Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Hollywood

Dredding it, or, ‘Do you see what I did there?’

If ever fans could feel aggrieved at the treatment of a Hollywood adaptation then Judge Dredd fans clearly have a case to make. First appearing in the second ever issue of the massively influential British magazine 2000AD Dredd became one of the most iconic and certainly one of the most successful British comic characters ever created. The writers used the dystopia setting and the violent characters as a chance to explore issues such as free speech, authoritarianism, the role of law and the police state. Such is the measure of the character that Judge Dredd has been mentioned in Parliament when British law makers have been discussing just these same issues.

Sadly though it couldn’t stay that way forever and in the mid-1990s Hollywood came a calling. It’s worth noting at this point in time Hollywood was in the middle of the what fans of actions movies would later call ‘the dark time,’ (not actually true but 90s action movies were god awful) and the chances the adaptation would be faithful were…well…not great…

If that non too subtle clue at the end of the last paragraph wasn’t a big enough give away I feel I should probably spell this one out as simply as I can, the Judge Dredd movie has as little to do with the original source material as I did with the JFK assassination – (this is a blog on the internet, you all should have known it was only a matter of time before I mentioned at least ONE conspiracy theory.) That said there is one final piece of information I should give in order to be completely honest with my pre-held opinions. Despite having almost nothing to do with the original comics ‘Judge Dredd’ is, in my opinion, easily one of the best Sylvester Stallone vehicles ever committed to celluloid. Yes, that’s right – it is high praise indeed.

Anyone who thinks they can detect even a trace of hipster-ish cynicism is wrong. This is genuinely one of those movies that wins out on sheer unadulterated fun and if anything, movies should be at least that. It’s become a staple of television schedules and a film beloved by men of my generation for its charm and cheese in equal measure. For those of you who don’t know, allow me to offer a recap of what is tenuously termed as the ‘plot.’ In a dystopian future society is kept away from the brink of anarchy by the judges –a group of law enforcement officers possessing the power of judge, jury and executioner all in one. The most feared is the notorious Judge Joseph Dredd, in the comics, a violent faceless figure of overreaching authority – here in the film, its Stallone. Obviously as the marquee star Dredd quickly loses his helmet and is allowed to wander around chewing the scenery and spouting ‘dialogue.’ The bad guy is the mysterious ex-Judge ‘Rico’ played with wide eyed and malevolent glee by Armand Assante who is clearly having the time of his life as he demonstrates how to turn a villain into a cartoon character over the course of about 90 minutes. Max von Sydow pops up as the paternal Chief Judge and as was mandated by law back then, there is a ‘comedy sidekick,’ played by the films one black spot, the execrable Rob Schneider.

The details of the story I will not bother to relate as they don’t really matter. This is a big, bonkers action movie. The explosions will be loud, the guns will never need to be reloaded, the scenery won’t stand up to the actors demolishing it and no matter how hard you hope the comedy side kick will make it alive to the end of the film. And to no surprise that is exactly what happens here. It’s dumb, loud and hugely over the top as well as being an absolute pile of stupid fun – (perhaps best exemplified by Stallone’s apparent complete inability to pronounce the word ‘law’, seriously…)

So, I really enjoy this movie but there is a part of me that feels a little disappointed. There are occasional flashes in the movie that there was the plan to maybe make a more ‘faithful’ version. The brief glimpses we get of the dystopia actually look as if they had some care put into them, the costuming is all really well done – thanks to the costuming work by Versace. But it wasn’t to be – originality may well have compromised the film’s box office takings so the film is the pure throwaway entertainment its makers were aiming for. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favour – get a few beers in the fridge, a few friends on your couch and have a great night in. For those of you to whom that may sound beyond grim, maybe you should take a different route. Go to your local bookstore and find some Judge Dredd; it’s a wonderful slice of British comic history, often gleefully over the top but always well drawn and always trying to make a serious point. Most of the comics are being collected and released as collections and are well worth looking at, if you’re a comic fan.

