Passing Judgment on the Judge, Jury & Executioner.

I have always enjoyed comics, but I was never much of a collector, except when it came to Judge Dredd.  For a few years, I collected them all — I couldn’t get enough of the Dredd character.  I loved the art, the stories and edgy comic-bite. It must’ve been back in 1988 or 1989 when I heard that Sylvester Stallone had purchased the rights to turn Dredd into a movie character. Now, as much as I can appreciate Stallone in the right role (Rocky, Expendables, Rocky-again), the role of Judge Dredd could not have been more flawed for the heavyweight action star.

As such would happen, and to the dismay of Dredd fans, the 1995 Judge Dredd was an abomination of filmmaking. OK, maybe not an abomination, but a gargantuan disappointment. It was a bad movie and it severed any real connection to the comic except for basics. Any chance Dredd had of entering the mainstream, was destroyed by Stallone’s portrayal of the iconic comic hero.

One of the major flaws with Stallone’s Dredd, is that the comic book has always been on the fringe, finding popularity within very specific audiences, not the mass superhero buying public. Throw in Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Rob  Schneider, Max Von Sydow, an overblown budget and Judge Dredd would have to have been perfect to be a success, even then it would be lucky to find an audience beyond the comic readers. Now, with a bad movie, the movie could only go down, and down it went, not even recouping half of its reported $70 million dollar budget.

Judge Dredd is not only a bad movie, but it is a bad interpretation. It strays drastically from the comic and unmasks the square-jawed hero, revealing his face — something never done in the comic. The story is not taken from, or really apparently even inspired by, any of the various Dredd comics. The movie has difficulty pleasing any movie watcher, especially those who most love the character.

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The 1995, Sylvester Stallone, Judge Dredd

But Dredd, the 2012 Karl Urban vehicle, is entirely different.  Well, there are some similarities. It failed to make back half of its budget, but granted, it had a budget of $35 million. Nevertheless, it is still considered a failure financially. However, fans of Judge Dredd, should be extremely pleased with the product.

Dredd is supposed to be a futuristic Dirty Harry, keeping the streets of Mega City One clear of riff-faff and in this futuristic dystopia, there’s plenty of it. The story is stripped down and simple, with Dredd and the rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) hunting the dangerous, drug dealing Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).  There are a few twists here and there but overall, that’s it, as straight forward as it gets, much like Urban’s version of Judge Dredd.

Dredd constantly references the comic and its various story lines over the years, continually paying tribute to the source material throughout the landscape of this film.

Judge Dredd, in 1995, proved that even with star power, you can’t make an awful movie a blockbuster. The 2012 Dredd proved that there is an audience for this character, but it may be limited, much like the comic. Even with the lack of box office success, there is still talk of a sequel. Reportedly, Urban has said he would like to reprise the role of Dredd. And, with the right story, and a lesser budget, who knows … Dredd could find his market. We may not be talking an audience the size of Mega City One, but there is a market for this iconic character.

Maybe an $8-10 million dollar budget would be the way to go with a flick like this. If Urban would play along for a lesser price, they could tap into one of the story lines for the core audience and worry less about the masses. Since I was a kid and first read Judge Dredd in the 2000 A.D. comics, I have dreamed of a Judge Dredd vs. Judge Death confrontation on the big screen or Dredd’s adventures in the Cursed Earth. I don’t know if that day will ever come, but it would be pretty damn cool to see someone try.

There is an audience for Dredd, but it’s a judgmental one.

Judge Dredd (1995) Grade: D-

Dredd (2012) Grade: B

Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine