Archive for February 18, 2013

I’m here today to compare and figure out which is better, Judge Dredd (1995) – directed by Danny Cannon or Dredd (2012) – directed by Pete Travis?

Firstly I know that it’s not good to compare movies and it’s better to take each movie on its own. But having tried to write separate reviews for each of these films I just can’t help it. As such I have decided to do a proper ‘VS’ section on this blog with these films being the first comparison.

One of the reasons I find it impossible not to compare the films is because I grew up reading Judge Dredd and still read it now. As such I have very strong feelings towards the character and his world, meaning I automatically analyse any media based on the property (sometimes unfairly, but most of the time I think I can clearly justify my reasons.).

 

BASIC BACK STORY OF JUDGE DREDD

In the future the world is a scarred wasteland after international conflicts leading to mass nuclear warfare. Most of the world is radioactive ‘hell on earth’ and is known to the people of the few surviving cities as ‘The Cursed Earth’. In the dystopian city of Mega City One (the main location for the Dredd comics), crime is an everyday thing that people take for granted. Gangs attempt to rule the city and the only things standing in their way are the ‘Judges’ (Judge, Jury and Executioner all in one). Of all the Judges in the city, one if feared above all others, ‘Dredd’. (Essentially Dredd is the ultimate badass who will only give up when he’s dead.)

The idea of Judge Dredd is simple at heart but can be as complex as the writers of the comics want to go. Dredd was spawned in issue 2 of the British comic publication ‘2000ad’ in 1977. This joint creation by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra was an instant hit and is now known the world over in almost all mediums (books, films, comics, videogames, board games etc…) Only 2 official feature films have been of the character. One in 1995 directed by Danny Cannon which came out to a pretty negative reaction and the other directed in 2012 by Pete Travis which aimed to fix the problems people had with the 1995 picture.

So let’s begin the review/comparison:

PLOT

Judge Dredd (1995) –

Dredd is convicted of a murder he did not commit and is sentenced to life imprisonment (after the Chief Judge stands down in order to spare Dredd’s life.) The true culprit of the murder sets about to take over the law department so he can rule over Mega City One. Dredd must find a way back into the city and clear his name before it’s too late.

Dredd (2012) –

Dredd and new recruit Judge Anderson are sent into Peach Trees (a 200 storey tall slum block – essentially a vertical city) to investigate the murder of three drug dealers. After raiding a drugs den they soon find the Owner of the block won’t let them leave easily and has locked down the entire block. Dredd and Anderson must find a way out before they themselves become bullet ridden bodies on the floor.

————–

Two similar films with two very different plots.

  • JUDGE DREDD: The 1995 film has the sort of plot that seemed very popular in the 1990’s and unlike most people I don’t see it as that much of a problem. You could argue that there are hundreds of Judge Dredd storylines they could have used (especially the ‘Judge Death’ storylines) but instead they go with a pretty formulaic ‘man sets out to prove his innocence’ story. Many critics and viewers a like didn’t like the simplistic story and the fact that the plot was very ‘Americanised’, but I think it works and to be fair Dredd has always been quite ‘American’ in style (It’s even set in America). It may not pick holes in the political system as much as the comics but it does the job. One thing that the story does really well is ‘scope’. We get a look at a large chunk of Mega City One and even get a look at the wasteland outside its walls. The plot also incorporates many other characters from the Dredd universe (as well as a few other 2000ad properties). Overall I think the plot works as a great introduction to the character of Dredd and proves to be an above average sci-fi plot. 7/10
  • DREDD: The 2012 film is much smaller in scale compared to the 1995 picture as it is mainly set in a large tower block. It tries to explain the city but struggles because of its limited locations. The story does feel like the sort of tale that is in the comics which is good, but what works in comics does not mean it’ll work in a padded out feature film. There just isn’t enough story to fill out the full run time of the film as essentially it consists of them trying to escape then deciding to go kill ‘Ma Ma’ (the head gang leader). It’s sufficient but really is as simplistic as they come. Also for a film which aims to make the story ‘more like the comics’ it fails to explain factors such as the Psi-Division (a select group of psychic Judges – one of which being Anderson). 4/10

