After the floundering absurdity that was 1995’s Judge Dredd left a nasty taste in the collective mouths of fans, all wen quiet on the cinematic front of Dredd for nearly two decades (I call it the Batman & Robin effect). The clouds parted though, and we finally got one streamlined masterpiece of a flick with 2013’s Dredd. Not only is it achingly faithful to the comics right down to Dredd never removing his helmet, but it stands as one of the ballsiest and well made action pictures in recent years. It’s never overstuffed or busy, takes the violence seriously, has genuine suspense, a bone deep and super tough performance from a grizzled Karl Urban, a sexy, no nonsense villain and the best original score of 2013 by a country mile. Not too mention it’s atmospherics, which are helped by said score of course, to create a sonic mood board of post apocalyptic ruin and urban rot. Dredd is part of an elite department called the Judges, who roam the smoky desolation of Mega City One and act as judge, jury and executioner wherever they see fit. Dredd is a trigger happy juggernaut with no use for scum or criminals and has not a qualm with taking them out like the trash they are, often in brutal, bloody and uncompromising ways. On day he’s partnered up with judge in training Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby, perfect), a rookie with blossoming telepathic abilities. A routine call leads them to a gargantuan Mega Block tower called Peach Trees, a sting irony once we see the rampant squalor inside. This tower happens to be controlled by the fiercest criminal overlord in town, Ma Ma, played by a purring, lethal and altogether terrifying Lena Headey. Her tactics go beyond barbaric and she’s sitting on the manufacturing of a drug called Slo Mo, which makes the users feel like time is passing at one percent it’s normal rate (a gold mine for setting up a scene visually). Ma Ma locks down the tower as the two judges arrive, and decrees that she wants them dead. Now it’s a visceral fight for survival against her armies of thugs and miscreants, and a slow ascent towards her penthouse lair, for Dredd to finish her off. The whole film takes place in Peach Trees, so it’s a self contained, one location affair, and a goddamn knockout of a movie. There are R rated films that dabble in violence a bit and barely earn their stripes, and then there are R rated films that leap at the chance to show people dying six ways to Sunday. Dredd absolutely decimates Ma Ma’s armies in high style and often in super slow motion as they face him while they’re high. The slo mo never feels tacky, but has a tactile richness and fluidity that makes the inflicted carnage so satisfying as it unfolds. The score by Paul Leonard Morgan is an uproarious rallying call that drives forward constantly, charging out of the gate in the opening minute as Dredd pursues a van down the highway on his thundering motorbike, and pummelling each scene with heart stopping force until it mellows out for an eerie passage called ‘Ma Ma’s Requiem’ which is my favourite piece in the film and can be listened to on repeat. Pure genius. Thirlby is the voice of reason and the eyes of the audience, experiencing for the first time how ugly this crime fighting business is, and holding her own wickedly. There’s a dark sense of danger to the whole thing, a frank and outright lawlessness to the villains, as it’s just another day on the job for them. No overacting, no histrionics. Just mellowed out murder and meanness all round. This is the Dredd film that we’ve been waiting for, and have long deserved after that other mess. Low box office returns means we may never see a sequel (wtf is wrong with people, like, who didn’t go see this??), but we’ll always have this little blitzkrieg of a flick to re watch time and again. I know I will.
Ah yes, the 90’s version of Judge Dredd, featuring a hopped up Sylvester Stallone as the titular comic book lawman. There is so much hate floating around for this flick that I feel like radios have picked up some of it right out of the air. There used to be a lot more loathing, but then the 2013 version graced our presence, and it was so good, so true to the source material and such a kick ass flick that the collective bad taste left the fan’s mouths, leaving this version somewhat forgotten and to many people, for good reason. But.. but… bear with me for just a moment, readers, and I’ll tell you why it’s not as bad as it’s utterly poopy reputation. Yes it’s silly, overblown, altogether ridiculous and Stallone takes off his helmet to yell about the law a lot. Basically pretty far from the source material and weird enough to raise eyebrows in many others, and prompt the torch and pitchfork routine from fans of the comic series. But it’s also a huge absurdist sci fi spectacle that will blow up your screen with its massive cast, opulent and decadent special effects and thundering, often incomprehensible plot. It’s in most ways the exact opposite of the 2013 version, all the fat that was trimmed off of that sleek, streamlined vehicle is left to dangle here, resulting in a chaotic mess that looks like a highway pileup between Blade Runner, Aliens and some Roger Corman abomination. But.. is it terribly unwatchable? Not in the least, or at least not to me. Like the highway pileup, it’s so off the rails that we can’t help but gawk in awe, and if we’re not some comic book fan who is already spiritually offended to the core by it, even enjoy that madness and lack of any rhyme or reason in it. Stallone uses his bulk to inhabit the character, and infuses a level of stagnant processed cheese to his dialogue that would be distracting if it weren’t for the electric blue contact lenses he sports the whole time, which look like traffic lights designed by Aqua Man. He’s embroiled in one convoluted mess of a plotline involving a former sibling (a hammy Armand Assante with the same weird eyes). Joan Chen and Diane Lane fill out the chick department, the former being some kind of cohort to Assante, and the latter a fellow judge alongside Dredd. Dredd has two superiors, the noble and righteous “” (Max Von Sydow in the closest thing he’ll ever make to a B-movie), and the treacherous Griffin (a seething, unbridled Jurgen Prochnow). The cast is stacked from top to bottom, including a rowdy turn from James Remar who sets the tone early on as a rebellious warlord who is set straight by Dredd. Rob Schneider has an odd habit of following Stallone around in films where his presence is wholly not needed (see Demolition Man as well), playing a weaselly little criminal who pops up whenever we’re off marveling at some other silly character, plot turn or risible costume choice. Scott Wilson also has an unbilled bit as Pa Angel, a desert dwelling cannibal patriarch, and when one views his scenery chomping cameo, although no doubt awesome, it’s easy to see why he had his name removed from the credits. The whole thing is a delightful disaster that shouldn’t prompt reactions of hate, at least from the more rational minded crowd. Yeah its not the best, or even all that good, but it’s worth a look just for the sake of morbid curiosity, and to see an entire filmmaking, acting and special effects team strive way too hard and throw everything into the mix, forgetting that less is more as they pull the ripcord of excess. Sure I’m generous, but I’d rather be puzzled and amused rather than bitter and cynical when a lot of work still went into this and me as an average joe has no right to bring down artists when my greatest life accomplishments so far are riding a bike with no hands while I have a beer in one and check my phone in the other. Such silliness is what we find in this movie, and I gotta say I was tickled by it.
Podcasting Them Softly is beyond excited to present a chat with screenwriter and producer William Wisher, who co-wrote The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day with James Cameron. William also collaborated with director John McTiernan on The 13th Warrior, he wrote the screenplay to Judge Dredd, and collaborated with Paul Schrader on Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. He’s also a contributor to the Die Hard franchise as screenwriter and producer, while also making some extremely memorable film appearances. He’s got a new film with Pierce Brosnan coming out later this year called I.T. and he’s working on a new action film with director John Moore called Come Hell or High Water, which based on the title alone, suggests something epic! He’s also a well known script doctor, which is an intriguing area of the business that both Frank and I are fascinated with. This is a fun, extremely informative chat with lots of interesting bits and pieces about the business and some of the biggest franchises ever to hit the screen. We hope you enjoy!