This may not have touched on all the adaptive issues here but, well, I’ve been away for a while and this is me trying to get back into the swing of things so there will be more intense adaptive discussions coming up in the next few weeks I promise. One question worth considering though, is, if the adaptation had been more ‘faithful’ to the world of the original comics would the movie have been as fun? Thankfully, in keeping with this week’s laid back approach to the adaptation discussion it seems that question may well have already been answered, here. It seems to be a new kind of Judge Dredd movie for a new generation of action fans not satisfied by just cheese. Frankly, I’m just happy they found someone able to pronounce the word law. (Seriously, look it up..)



Ps. It’s good to be back!

Let’s help Tom Hanks’s career, or ‘Dan Brown has much to answer for’


Can anyone remember a good Tom Hanks movie? I mean, seriously, what’s the guy done lately that has done well? No, I’m not counting a certain animated franchise involving Toys and Stories but live action, him, in the flesh. Saving Private Ryan? Years ago. Castaway? Eons ago. Now, don’t get me wrong, Hanks as an actor is nigh on impossible to dislike and I think the man does have some seriously good acting chops. Wait a sec, Road to Perdition! That was brilliant! Aaaaaaand done in 2002. Catch me if you can! That was a fantastic film! Classy, funny and some great acting. Aaaaaaaand DONE IN 2002! AGAIN. Come on Tom, help me out here.

The little rambling introduction should serve as a mild mea culpa for the unfortunate Hanks and a good explanation of why he felt that this was time to make a jump back into the big leagues. He needed a hit, a global smash that could be turned into a star vehicle to take him back to the top of the heap of Hollywood’s A-list actors. Maybe a book? Maybe the biggest selling book of 2003 that didn’t star a certain boy wizard. Maybe, The Da Vinci Code

Oh Tom. Oh Tom, Tom, Tom. Don’t worry, I don’t judge you. It must have all made such sense at the time. Or maybe it was like an illicit thrill. Like an affair, or hard drugs. Somehow then, your old pal Ron Howard called you up – you worked together in the past on some great movies so obviously I can see how he must have been a persuading factor. The only reasonable solution I can think of is after Dan Brown milked the studio executives of something like $5 MILLION he managed to suck in poor defenceless Ron Howard, who, with the zeal of a recent convert to a cult dragged in Hanks. I don’t want to imagine any other way of this happening because that means that the man who was once thought to be the next James Stewart of modern American cinema is, well, an idiot…

But OK, when I started this blog I signed up for not just dealing with the good but also giving a few kicks to the stuff that deserves it. And, oh-my-word does this have it coming…

So, as if you didn’t know the Da Vinci code is a psudeo-historical thriller featuring a Harvard symbology academic who helps unravel a Catholic conspiracy theory involving the covering up of the fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married and produced an heir. The church, fearing the power of the bloodline has been trying to kill the survivors off for the past thousand years, whilst the remaining carriers of the royal bloodline are defended by the Priory of Sion. Yes. I think. Now, if those preceding sentences had made you nod sagely and stroke your chin and think, ‘well quite! What an excellent idea! Finally, the revelation we’ve all been waiting for!’ Then, I suggest you report to the nearest medical facility and let the doctors know that you have been living very happily with your mouth and arse in the opposite places.

For the rest of the population who do not suffer from mouth/arse inversion then you will of course recognise that the plot is completely bonkers. The book’s success largely depended upon the writers ability to generate a plot with enough twists and some fairly obscure facts and historical theories to keep people interested. Nothing else. The characters are clichéd, the dialogue is absurd and the writing is HORRIBLE. There are, frankly, far too many sentences I could quote but for a good overview of what Dan Brown considers a publishable sentence please read the article below, written by the excellent Tom Chivers. (@TomChivers on Twitter)

Yet, the book sold by the truck load and thus, the movie studio came a-calling…

So, here’s the question – will poor source material be rescued by excellent adaptation? Can the great Ron Howard rescue this??

