BLU-RAY/ DVD REVIEW: Dredd
Explosive Sci-Fi Thriller Packs Style...
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When the subject of Judge Dredd is brought up, many Americans recall the lackluster 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone. I think I'm one of the few who actually liked the movie, albeit primarily on a visual level. Sly fit the part and the costumes, weapons and set pieces were fantastic. The plot on the other hand? Not so much. And don't even get me started on Rob Schneider's idotic (film-wrecking) character. For those Brits who have loved Dredd for decades, we Americans can only really apologize.
Of course, for most fans of Dredd, there is only one Judge Dredd: the fantastic future lawman brought to comic life in the British sci-fi magazine 2000 AD. The mag’s many talented writers and artists have, since 1977, helped make Dredd one of the most beloved characters from across the sea, much like Batman and Superman here in the U.S., the UK's Judge Dredd is a household name. So in regards to the 1995 Sly Dredd movie? They (thankfully) pretend it was never made... and so do many of us.
Thanks to DREDD, there's a movie that both sides of the Atlantic can agree on. Directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point, Endgame) and written and produced by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), DREDD tells a faithful day-in-the-life story of Judge Joseph Dredd from the 2000 AD strip. And while the comic's twisted humor has been toned down and the gritty violence amped up, this DREDD still succeeds in delivering a stylish, sophisticated sci-fi film that’s not only accurate to the character, but engaging and entertaining as well.
Someone I know pointed out that while DREDD is no Robocop, its still the next best thing. Thinking back to that 1987 classic, I'd have to say the comparison is fairly accurate. There's a raw, visceral quality to both films, but mostly it's the artistic way both movies were directed as well as the unequivocal dystopian future and true need for justice which ties the pair of films together.
Karl Urban stars as the movie's namesake; a law enforcer given the power of judge, jury and executioner in a sprawling futuristic city overrun by crime. Like the comic, this Judge Dredd NEVER removes his helmet. This leaves Karl Urban the tall task of emoting the character’s personality through voice and action alone, no small task. Of course, the perpetual scowl helps. The thing is - it works. And works well. Like the comic character, Urban's Dredd is cold and serious, yet there is an underlying current of feeling which creates such a powerful screen presence, one would think Urban is Dredd. Helping to make Dredd even more human is the lovely Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson, the rookie Judge whose inexperience plays off wonderfully against Dredd's stoney persona. As a sidekick, Olivia Thirlby's tough as nails Judge Anderson makes Rob Schneider's Herman Ferguson look like a Disney cartoon, idiotic, sad and simply Goofy.
Solid acting aside, it is DREDD's sense of style which sticks with you. Made for $45 million, DREDD may lack the monetary might of many blockbuster movies, but it more than makes up for it with its unique visual flare. Slo-Mo, the illegal drug at the center of DREDD's story, allows the filmmakers to experiment; delivering gorgeous, violently beautiful slow motion scenes. While this technique could have easily been overdone, DREDD balances artsy camera work with intense, full speed action - Dredd's powerful Lawgiver handgun delivering satisfying reports (the gun audio is killer) and even more satisfying impacts. Heads explode and bodies fall like swiss cheese, Dredd walking through the carnage like an unstoppable force of nature dealing the future’s own unique justice. However, for all the bloody action and mayhem DREDD depicts, it's that sense of style and art which turns the movie into something special.
Considering how bare bones many Blu-ray and DVD releases are these days (read: JUST the movie), DREDD comes as quite a surprise. In addition to a widescreen presentation of the movie in ear-popping 5.1 Dolby Digital, DREDD includes a digital copy and a substantial amount of special features. The digital copy of DREDD is provided in two formats: iTunes compatible and through the cloud via Ultraviolet. The later is handy for streaming the movie to your computer, TV, tablet or smartphone. Blu-ray and DVD bonus features kick off with "Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd," a fascinating piece on Dredd's rich comic history. Viewers can listen as the many artists and writers - including Judge Dredd creator's John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra - explain how the future lawman came to be one of the UK's best known comic characters. Other special features include a number of making of the movie featurettes, including "Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd 3D," "Dredd," "Dredd's Gear," "The 3rd Dimension," and "Welcome to Peachtrees". As a sci-fi gun nut, I found the brief, but cool "Dredd's Gear" the most interesting (Dredd's awesome Lawgiver is built around a basic 9mm!). Each featurette, especially for Dredd fans, is well worth a watch.
Lastly, there's a Dredd Motion Comic which acts as a brief prequel to the movie. Like so many of these things go, the motion comic doesn't really add anything to the movie experience itself, this one providing viewers a little bit more insight on the film's major villain, Ma-Ma.
Finally doing justice to 2000 AD's legendary comic character, the testosterone-fueled shoot-em-up film titled DREDD manages to step beyond the carnage with something so lacking in today's theater – style and panache. Here's hoping we get a sequel as equally entertaining, exciting, and well-made.
DREDD is available now on 3D Blu-ray and DVD wherever home video is sold.
Review by Jeff Saylor/ Jess Horsley