I primarily know about Judge Dredd through my dad, who collected many of the comics and annuals when he was younger. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and read them, but I know exactly what the series is about: a fearless Judge living in a post-apocalyptic future who can be rather hard on criminals. He also never smiles. Ever. My connection to the series was enhanced by the PlayStation 2 game Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death, which seemed like a fitting tribute to the series. It was only a matter of time before I saw the films too, so this afternoon I decided to try out the 1995 Stallone version, which has been oft-ridiculed since its release. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed myself.
When I say I enjoyed it, I do mean in the sense that one might enjoy a Keane album or a Carry On movie; a guilty pleasure that is. Towards the end, the whole thing got rather goofy, but on the whole the movie stayed rather true to the comics, as far as I can make it out. For Stallone, Dredd was an easy character to act, with no emotions to play up and simple bold dialogue. As a result, he makes a pretty decent Dredd. However, I don’t very much care for his catchphrase ‘I knew you were going to say that.‘ It’s hardly ‘I’ll be back,‘ or ‘Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.‘
An awesome detail, James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, reads out the introduction segment, which makes clear the post-apocalyptic future for the uninitiated. However, I question the idea to run with ‘In the third millennium…‘ Aren’t we in the third millennium now? I had to grimace when I saw Rob Schneider would be appearing in this film. Fortunately, he plays the annoying sidekick, and he does annoying very well. The special effects are very decent and enhance the action, although the metropolis they live in does seem rather borrowed from Blade Runner.
Judge Dredd gets framed for a murder, which he clearly didn’t commit – after all ‘I didn’t break the law! I AM THE LAW‘ – and then works his way back into the city to fight the bad guys. It’s hardly the most intricate or clever plot, but not as dreadful as some make it out to be. As I mentioned, it can get pretty goofy at times, especially during the hoverbike chase scene. Whenever the word ‘law’ is mentioned, it usually gets a disproportionate amount of emphasis: LAAAAWWWWW.
While not the pinnacle of sci-fi cinema, I wasn’t as unimpressed as the majority of critics. Perhaps going in with low expectations is the key. This would have been great had it been a Paul Verhoeven film, as dystopian action films seem to be his specialty. Despite its shortcomings, I thought it was a worthwhile viewing, especially as a passing fan of the comics. A guilty pleasure indeed.