Most people who know me and my general taste in movies are utterly surprised when I say that I love Dredd, especially if they are also fans of the comic books series. They mostly say, “But it’s incredibly violent and you don’t watch that sort of thing”. I usually reply with something along the line of, “Yeah I know, but the film’s awesome, and easily my favourite comic book film ever. I don’t know the comics but that film makes me want to actually read them.”
Saying that sort of thing generally sparks off a series of recommendations and an agreement; Dredd is easily one of the best adaptions from comic books ever made. Most films based on comics don’t make me interested in the source material; Dredd does and the reliance on the source material, which I’ve been told has been very faithfully adapted for the big screen, is for me the reason behind its success. All of the creative energy that has been going into the comic books for years is utilised as much as possible, rather than just being used as an occasion reference.
And it is such a shame that Dredd, despite being brilliant, wasn’t successful in terms of money. I know that money is important and that it fuels Hollywood, but sometimes I do despair that for an industry based on creative forces and storytelling that sometimes they are put aside simply because of money. Especially when I see some of the drivel that is made and produced, when utterly brilliant ideas are put aside.
Hollywood is currently in a trend (that is seemingly never-ending and tedious) of making sequels, prequels and re-makes of old favourites that has source material like a book to base it on, and I know that Dredd falls into the category of not being original having been based on a comic book and for even being a re-make of a 90s film. I know that begging for a sequel is a bit hypocritical, but then again most sequels, prequels and remakes are based on marginally successful films that appeal to a mass market and are then done badly.
Dredd is more niche, can’t be advertised to children, and therefore families, like other comic book films can be. I think it is very much because of that limited consumer market that Dredd is less likely to be considered for a sequel, as it would be more expensive to produce than a second-rate horror film that is normally produced for the adult market. And honest to god is a tragedy that this is the case. Fine it isn’t original, it is an adaption, but the film is just superb from start to finish.
Dredd, portrayed by Karl Urban, is a character you only know from his chin, is the perfect anti-hero. The world of Mega-City One is a place where fascism and anarchy clash on a daily basis, and Dredd is a judge with the power to catch, convict and execute criminals. He lacks charisma, and has few redeemable features, but I adore the character. I love that he’s teamed with Judge Anderson, a rookie with psychic abilities who looks cute and vulnerable, but is determined and more than capable of holding her own.
They clash with Ma-Ma, who is beautifully and terrifying portrayed by Lena Headey. She is the perfect villain; she is sinister, ruthless and subtle. There is nothing over the top about her character; she is utterly confident in her own abilities and her command over her clan, which makes her deadly. Her hold of terror over Domhnall Gleeson’s role as the Clan’s tech expert makes you fear for his character. Gleeson might not be well known for his role in this underrated film, and Headey is better known for being a Lannister, but their performances are sublime.
It isn’t just the characters that I like in the film. The plot, is also great. It’s not too complicated, but not so simple as to be boring. The film is essentially a day in the life of Judge Dredd, which results in him being trapped in Peach Trees, a mega block controlled by Ma-Ma’s clan after he and Anderson arrive to investigate a triple homicide and end up doing a routine drug bust. They step on Ma-Ma’s toes though and end up in a full on war with the clan. It all happens in a day and has you hooked as you don’t know what will happen as the two judges ascend the floors and turn each corner.
Then the third element that makes the film great and is one of the things I love the most is the world-building. Mega City One is a massive dystopian city that is very well thought out and created. I am partial to a dystopian world, and Mega City One just ticks all the boxes, especially as a city. It is grim, realistic, has a criminal underbelly and an opposing authority, with a sub-culture of mutants. Most the city though is make up of good and decent people who are just trying to make their way in the world and life their lives. The law enforcement might be a bit fascist, but they are there to protect law abiding citizens against the anarchy, and it is that clash between law and disorder in a city of constrained space is the perfect background for the plot and characters.
It is the excellent execution of the critical elements of storytelling (characters, plot and world-building) that makes Dredd a brilliantly conceived film. Fine it isn’t an original idea, but it was a faithful adaptation of an original idea made with a great script, great actors and a passion for making something that was a little bit different than what the mainstream film market normally offers. Sequel please!