Home » Film » Essay about Judge Dredd

Essay about Judge Dredd

Judging by the trailers for the film, as well as the huge disappointment left by its 1995 predecessor, I wouldn’t blame you if you simply dismissed the newest iteration of Judge Dredd as a forgettable, generic action feature, or simply a disposable reboot. When hearing about this movie, after being informed of the atrocity that came before it seventeen years prior, I was one of these individuals who fell into this category. Hearing of the praise this film has received however, convinced me to give the world of Judge Dredd a try.

I ended up, however, being very surprised after watching this film, and I am happy to say that Dredd is a very well-crafted action picture, and serves as a reboot to not only make fans new and old happy, but was also able to redeem itself from the shackles the franchise was bound to for over fifteen years. While not perfect, the film shows and understanding of both its tone and source material, and manages to meld together into one of the more unique action films in the past few years.

The plot is extremely straightforward and easy to understand: After an undisclosed period of time, America has become a land unsuitable for life, ultimately destroyed by radiation. To combat the changing landscape, America choosing to create “megacities” as an attempt to keep society alive. In this space, a group of super-cops, affectionately named “Judges”, guard the streets of the post-apocalyptic East Coast, effectively serving as judge, jury, and executioner for criminals whom they convict on the spot.

This extremely drastic change to the legal system is implemented in order to combat the ever-present waves of crime committed in the overcrowded, impoverished super city of Mega-City One. One of these judges, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), is testing a new recruit who came from the slums of Mega-City One, Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson in particular, is unique compared to other Judges due to her possession of psychic powers, which was caused by a genetic mutation.

They choose to investigate a crime in the 200 story flat called “Peach Trees” when the self-appointed ruler of the complex – a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) – locks down the building and demands the death of the Judges for arresting one of her men. Dredd and Anderson must fight their way through multitudes of henchmen and give Ma-Ma her judgment. Dredd takes its cues from many great action screenplays of the past, combining the typical wrong-place-atthe-wrong-time, one-man-army premise of movies such as Die Hard, with the “fight your way to the top” arcade-style action of video games.

This movie excels however, not only in its style, but in its surprisingly small scale. Among the huge pile of modern action films, which often feature a protagonist saving the world, a film with such a narrow focus such as Dredd feels like a breath of fresh air, especially when compared to other comic book movies of today. For example, the large and epic climaxes of comic book films such as The Avengers, while interesting for a short while, are more often than not visually exhausting, and lack any significance besides blowing up buildings for the sake of doing so.

Dredd also succeeds in convincing the audience that this feels like just another day in the chaotic metropolis of Mega-City One, where situations such as this are playing out all the time (for example, the opening act); this, to the judges, is their daily grind. 1995’s iteration of Judge Dredd had many, many faults, being plagued with awkward dialogue, and being rather indecisive with its tone to list only a few examples. While the successor to the 1995 so-bad-it’s-good film definitely has some flaws, this film has finally chosen to embrace the source material of the Judge Dredd comics.

2012’s Dredd finally gets it right, choosing to focus on the comic’s themes of poverty and facism. The unforgiving wasteland of Mega-City One and the Peach Trees mega-complex serve to further these themes, as they completely drown their inhabitants with an ever-present sense of fear and oppression. On the other hand, the Judges, the supposed “heroes” of this world are ruthless, unmerciful and unremorseful, convicting and killing with a lack of emotion that almost remind me of fascist police forces such as the Gestapo.

Not only that, but these “heroes” are also as prone to corruption as the very citizens whom the serve. While many of these darker themes and ideals were likely considered inappropriate for ’95, they are now extremely relevant and thought-provoking within today’s world. Dredd’s brilliant production design also serves to further these themes, and to create a believable atmosphere in which they thrive. The cinematographer of Dredd, Anthony Dod Mantle, chooses to keep things very sparse and efficient, reminding me of many classic 1980s action films, such as Aliens and Predator to name a few.

The audience is never confused about where the characters are present in a scene, and the closed-form style of many of these shots serve to symbolize the tight, and extremely claustrophobic environments that the film’s society lives in; the cinematography of this film is used to make us feel as entrapped as the Judges trapped within Peach Trees, under the rule of a ruthless mob boss. For the past decade in cinema, many directors have chosen to embrace a shaky, handheld-style cinematography for their films, and while adding a sense of realism to the screenplay, eventually overstays its welcome.

This visual style, combined with extremely fast montage and editing, tends to severely disorient viewers, ultimately disconnecting them from the scene and deactivating their suspension of disbelief. Dredd, ironically, is refreshing in that it utilizes a rather “dated” approach, choosing to keep the camera planted with even-spaced cuts like many classic action films before it, relying purely on the visuals for action. Many inventive action sequences, such as when Ma-Ma and her goons use chain-guns to mow down an entire floor of residents to kill Dredd, are brilliantly directed and staged.

In terms of visuals, Mantle and director Pete Travis provide the film with sufficient breathing room, and allow the audience to invest themselves in the world this film is set within. The most noticeable of these action sequences, however, come in the form of the “Slo-Mo” scenes, where characters inhale a drug of the same name that slows down their brain function to “one percent its normal speed”. For example, this type of sequence occurs during action scenes, slowing down the world so much that even digital blood splatters from the hunted criminals are turned into abstract pieces of art.

These scenes serve to add an element of beauty, and an abstract component to a film full of death and brutal realism. Supposedly, Travis and Co. were inspired to create such an effect after hearing one of Justin Bieber’s song slowed down by 800%, turning the pop track into something completely different: an ambient choral track. These “Slo-mo” scenes are not only the some of Dredd’s most creative sections, but are some of the most creative scenes I’ve seen in an action film in a while.

Another component to making a great film lies in the casting and performances. Lena Headey does an excellent job as the antagonist Ma-Ma, inspiring terror and serving as an imposing villain throughout the story. Even if the character lacked major depth, the performance of Lena in this film is enough to make this villain unique. Olivia Thirlby provides a relatable character as Judge Anderson, contrasting that of the distanced and cold Judge Dredd – and she does an excellent job.

Karl Urban plays the character of Judge Dredd less as a person, but rather a force to be reckoned with; Karl also excellently embodies the tenacity and simplicity of Dredd, keeping his mouth mostly shut and his helmet on. Dredd never removes his helmet throughout the film, showing Urban’s humbleness, as he could have easily demanded scenes without the Judge’s iconic helmet, much like how Sylvester Stallone did during the 1995 film. Judge Dredd is instead kept mysterious, and that is the way it should be, with Urban uninterested in showing off ego of any kind.

Dredd, however, while a great film, is not without flaws by any means. The entire film is also almost shameless in simplicity, with many paper-thin/one-dimensional characters. Another of the film’s main irks for me however, is the presence of digital blood splatters. Especially during the“Slo-Mo” scenes, where the detail of the CGI blood can be seen, I can’t help but feel that using practical effects could have made the “Slo-Mo” scenes even more breath-taking and effective. However, this is an action movie, and while that doesn’t entirely dismiss these flaws, you do have to take into account the genre of this film.

Dredd nonetheless, is a film that delivers on what it promises. The movie works well, especially in the face of its predecessor, because it’s not only self-aware but because it manages to activate our suspension of disbelief. Dredd is serious enough for us to buy into it, but also doesn’t feel too tacky with its maturity, unlike films such as Batman v. Superman. This film knows what it wants to be, and takes numerous successful elements from other films to create an experience that is new and fresh.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.