Dredd vs. Dredd: Who got it right?

So last night I finally saw the new Judge Dredd film starring Karl Urban as the titular “Punisher w/a badge” we all love. My personal choice for Dredd would be Ray Stevenson, the man who IMO nailed Frank Castle in 2008’s Punisher: War Zone. Anyway, as one of the few fans who liked the 1995 Stallone version of Dredd, I thought I’d post my two bits about the new film and who I think did a better job portraying Mega-City One.

*** Major spoilers for those who haven’t seen one of the films discussed ***

You’ve been warned, but keep reading if you’ve seen ’em both or just don’t care about spoilers.

Now, first of all – let me assure any die-hard fans that although I liked the ’95 version overall, I’ll be the first to admit they got several things wrong… including the characterization of Dredd. That said, there were also lots of things I think they got right or even improved on, like the technology for instance. Granted, the lawgiver looked wrong, but everything else – the city, the blocks, the other weapons, the ABC droid – it all looked fantastic! And, as a generic action movie starring Dredd, it’s still very watchable. But much of the atmosphere & characterization that makes Dredd who he is wasn’t present. Diane Lane is very nice to look at, but I had a hard time seeing her as a Judge… and there’s no way Dredd & Hershey would end up together like that. Rob Schneider is always a blast to watch, but Dredd doesn’t do sidekicks. Judge Rico seemed less like a Dredd villain and more like a typical Saturday-morning baddie. And, although I could live with seeing Dredd’s face maybe once, a prettied-up Sylvester Stallone with bright blue eyes is NOT what Dredd would look like.

In the new version – titled simply Dredd – most of that has been addressed. However, it adds some new problems of its own as well. Overall, I would say the new version wins almost hands-down. Urban not only goes the entire movie without showing his face, but he gets the character of Joseph Dredd down a lot better than Stallone did. The only complaint I had against the characterization was that in the film Dredd dispatches three corrupt Judges with a “ho-hum, ‘nother day at the office” kind of attitude, whereas the Judge Dredd I know & love would be absolutely INFURIATED at the thought of Judges betraying the law. No sidekicks in this one, although the role is somewhat filled by Judge Anderson, a psychic rookie that Dredd is assessing throughout the film. A relative unknown to most of us, Olivia Thirlby does a fantastic job portraying the conflicted rookie on her first field assignment. When it came time for Anderson to execute her first offender, she hesitates and I just knew we were in for the whole “It’s wrong to kill people, I can’t pull the trigger” nonsense we see in so many movies. But, like a good soldier, she follows through – dispensing justice like she was trained. Mega-City One isn’t just a corrupt city – it’s a war zone, and war zones aren’t the place for ethical debates. The bad guys were also more like what I would expect from a Judge Dredd story – punks, thugs, drug addicts, & pushers. The main villain – Ma-Ma – is an ex-hooker turned drugpin who runs the block Dredd & Anderson arrive in, and she has no regard for human life whatsoever… much like real criminals in her position. Her “army” that hunt down the Judges throughout the film are nothing more than juiced-up hoodlums & pushers more afraid of her than they are of Dredd. Essentially, she’s the big fish in her little pond… but Dredd is the baddest shark in the ocean of Mega-City One, and he makes it his mission to remind her of that.

Now for the bad – the technology. Immediately when the film begins, Dredd is pursuing three criminals down a highway and I was already getting worried. The city shown during the narration looks like it could be any modern sprawling city except for a few towering blocks spread out across it – not exactly the crammed megalopolis we know. Except for maybe one or two vehicles with some armor or something stuck on ’em, the vehicles on the highway (which looks like a normal 4-lane highway, not the “mega-highway” Dredd mentions) look like normal, modern vehicles if a bit beat up. The three thugs being pursued are driving what appears to be a plain old 60’s era Volkswagen van, and most of the other cars look like 70s & 80s era models as well. Many of the thugs chasing the Judges are using modern weapons. The Lawmaster bikes looked like – again – your average motorcycle with some bits glued over it. The block building itself, and the Lawgiver carried by the Judges, were done right. The world outside the block… not so much. The Judge’s uniform – while far more practical than Stallone’s version – was still way off except for the helmet. The helmet they got right.

Anyway, the film was definitely a step in the right direction but I think my perfect Dredd film would have to be a hybrid between the two. If the 2012 version had the technology & Mega-City One of the 1995 version, I think I would have very few complaints overall.

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