A bit of disclosure before I talk about the Dredd trailer. I saw Judge Dredd in theatres back in 1995. At the time I was fourteen years old, and I loved it. I could not understand why my father thought it was a giant turd of a movie. I suppose it had something to do with his having read a few 2000AD comic strips where I had not. Fast forward to the aftermath of my 26th birthday party wherein a drunken Shaftoe demanded to watch the Judge Dredd DVD he got as a joke present. On that day I came to understand the complete and utter contempt that Joe Dredd’s first screen appearance held for the source material.
Therein lay the challenge for director Pete Travis and his new Dredd movie. I can talk about disrespect for the source material and Stallone’s diva-ish demands not to be stuck under a helmet for ninety minutes until second coming of Bruce Campbell, but that’s going to do nothing to disassociate the name “Judge Joe Dredd” with this monstrosity. For eighteen years, this has been how popular culture and popular memory have crafted Judge Dredd. Bearing that in mind, the Dredd trailer had, in my mind, only one objective: to show me, and anybody else who might enjoy a science fiction movie, that Dredd is as far from Judge Dredd as can be. Let’s take a watch.
Initial impression: Training Day meets Die Hard set in Mega City One.
The first thing to note is the rating on the film: “R” instead of “PG-13”. That in of itself should be some indication that Lionsgate is going to treat this movie with the seriousness that the source material always offered its audience. Next is the vision of Mega City One. Instead of something that looks like a Warner Brothers farce of Blade Runner’s Los Angles, this city has a real dystopian feel about it. The block towers are surrounded by slums. Ramshackle ground vehicles, rather than the obligatory flying cars of the future, populate the trailer.
Then comes the hook. There are no megalomaniacs out to conquer the world. Nor do we see crooked judges tenting their fingers like Mr. Burns. Instead, we are presented with a drug war, the perfect compliment for a cop story. The foe: a drug queen called MaMa played by Lena Headey. Her product: Slo-Mo, a drug that makes the user perceive events at 1% of life’s normal speed. I’m going to give the story the benefit of the doubt and assume that the drug only slows perception not actions. Thus, every user stands to become Neo.
So we’re fifty-nine seconds into the Dredd trailer and it is already better than the first fifty-nine minutes of Judge Dredd.
Karl Urban’s narration also helps remind the audience that this is not Judge Dredd. In that film, Mega City One was a big-ish city of fifty million people. This Mega City One is clearly the one from the comics, stretching from the East Coast of Canada down to the Carolinas and as for West as the Mississippi. Pairing MC1’s population of eight hundred million with scenes of urban unrest establishes the lawless reality of this post-apocalyptic world. This world is grim and bleak, but not so over the top that it starts alienating potential viewers.
Meanwhile the trailer hints at a story that targets the action movie crowd as a whole, not just a handful of genre aficionados. Dredd is paired with rookie Judge Anderson on her training day when MaMa takes over her block tower. All of the Slo-Mo production is focused in that block, so if the judges can take it out, they remove the only source of the drug. Instead of fighting killer cyborgs, robots, and clones, Joe Dredd is going to become the inverse John McClane, working his way up a sky scraper to take out terrorists and drug dealers.
Sidebar: I didn’t think it possible to cook up a character for Lena Headey who would be more chill inducing than Cersei Lannister. Freudians around the world are going to have a field day with this one.
What are we left with at the end of this trailer? Judge Dredd is a motorcycle cop, not a runway model for fetish wear. Mega City One is a horrible place populated by terrible people where the street judge system is a necessity rather than some picayune attempt to be totalitarian. The antagonist is played by one of the most fantastic actresses of the last ten years, who looks to be in fine form for this picture. Assuming the trailer is honest to the final product, Dredd is going to be a gritty cop movie first and a science fiction story second. Karl Urban is clearly doing everything he can to dislodge the brick of Camembert that Stallone shoved up Dredd’s ass back in the 90s; he even manages to deliver Dredd’s iconic “I am the law” with all the seriousness that it deserves.
Am I going to go see this? Allow me to answer that in my best Judge Dredd voice, “What do you think, creep?” I won’t say that Dredd looks like the smartest movie out there. However, the trailer suggests something that has the chops to regenerate a much maligned character. Simultaneously, the environment of Mega City One could prove an equally impressive rendering of a now classic dystopian world.
Let’s just hope there is an option to watch it without the 3D gimmickry.