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!