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By Daniel Lammin
17th March 2013

While audiences were distracted by the latest output from the Marvel Universe, another comic book film slipped through the cracks and onto the big screen last year. Adapted from the beloved British comic book series, ‘Dredd’ brings the iconic Judge Dredd back to the screen and onto the streets in the oppressive and violent Mega-City One. The film was in development for many years; an attempt to make up for the short fallings of the 1995 version, and with Alex Garland on board as screenwriter, it promised to be a project worth paying attention to.

Unfortunately, the final film is quite lacklustre. The plot isn’t particularly muscular, with Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie recruit Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) fighting their way through the giant apartment block Peach Trees, where psychotic criminal lord Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) have trapped them and turned the residence against them. What starts out as an interesting exploration of a dystopian future world collapses into something akin to a multi-level video game without the pleasure of playing yourself. There is little to no character development, especially with Dredd, who feels like Christian Bale’s Batman without the psychology. Anderson gets some more detail, being a woman with feelings and a psychic to boot, but it all feels very colour-by-numbers. This isn’t the fault of either Urban or Thirlby though. It’s just what they have to work with. Lena Heady fares slightly better with her natural charisma, but spends very little time on screen to make it affective.


Garland has always been a hit-and-miss screenwriter, and unfortunately this one sits on the side of a miss. Dialogue is very hokey and obvious, devoid of subtext or complexity. Director Pete Travis seems a very strange choice for director here, with a résumé that includes dramas such as ‘Omagh’ (2004) and ‘Vantage Point’ (2008). Any possibility that Travis might bring a bit more artistic weight vanishes very early on, and ‘Dredd’ suffers from an extravagant obsession with trying to be a Danny Boyle film. British filmmakers have always filled their action films with excess, and that is certainly the case here. In almost every respect, style is chosen over substance, and every opportunity for extreme violence and gore is taken with relish, but with no irony at play - it just seems gratuitous. The result is a film trying to be visually striking, but spending so much time trying that it offers little else.

Judge Dredd is certainly a character that has a lot to offer, but in this case, the offer hasn’t been taken. By boxing the film into a single location, and constructing a narrative out of bland, repetitive action, ‘Dredd’ can only imply the kind of a film a braver and more ambitious vision might have delivered.

Unfortunately, the final film is quite lacklustre.

‘Dredd’ is a gritty, textured film, and Icon offers an accurate and striking 2.35:1 transfer. Colour manipulation is a big part of the film’s visual language, and in high definition, the strange, dream-like, fluro-drenched urban nightmares pop out beautifully. The same can be said of the thumping DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, alive with never-ending explosions and a generic techno-electronic score.

The film is also available on Blu-ray 3D. The film was shot in this format, and I imagine the visuals would benefit immensely from the extra dimension.

While not an extensive collection of material, the features on ‘Dredd’ offer some interesting observations and tidbits on the film and its source material. ‘Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd’ is a brief but fascinating look at the history of the comic and its role as social commentary in Britain. A number of the more famous narratives covered are discussed, both giving the film much-needed context and making you wonder why, with all this material, the film itself is so dull. The rest of the featurettes cover the design and special effects of ‘Dredd’, one of the few aspects of the film that deserve attention.

RELEASE DATE: 20/03/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 35m
CAST: Karl Urban - Judge Dredd
Lena Headey - Ma-ma
Olivia Thirlby - Anderson
DIRECTOR: Pete Travis
WRITER: Alex Garland
PRODUCERS: Alex Garland
Andrew Macdonald
Allon Reich
SCORE: Paul Leonard-Morgan
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