Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dredd Review: Beauty and Brutality

In the '80s and '90s, I only had glancing familiarity with the British sci-fi/fantasy scene. I mostly knew it from the Fighting Fantasy books, the Fiend Folio, Warhammer, and the British adventures published by TSR. To my eye, there seemed to be a punk-infused, worn-down, decadent and tragic nihilism laced through it all. I saw it in spades when I finally got my hands on some of the stuff published in 2000 AD. I saw it in Slaine, I saw it in Halo Jones. But it was Judge Dredd that seemed to be its purest expression.

The Stallone flick was, alas, more silly than anything else, an attempt to cram Dredd into the action tropes of Hollywood at the time. And while I sometimes mourn the loss of some of those tropes, Dredd wasn't made to fit them. Luckily, the new movie doesn't try.

There's a lot to love about this flick. The atmosphere is perhaps a touch too present day (thanks primarily to the costuming of the average citizens and the vehicles on the streets) but that vanishes once the Judges get stuck in, deep in a 1 kilometer tall archology, laying waste to perps and assassins. And it's exactly what the trailers promise: two Judges, cut off and alone, versus an entire building of thugs and toughs with all manner of weaponry and sadistic creativity.

Make no mistake about it: this is one of the most brutal movies I've seen in a while that was neither horror nor directed by Tarantino. Innocent passers-by and perps are smashed by speeding vehicles (leaving a blood splatter on the spiderwebbed windshield where their skull struck), mowed down by massed rotary cannon fire, set aflame, or have their faces ripped apart by bullets (shown in intimate slow-motion).

 The slow-motion is a running theme in the movie. The bad guys are selling a new drug that makes time appear to move at 1% its normal speed and makes every surface shimmer and gleam where the light hits it. The moments where we see through the eyes of those using the drug are some of the most brutal and gorgeous captured on film. And absolutely lovely in 3D. Film makers are clearly starting to get a handle on the tech. This is the second film I've seen this year that makes good use of it. And honestly, I'm not sure 3D is fully up to the promise of this film; it's going to look amazing when remastered for a full-on holographic experience.

Karl Urban joins the justly-celebrated Hugo Weaving as an actor who's willing to do what it takes to bring a character to life. Just as Weaving did in “V for Vendetta,” Urban never once reveals his face in this movie. Dredd never takes off his helmet. His relationship with the cute blonde Judge trainee is purely platonic mentorship. In fact, she's one of only two judges who are seen without helmets on.

The soundtrack is pulsing, dark, and brooding, a sort of grungy techno-beat. Imagine if you took the better parts of the Green Lantern soundtrack and, well, grunged them. It fits extremely well for Judge Dredd.

The plot is simple, but slips in a few twists, playing with our expectations, and nicely ratcheting up the tension throughout. There's nothing fancy here; the movie is a straight-forward sci-fi action flick, and never tries to be anything else.

If you're looking for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence, I can heartily recommend this movie, and I further recommend you catch this one on the big screen and in 3D.