perfect tool for such a radical system and a near unstoppable law giving machine. He shows no remorse for the criminals he convicts or sentences to death, he is simply a consequence for their actions. Unlike Stallone's portrayal of the character, Karl Urban isn't interested in taking the attention away from the character. His commitment to the role is beyond impressive, in a rather bold move that most other actors wouldn't even dare attempt, Urban never once removes the iconic helmet at any time during the film which is kind of unprecedented. From his gruff snarl whenever he speaks to that permanent scowl, Karl Urban is a consistent commanding screen presence as Judge Dredd even if you don't realize it is him under that helmet.

While it is endlessly entertaining watching Judge Dredd serve up his special brand of justice, it was his rookie partner Anderson, played to perfection by Olivia Thirlby, who added a lot of unexpected emotional weight to the grim proceedings. Despite having a special gift that provides her with a unique ability to see the thoughts of anyone she comes in contact with, it is her morality amidst a world that lacks morales that truly makes her special. Anderson is the perfect foil for the character of Judge Dredd, while he helps her down the path of becoming a better Judge, she inadvertently helps him rediscover a slight bit of his own humanity in the process.

Dredd and Anderson assess their situation.

It was also a relief (and quite refreshing) to see the character Anderson not subjugated to the damsel in distress syndrome, she is just as lethal as Dredd and is given numerous opportunities to show it. Lena Headey cannot be neglected either, after proving herself more than capable of playing a devilishly good villain in the HBO series "Game of Thrones", she provides a suitably nasty villain for Dredd to hunt down. If  Thirlby's Anderson is the morale center of the film, then Headey's Ma Ma is its morally bankrupt outer shell with Dredd lingering somewhere in the nondescript middle.

Then there is the content of "Dredd 3D" or more specifically its violence. This subject deserves special attention simply because this thing can be downright brutal at times. People get skinned alive, eyeballs are gouged out, heads explode, numerous bullets penetrate all sorts of body parts in extreme slow motion complete with blood splattering floating across the screen and then you have the somewhat darkly comic way dead bodies (both innocent victims and guilty criminals) are treated after a shootout. Some more sensitive souls may argue the violence is gratuitous only for the sake of shocking the audience, but it actually serves to help paint this gritty picture of a world gone down the shitter. It may get a little excessive, but lets face it, sometimes we just want to see a head melt from the inside out and "Dredd 3D" provides that.

Judgement time.

Lastly there is the look of the film. For a film that clearly had a limited budget, the filmmakers certainly knew how to stretch a penny because for the lack of a better term, this thing looks gorgeous from a cinematography point of view. The industrial meets cyberpunk landscape is bleak but still maintains a structural beauty as does the mega tower interior where the majority of the film takes place. By far though the most impressive visual effects come in the form of the drug SLO-MO. These drug sequences, where we see the effects of the drugs on its user, are often jaw dropping and always mesmerizing (especially in conjunction with the hypnotic score provided by Paul Leonard-Morgan). Even the most jaded viewers cannot deny that the film is just a constant joy to behold, both for its gritty look and stunning effects laden drug sequences.

To say that "Dredd 3D" is the biggest surprise of the year is a severe understatement. Nobody expected anything from it and they had no reason to. It's premise was a near direct lift from a highly praised action film released only six months prior to it, it featured no real quantifiable stars and had the stigma attached to it that is the woeful 1995 film. But through sheer determination to make the best movie they could, everyone involved came out swinging and proved all their skeptics wrong. Thanks to a fully committed and terrifically selfless lead actor, more than competent direction, surprising amounts of character depth provided by writer Alex Garland and one of the most fully realized future worlds to come along in years, "Dredd 3D" has somehow vanquished the sour memories associated with its name and miraculously redeemed a franchise that most everybody had written off. While its more violent charms won't work for everybody, anyone looking for the next great action/comic book movie however will find exactly what they are looking for and then some with "Dredd 3D".





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