CHARACTERS

DREDD

The main character of both films is of course the title character ‘Judge Dredd’. Both films provide a very different take on the character. (In my view neither is perfect):

  • JUDGE DREDD: The title role is held by Sylvester Stallone that many seemed to agree made a great Dredd until he takes his helmet off (not because it is Stallone underneath but because in the comics he rarely removes his helmet and even when he does you never see his face. in the 35+ years the comic has been running his face has never been shown clearly.) for many this was enough for them to instantly dismiss the film as a whole. For me I honestly didn’t mind. The main reason he takes his helmet off is because when you have a film with Stallone in you kind of have to show his face (well you kind of did in the 90’s.) You also have to remember that Dredd wasn’t as widely known around the world and as such was a gamble they hoped would pay off after the success of other comic book films in the years previous. (Without Stallone I doubt the film would have been made and I doubt he would have done it if you never saw his face.) Enough about the helmet issue. In my view, Stallone plays the part pretty much perfectly. He may not be the best actor in the world but his lack of acting and ‘woodenness’ help portray the cold character from the comics. (This is not to say I don’t like Stallone in other films. I think he can be a good actor and he usually does the job put before him, pretty admirably.) In this film he delivers each line like the character from the comic (even when he’s trying to add an emotional depth to the character). He also has the physical presence that Dredd is meant to have helping you believe why people would both fear and respect him… Stallone pretty much carries the film on his back with his portrayal of Dredd and as such you’ve got to commend him. 8/10
  • DREDD: For this version of Dredd we get the actor Karl Urban. Although nowhere near as big an actor as Stallone, Urban has in recent years been in some of the biggest films such as ‘Star Trek’ and ‘the Chronicles of Riddick’. He is a great actor and in terms of acting is far superior to Stallone. This is where my problem with him as Dredd lies. Dredd is meant to be ‘cold’ and doesn’t ever really show emotion (even though Stallone’s tried to). Urban just doesn’t have the coldness. He delivers each line with too much emotion and it just feels forced (almost like he trying to imitate Stallone’s ‘non-acting’) He also doesn’t have the presence that Dredd has in the comics. In the film he just feels like a member of a S.W.A.T team. For me I just didn’t believe in the character and as such just found him a kind of failure (Which I find sad as I usually really like Urban as an actor). 4/10

SUPPORTING CHARACTERS & VILLIAN

Interestingly both films use different supporting characters from the comics, so this is less a comparison of the actor’s portraying them and more on the strength of them as how they fit into the story.

  • JUDGE DREDD: The main supporting character in the film is ‘Fergee’ played by comedian Rob Schneider. When I first watched the film I didn’t like the comedicness of the character as I found it detracted from the reasonably dark storyline. Having reread many of the comics from the 90’s (and even many of the more recent ones) I kind of like the character now. It’s where the humour from the comics kind of comes through. He’s not great but he plays off Stallone pretty well. The main female in the film is ‘Judge Hershey’ played by Diane Lane. She is a strong female character and does all of the ‘thinking’ in the film. She is the character who is ruching against time to try and clear Dredd’s name. She is a good actress and she is great here. The main bad guy in the flick is ‘Rico’ played by Armand Assante. He does the job as a villain but never feels truly threatening enough for me. I find that you always need a villain equal to or more powerful than the hero. In this I didn’t ever feel that, He only managed to win against Dredd at the start by faking footage and faking Dredd’s uniform. I guess in the grand scheme of things he gets the job done but he never a great character (I think the problem is the character instead of the actual acting). Max Von Syndow also does an admiral job as Chief Judge Fargo. AS a whole everyone does a very good job. 7/10
  • DREDD: ‘Judge Anderson’ is the lead female in the 2012 adaptation and is played amazingly well by Olivia Thirlby. Anderson is a regular character in the comics and it is nice to see her translated well onto film. As the film focuses on the beginning of her career she only begins to become as badass as she is in the comics towards the end. But this doesn’t stop her being great. The problem we have is I think that she’s a far stronger character in this film then Dredd and as such I feel this impacted on the whole film. I didn’t care about Dredd and was just keen to watch Anderson’s development. The villain of the picture is Madeline ‘Ma-Ma’ Madrigal played by Lena Headey and again she never feels ‘evil’ enough. She’s probably a better villain and more comic like then ‘Rico’ from the ’95 film but she still isn’t amazing. You see some of her power coming through but never the full extent of how strong she is (considering she led her gang to take over the entire block). There are a few other incidental characters that do the job but no one else is standout. 6/10 (For Thirlby’s portrayal of Judge Anderson alone.)