NO. Not even close. This is not a terrible film, nor a terrible adaptation, it is just hugely, massively mediocre. But before I nail the coffin lid down on this one, let’s get the positives out of the way.Don’t worry, it won’t take long.

– Tom Hanks is Robert Langdon. He’s OK. Hampered by a poor script and a character arc that sees him go from being the history academic accusing another character of twisting facts to suit his weird theories to being the man who FINDS THE HOLY GRAIL!

– Ian McKellen and Jean Russo are the main supporting characters and are both woefully too good to be in this film. All Russo has to do is glower and speak French and McKellen camps his way through his villain scenes, clearly enjoying himself. I just hope that they both managed to put in really nice swimming pools on their third house.

– It looks nice.

That is really about all I can think of.

I’m going to try to keep the rest of this review short so I will be glossing over some of the sins of this film…

Firstly, the script. Dan Brown is a frankly awful writer of dialogue and an awful literary stylist. All the scriptwriter had to do is to take the plot, (the one good thing about this book) and brush up on the conversation. Still, the film struggles to string together a sequence where characters actually sound like real people. Either the dialogue is short and slightly odd, or the film swings far too far the other way. There are at least two ten to fifteen minute scenes where all that happens is that characters explain some odd historical theories. The plot doesn’t move forward, characters aren’t developed, the movie pauses for a conspiracy theory lecture. Yes, they sprinkle in some nice CGI, (except for one staggeringly pointless use of it where the two leads walk into Westminster Abby) but these scenes are mind-blowingly dull, to the point where I’m relieved that Paul Betney tries to shoot someone!

Ah, Paul. A great British actor but he really is one of the worst things about this film. Not through any fault of his own but thanks to one simple truth. Paul Betney is not scary. At all. He’s dashing, charming and British but here he plays an albino monk with an accent from, I think, Spain. As a villain he isn’t bad, but I am just not scared of him. At one point the film has him chasing down the two main characters, in a Renault! FLEE! FLEE THE COMING OF THE MONK IN A RENAULT! No wonder Hanks and Tatou aren’t scared of him – so how are we supposed to be?

As I’ve already mentioned here the pacing is inconsistent and the film makes the strange choice to re-order certain films from the book. For example Sophie Nevau tells Robert Langdon mid-way through the book why exactly she hasn’t spoken to her grandfather – the scene serves to explain her as a character and the slightly seedy nature of the Priory that her grandfather leads. The film does not do this to the end. Where it serves NO POINT AT ALL! ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!

To be honest this is the main problem with the film as an adaptation – the choices made by the screen writer and editor are all the wrong ones! The scenes that slow down the book in places are turned into glacially placed exposition scenes in the movie. The characters are barely characterised and have all the depth of a cardboard cutout. If they had tightened the dialogue and simplified the narrative this could have been an interesting historical thriller, that, (crucially) would have been about thirty minutes shorter. Instead the film smacks of a desire to make a quick buck. I really feel that the people behind thought this would be a quick cash in and they just refused to engage in how to adapt this book properly. To call this film adaptation half-assed is to greatly over-estimate the amount of ass used in this adaptation.

If I can draw anything positive out of this, the lesson seems to be that to adapt something is not something you can do half way. To adapt is a process that requires an understanding of two completely different mediums. It’s something that takes time and a desire to do something special. What it doesn’t take is a desire to make a quick buck from a book that is so horribly written it contaminates everything it touches. To sum up, I think I can leave the last word to the great Stephen Fry, in all of its forms the Da Vinci code is just “arse gravy of the worst kind.”

So thanks for that Mr. Fry. I haven’t even covered the way this is offence to Christians, historians or people who like good writing!


PS: I do feel sorry for Tom Hanks – next time someone offers you something that feels too good to be true, Tom, JUST SAY NO!