Last night I saw the new Dredd movie. As a kid I’d read some (although not all) of the comics. Enough to be able to judge (ha) if any cinematic adaptation had got it “right” or not. Plus, I’d seen the much derided 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, so I could compare with that too.
The new version is very much a product of its time, which is to say that it’s gritty and downbeat and takes itself a little too seriously. It does get Dredd himself pretty much right, or at least more right than Stallone did. I liked the way they laughed off any attempt to dig deeper into Dredd’s character in an early scene when the psychic Judge Anderson tries to read his mind. She says that he has enormous self-control, but that there’s something else behind it, something…only to be interrupted by her boss and told that it won’t be necessary to continue.
I did start thinking, both during and after, about how to view Dredd and the judges as a whole. People make comparisons with Dirty Harry and call him a “fascist“, but I think that’s a lazy, knee-jerk response from people who view any form of authority or control as fascistic. Harry Callahan was a maverick who decided to take the law into his own hands and make his own decisions about who deserved to live or die. Dredd is simply a product of the system, which itself is an extraordinary response to an extraordinary situation (the collapse of society). You can argue about the appropriateness of that response, but you can’t blame Dredd himself. As the film takes pains to point out, he only wants to serve his city and he follows the rules to the letter, never overstepping the bounds of his authority.
The violence may concern some. It’s quite spectacularly bloody, and gratuitously so. I guess they felt it was necessary in order to portray this chaotic, amoral society where life is cheap, but mostly I feel they just thought that it would look really cool in super slo-mo 3D. I found the 3D itself, as usual, to be occasionally impressive, occasionally irrritating, and mostly forgettable.
The things I think are missing from both film versions so far are some of the things I enjoyed about the comics: the absurdity, humour and fantastical elements. The comics show us a much larger world than “Dredd” could afford on its relatively small budget, full of mutants and supernatural beings and the various weird tribes inhabiting both Mega-City 1 and the Cursed Earth outside. I’d love to think that sequels could expand into these realms, but I get the feeling that that would be at odds with the fairly straight and stripped-down approach they’ve taken in this film.
Maybe I should just go back and read the comics again.