Brief thoughts on Dredd (2012)

Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd: rough, gritty, street veteran, jaw over-extended, helmet tightly-fastened.

Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson: delicate, pretty, psychic, street noob, caring and helmetless.

Dredd works well by showing the contrast between the two. Dredd towers over perps, all tight lips and dark designer stubble*, while Anderson looks up, young and naive, learning from Dredd (whose tactic seems to be ‘shoot everyone’s face off’).

*What’s the shaving protocol at the Grand Hall of Justice? One of those corrupt judges was rocking the stubble too.

I was initially wary of Lena Headey being cast as the main villain. I thought Dredd’s physical presence would need an atagonist of similar type, someone beefy for him to throw down with come the finale. But the film never gets overly masculine—Anderson was more important than I expected her to be. As a result, Headey’s Ma-Ma is perfectly suitable to be the end of level boss.

This film follows an unusual structure, in that Dredd and Anderson arrive at Peach Trees, the tower block where the action takes place, very quickly. For all that’s made of the size of Mega City One, we see little of it, except for Dredd’s early chase of some perps, and airborne establishing shots. When the Judges quickly arrest Avon Barksdale and go to leave the block, I wondered what reason they would be given to return, because surely they weren’t going to be staying here? Yet this quick movement through the story keeps the film at an efficient 95 minutes, a minimalism which should—particularly nowadays—be celebrated.

There’s a lot of grimy darkness (which mocks Blu-Ray’s High Definition), but the stylish moments of Dredd are over-saturated, another nice contrast. There, the colours jump out (think Man on Fire), making the dark moments seem that blacker.

Some random points:

  • Why would gangs in a tower block have mounted machine guns? The gangs have battled for floors above and beneath. Would a weapon that can only really rotate on a horizontal axis be much help?
  • I saw a few fairly overt references to Dredd/2000AD. ‘Drokk’ written on the back of a jacket, ‘Chopper’ spray-painted on a wall. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of the comics, I hope there are more obscure references in there I haven’t spotted yet.
  • Many actresses could’ve ruined the Anderson role, by taking her psychic abilities as reason to make her kooky. Olivia Thirlby should be commended for not making Anderson flighty and annoying,

Unconnected with the film: I once had an idea for a Judge Dredd/Aliens crossover story. As Mega-City One is walled, I thought I could invoke a feeling of claustrophobia, the citizens being trapped inside with the zenomorphs. Then I found a flaw with that idea, which I was reminded of when watching this film. Mega-City One, being a Mega-City, is huge. It stretches from Boston to Washington. It doesn’t really matter if your victims are trapped inside it or not, if the city is so big they could run for days and never reach a wall.

 Watch Dredd. Also, The Raid.

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