It looks like another movie that I really, really enjoyed has hit a wall with the current generation. Last weekend, the new movie based on the Judge Dredd comic book, Dredd 3D, gave an awful showing at the box office with only $6.3 million after it was done. $6.3 million. Sounds like a lot, until you realize this thing cost about $50 million to make. That's a bullet through the brain pan for the franchise and it never even got to start.
I haven't felt this bummed about since John Carter tanked.
If you're not familiar with the world of Mega City One here's the short version. There was a war, they bombed the shit out of the USA, now everyone left is squished into the sardine can that used to be the Northeastern States. Since the city is hugely overpopulated, the survivors have constructed huge "mega blocks", tenements that rise above any of our contemporary buildings.
To combat growing crime rates, the government had to get harsher with the citizens and created the "Judges": police and executioner all in one. They find the criminals, sentence them, and carry out the appropriate punishment. The most feared among them is Judge Dredd.
In the movie, Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked by his boss to assess the skills of rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is on the verge of failing. She is a psychic, one of a number of young people who have gained abilities due to residual radiation from the fall out around the city. Their first call is to the mega block, Peach Trees, a building that is 200 storeys high and controlled by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a ruthless drug lord who manufactures Slo-mo, a narcotic that slows the users perception of time.
That's the set-up. What follows during the next 95 minutes is just fucking awesome.
This isn't a watered down PG-13 version of the 2000 AD comic book. It isn't a re-make of the 1995 Stallone version like the awful reboot of Total Recall was of it's predecessor (that really should have worked off of the original Dick novel instead). This is a new adaptation of the source material that stays very close to the original's visceral feel. It's a solid R movie and doesn't pull a lot of punches with it's violence. It feels quite a lot like Punisher: War Zone which was another movie that knew that the violence that the world the characters inhabited was just as important as the rest of it.
Urban's Dredd easily wins out over Stallone's. I loved the 1995 movie, so don't think that I'm knocking it. It was a fun movie. Dredd 3D however, is a great film. It's got a great script, a competent director, great casting, great costumes and sets, fantastic cinematography, a thumping, screeching industrial soundtrack, and did I mention all the violence?
And it doesn't even matter that it's in 3D! I usually hate the 3D gimmick, but like James Cameron's Avatar, they've been able to pull it off and make it actually add something to the proceedings. The slo-mo drug slows perception of time to 1% (or speeds it up?) and there is a generous helping of point of view shots in the picture. Whenever these come up, things are shot with shallow depth of fields, wide lenses, and vibrant colors. You get to see every bit of shattered glass as someone is thrown through a window. Dredd throws a couple of people off balconies and you get to experience all 200 floors on their way down in slow motion.
Another odd note is that director Pete Travis had little to do with the editing of the film. Due to disagreements with the executives, writer Alex Garland had to take over and cut the final movie. According to the notes on Wikipedia, Garland also worked years with the visual effects team on the slow motion effects scenes in order to get them just right. They specifically tested it so as not to overwhelm the audience and take them out of the movie's narrative. That kind of attention to detail? Let me tell you, that is fantastic. I hope Garland considers doing more work outside of the writer role.
I said the casting was great. It is. Karl Urban's been a ton of great stuff these past few years (my favorite is still Bones in Star Trek) and he doesn't disappoint here. He's appropriately gruff and grumpy. You're never sure if you want to give him a hug or a high five. I'm sure he'd shoot you either way.
Lena Headey is another great thing about the movie. She's said to have felt her character was, "like an old great white shark who is just waiting for someone bigger and stronger to show up and kill her," and you really feel it. She goes through the entire movie like someone who's got all this insane power and wants more, but also secretly wants a thrill, something to make her feel alive again. I've never found her particularly attractive, but damned if she isn't compelling in anything she does.
Thirlby has her work cut out working with these great actors, but she holds her own. She plays Anderson as if she's perpetually distracted, which is great, since as a telepath, she'd have to constantly fight to keep control of errant thoughts. It helps that she's cute as a button, too.
I was surprised to read that there were people who felt this movie ripped off the Indonesian movie, The Raid: Redemption (or vice versa, as this movie's script was leaked long before the other was started). Though they both feature trapped law enforcement agents raiding multi-story tenements filled with criminals... No wait. They are the same. But that doesn't take anything from either film. Both are entertaining in their own right, but I've got to give the nod to Dredd 3D. It's a science fiction film with hot girls in it. The other one doesn't have any hot girls.
This movie has become one of my all-time favorite films. It's just hits all the right spots when it comes to my artistic sensibilities, and my need for entertainment. I really hope that box office picks up, or that it becomes such a huge success on Blu-ray that the studios are eventually convinced that a sequel is needed.
I'd hate to see another promising franchise like this die before it's even gotten a chance.