Dredd's brutal world

22:58, Oct 14 2012

It was always going to be hard to rescue Judge Dredd from the twisted wreckage of the Sylvester Stallone version.

But Dredd 3D does a pretty good job of a very hard task. Judge Dredd is not the easiest character to pull off. He is a strange, unsympathetic antihero born from an anarchic and satirical comic book that was a distinctive product of 1980s Britain.

Judge Dredd took some of the political ideas of the 80s to their absolute extreme and also played on fears of the Cold War turning very hot indeed. Mega City One, where Judge Dredd rules, is built on the scorched remains of America after a devastating nuclear attack. 

So you are faced with two difficult challenges when bringing Dredd back to the big screen. How do you make the audience care for a faceless, violent fascist and how do you make the 1980s subtext of Judge Dredd relevant for a modern audience?

Well, Dredd 3D largely sidesteps the fear of nuclear apocalypse and instead plays on the general trend for dystopia in modern movies. Mega City One may have been born of fear of the bomb and the political ideas of Margaret Thatcher, but it can easily be adopted to modern fears of social breakdown, environmental degradation and economic collapse.

Mega City One is beautifully realised. It feels very real indeed, just a few notches up from some of the worst parts of some of the worst cities in the world today. It feels heavily influenced by District 9 and Children of Men - which portrayed the future by subtly altering the present day. Children of Men in 2006 and District 9 three years later both reshaped the way the future looks in movies. They both portray a future that isn't going to be all shiny and flying cars, it's going to be like the worst parts of today with a few new technological developments thrown in. We will still have slums, but they will populated by alien refugees.


The portrayal of Mega City One is one of the most successful parts of Dredd.

So, how do they make Judge Dredd sympathetic without letting him remove his helmet - a sin that breaks the rules of the comic strip and was violated by the Stallone version in a matter of minutes?

They just stick to the dynamics of the comic book. He is a merciless badass who brutally dispenses street justice in whatever way he sees fit. That's an appealing movie archetype that doesn't need to be fixed. Dredd is basically Dirty Harry transported to a post-apocalyptic dystopian future - taking out punks with his enormous gun and allowing the audience to enjoy a vicarious, fascist thrill.

But one of the drawbacks of Dredd is not the fault of its creators. The action takes place in a single housing block in Mega City One and bears a striking, but coincidental, resemblance to The Raid.

In fact, there has been a spate of movies set in a single housing block recently. There was Attack the Block, then The Raid and later this year Tower Block.

It is strange how ideas have their moment and spring up in different places at the same time. Dredd was in development at the same time as The Raid and the similar plot is just coincidence, but it's a shame that I had seen the idea played out in a similar way already this year.

Also, Dredd 3D lacked a crucial element from the 200AD comic strip - the political satire. For me, the closest the spirit of Judge Dredd has come to being captured on screen is Robocop.

It's the same archetype - societal collapse, crime run rampant and a super cop who acts only with his chin deciding to take out the trash.

But Robocop has the crucial element of satire - it helps that it was created in the same 1980s political climate of the Judge Dredd comic strip.

As well as the brutal dystopia and the extreme violence, Robocop has inspired moments of satire. Like this fake ad that makes the fear of nuclear annihilation funny:

If Dredd 3D had been lightened with just a pinch of satire, it would have perfectly captured the spirit of the character.

But it's a damn good try at the character that captures him as a true antihero and is uncompromising about his brutal world. I hope the film is successful enough that we will be able to explore more of Dredd's world in future films.

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