VISUALS & AUDIO

Being comic book adaptations, both films aim to try and recreate the look of the comics. As with everything both take very different routes to doing so:

  • JUDGE DREDD: The 1995 feature uses model work and Matte paintings to help create the dystopian future for Mega City One. As such the effects haven’t really dated; they look like they did when the film was released. The director was very clever in filming almost everything in the city at night, thus helping the dark feel of the city. The ‘Cursed Earth’ bits are done during daytime which helps emphasise the vastness and the bleakness of the hostile terrain. Both play off one another perfectly and help create a great looking Judge Dredd. Dredd has always been one of the ‘darker’ comics and as such that is how I feel it should be filmed. The whole visual style is much akin to films such as ‘The Crow’, ‘Dark City’ and even ‘Blade runner’. It works really well. The costumes, weapons and vehicles all look like they’ve been pulled straight out of the comics and they are what I remember from when I was young and reading Dredd. Even the ABC warrior is great (although possibly slightly misplaced in this film). It is really well done and looks like it did in the comics. The music is typical of the sort of film it is with a strong score running through it. Nothing much to fault at all 9/10
  • DREDD: This is a tricky one because the film does look very ‘comic-booky’ but it gets boring very fast (at least for me it did) the outside shots look very ‘fake ‘ and CGI which is a shame and I think that it’ll look even worse it years to come. The film also uses a lot of slow motion which does look really good, the first few times then it just gets boring. They use ‘Phantom’ Cameras to film at a ridiculously fast speed meaning they can pretty much slow it down and pause a rain drop if they wanted to. It’s an amazing bit of kit but it can get boring. (It’s not even like its brand new technology or even the first film to be using it. Lars Von Tier used a Phantom camera in 2009 on his film ‘antichrist’ which used the tech a lot more artistically. Even the Jackass franchise used the same tech.) On one hand it does feel like a comic but on the other, the hand that looks at the film as a series of moving images, it sees it as a simple way of padding out a flimsy story with a shortish runtime by an extra 25%. The costumes, weapons and vehicles all feel too different from the comics and from what I remember. They also look far less practical and far more ‘silly’ some of the indoor sets look great but they can’t make up for everything else. The audio takes a very industrial feel which kind of works but sometimes just feel like there are faults in the soundtrack. It’s not bad and I can see what they were going for. They just failed to deliver 5/10

FUN FACTOR

This is where things become even more subjective but I will try to explain my reasons for enjoying/not enjoying each film:

  • JUDGE DREDD: I love this film. It is the definition of a well-made guilty pleasure. The story keeps the pace on-going and Stallone is always watchable on screen. The humour between him and Schneider is great and works really well. I just find this film a great piece of entertainment every time I see it. There are always bits I forget about as well which always gives the film a reasonably fresh feeling. It’s never boring and always enjoyable. 8/10
  • DREDD: I wanted to love this film. The first time I watched it I got around an hour in and just wasn’t enjoying it at all so I turned it off. I thought maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy it. I decided to give it another chance recently and was kind of excited to do so. I don’t know why I was so excited. To be fair it was slightly better than the first time but only marginally. I just found it poorly scripted and really badly paced. I got almost no enjoyment out of it at all and what little I did was from the character of Judge Anderson. 3/10

VERDICT

It’s pretty obvious which of these films I preferred before working out the average score (rounded up) based on all of the above sections. But let’s do it anyway:

JUDGE DREDD – 8/10

DREDD – 5/10

There we have it. I honestly think that the new film was a massive step backwards, both in terms of Dredd films but also Comic book adaptations. The ’95 flick has its problems but they are nowhere near as bad as the problems with the new film (which focuses all on ‘fancy’ visuals instead of story, characters, script, or anything else important.) This is just my opinion but if you want to see the better of the two Judge Dredd films watch the 1995 one (ignore the new one. It’s not even really worth a watch)

Advertisements