Guilty Pleasures: Judge Dredd

 

Is Stallone’s take on the Mega-City cop drokking good, or just plain drek? On the matter of Guilty Pleasures, I AM THE LAW!

Judge Dredd lingered in development hell from as far back as 1980 before it burst onto screens in 1995. Trying to get the tone of the character and his world right was difficult. Much talk is made of Dredd being a gritty character, but for every hard-bitten story there is a crazy, wacky element of life in Mega – City One, which stretches all along America’s eastern seaboard. From The League of Fatties to hit Vid show Sob Story, Block Wars and human pinball with players encased in Boing! miracle plastic, the possibilities are endless. Obviously the film couldn’t be too outlandish, but strange elements of the pressurised future city could dot the landscape.

Eventually the first draft of the script was shown to Sylvester Stallone, who committed to the project. The search began for a director who could bring it to life. Today, Danny Cannon is executive producer of the C.SI. phenomenon, but back in the early ’90s he was a young, hungry director, who happened to be a massive fan of Dredd and 2000 AD, his weekly comic home. When he learned Dredd was in development, he pitched his fan’s wish list for the film. Below is his concept poster for a Dredd movie he submitted to 2000 AD when he was a teenager.

 

Stallone’s Dredd film has the city under increasing pressure from violent crime. Within The Council Of Five, the leading Judges who control the city, Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow) is secretly fomenting trouble to get approval to revive the discredited Judge Cloning programme. To this end, he frees Rico, Dredd’s clone brother, played by Armand Assante, to frame Dredd and get him out of the way. Chief Justice Fargo (Max Von Sydow), chooses to take The Long Walk into The Cursed Earth, to bring law to the lawless. As his last act as Chief, he commutes Dredd’s sentence to life in Aspen prison. Dredd escapes with comedy criminal Fergie (Rob Scheider) to clear his name and prevent Rico’s rampage from tearing the city apart, and with it the beleagured Judges, led by Hershey (Diane Lane).

Like a lot of films these days the film continued to evolve and be rewritten on set. One of Cannon’s best additions was to take Dredd out of the city. His prison transport is shot down down over The Cursed Earth by The Angel Gang, a mutant family of cannibals. Craziest of them all is Mean Machine, a cyborg with a robotic arm and a dial on his head that affects his mood, from mean to plum crazy. Stallone was so impressed with the make up for Mean an extended fight sequence between the two was added. New Dredd writer Alex Garland has hinted if his Dredd is a success, subsequent adventures may also incorporate The Cursed Earth, and possibly Dredd’s most iconic villain, Judge Death.

Dredd creator John Wagner believed the film should not have been a dynastic power struggle, Dredd should be on the streets, kicking ass. An approach that seems to the basis for Karl Urban’s retread, released in the UK September 7 2012. One thing Wagner is grateful for though is Stallone. Without him, there simply would have been no film, or even future attempts at the character.

Stallone had done his homework, and believed it could be a franchise. The comic advisors were thrilled, but resigned to the fact that Stallone would almost certainly remove Dredd’s helmet, a no-no in the comic. I don’t think they expected it to be off for what seemed like 90% of the movie, though! It did lead to an amusing scene between an incarcerated Fergie and Dredd. Fergie holds his hand up to obscure Dredd’s top profile, to recognise the glowering chin of the Judge who had previously arrested him.

The film sways from scenes of extreme violence to goofy humour. The comic creators wanted a PG-13 (12) film, what they got was an edgy mish-mash, that has been dirided as an empty, action by the numbers, Stallone vehicle. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The trouble is, there already was a great Judge Dredd film released in 1987. It just happened to be called Robocop. At the time, even it’s producers sheepishly acknowledged the similarity in tone between it and Dredd’s world.

The ABC Warrior robot, Rico’s adopted bodyguard, based on Hammerstein from 2000AD

Dredd’s entrance on his lawmaster motorbike through the flames and debris of a block war disturbance, accompanied by Alan Silvestri’s score, is pure comic book cool. He single handedly orders the block to surrender, a scene ripped directly from the strip.  After he’s kicked ass, he arrests Fergie, who was unwittingly caught up in the riot, for damaging the recycling robot he was hiding in. Until his fall from grace, Dredd is unyielding in his devotion to the law. “Emotions,” he sneers to Hershey, one of the new breed to seek a life outside the system, “there ought to be a law against them.”

Spotting a parking violation by a multiple offender, he destroys his Ferrari – like hover car with a high explosive bullet. Crime is the disease, and he is the cure – wait, that’s Cobra.

The humour is tongue in cheek, and butts up against some good old fashioned ultraviolence. Art design holds up really well, and is not simply a Blade Runner retread, as Roger Ebert described it. The city has it’s own personality, signage cheekily winking references to the comic original. A scene where Fergie takes off in an aerial cab to his newly allocated city block brilliantly showcases the old school model work in wide screen, with subtle mattpainting and live action inserts. Judge Dredd was one of the last films to use large scale modelling before CGI became prevalent.

judge dredd old megacity one

 

The judges uniforms were designed by that master of understatement, Gianni Versace. I think they are mostly very good, the only disappointment is only Dredd and a couple of background Judges wear the eagle pad, reason being it was too costly and delicate to make too many. Other Judges have two ordinary shoulder pads. A pity, as Stallone looks brilliant in full get-up. I could do without looking at the cod piece though…

According to Stallone, Cannon was determined to make his mark, and was unwilling to listen to to advice, at one point leaping down from his director’s seat and yelling “Fear me!” I cannot find this story repeated by anyone else though. Cannon has since admitted he was frustrated by endless compromises on the style and tone, and regrets badmouthing the scriptwriter Steven De Souza. Stallone didn’t help curry fans favour by pushing for Hershey to kiss him at the end of the movie. There are also some disconcerting similarities to Stallone’s Demolition Man, such as Dredd and Rico’s fight in the cloning chamber echoing Stallone and Wesley Snipes fight in the cryogenic storage facility. In fact, the satire in Demolition Man works very well if you imagine Judge Dredd confronting it.

The film was recut several times to get a lower rating, without success. It was released as an R in America (15 in the UK), the deathknell as far as studio moneymen were concerned. It was quickly dropped by cinemas after a respectable first week. The rating destroyed any licensing potential, toy and comic lines were scrapped.

All of which makes me wonder why John Wagner is banging the drum so enthusiastically about how the new Dredd is so much more gritty and violent. What has changed? Perhaps the fact that the style of 2000 AD has got more adult, as fans have aged and not been replaced by a younger generation.

Judge Dredd the movie is a great, action filled, funny look at a unique future society that to my mind has stood the test of time. If it’s a crime to love this movie, then Judge me and stick me in an ISO Cube, Drokk it! It’s just a pity the film didn’t keep the future slang though.

Originally posted 2012-09-02 15:31:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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