In 10 Words or Less
Don't fight the law
Loves: Visual feasts
Likes: Judge Dredd, Karl Urban, '80s-style quests for justice
Dislikes: Dystopian futures
Back in the late '80s/early '90s, when watching HBO, it seemed like you were never far from an action movie about someone looking to dish out some justice. Heck, Steven Segal starred in a film actually titled Out for Justice. And even if they weren't the best-constructed films (often looking as low-budget as they truly were) they were often perversely enjoyable, as the bad-asses who fought for what was right did pretty much everything the wrong way, taking down everything that stood in their path. Technically, you shouldn't be cheering for a remorseless killing machine, but that's exactly what you would do, because a) the ends justified the means, and b) they were pretty awesome in laying down the law..
Dredd is a glossier update on that genre, as it's essentially a man-on-a-mission story taken to the relatively-near future, though it features England's most iconic comic book legend, so that raises the stakes a bit. That it followed after the universally-panned (and Rob Schneider co-starring) 1995 film version of the character, featuring Sylvester Stallone frequently sans the character's traditionally-omnipresent helmet, made it even more important to fans of Judge Dredd worldwide. Expectations were probably a bit low, so when Karl Urban, his face properly obscured, exploded onto screens as the law, fans (and critics) were pleasantly surprised.
Dredd is a judge in a post-apocalyptic America, which means he acts as the police, the jury, the judge and the executioner, handing out sentences on the spot in an effort to curtail this harsh reality's never-ending crime. On this shift, he's not only out to protect and serve, he's also giving a final exam to potential judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has to prove herself worthy of the job. Unfortunately for her, their beat for Anderson's big day brings them to The Peach Trees, a 200-story slum controlled by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug-dealing psychopath, and when they take one of her men in for questioning, the two judges end up as targets, trapped in the building and fighting for their lives. Once they start blasting their way through Ma-Ma's army, there's a sense of deja vu, harkening back to The Raid, but if all you could say about this movie is it's an homage to that martial arts blow-out with more guns and less hand-to-hand, it wouldn't be so bad, because whatever The Raid did well, Dredd does better.
The thing is, it's way more than a clone-in-spirit, thanks to the creativity of director Pete Travis and his team. Throughout the film, there are numerous examples of the use of a street drug called Slo-Mo that alters the user's perception of time to make it pass at 1% of the normal rate. Using a Phantom Flex 3D camera set-up, the film makes these scenes into some of the most gorgeous examples of slow-motion seen recently. The entire film adopts a sense of hyperviolence that straddles a line between cartoonish (some of the blood splatter is so over-the-top it belongs in anime) and disturbing realism (the image of a man's head bouncing off a speeding van is a bit haunting.) Despite all the explosions and sci-fi-ish activity going on, and the fact that the film takes place in the future, everything feels rather grounded, making it easy to stay in tune with the action, which is pretty much non-stop.
Part of the reason why there's so much action is there's not a lot of story or character development, beyond the core battle between Dredd and Ma-Ma's forces. Dredd is a force of nature, Ma-Ma's crew is essentially cannon fodder and Anderson is basically the audience's stand-in, facing the horrors of this world for the first time. But story arcs are not why we're here and they certainly aren't why Dredd is here. He's got a bunch of cool weapons and he's looking for a reason to use them. Thankfully we get to watch, even when you might not expect to see it. Suffice to say, where other films might blink or cut away, Dredd stares intently, and the results are unlike pretty much anything you've ever seen.
The film arrives on one blu-ray disc, packed in a standard-width Blu-Ray keepcase inside a spot-UV-coated slipcover. The Blu-ray features an animated menu design with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (optimized for 11.1 Neo:X), English Dolby-Digital 2.0 (optimized for late-night listening) and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, English u SDH and Spanish.
The 2.40:1 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is quite nice, presenting the film's stylized look without a notable flaw. Thanks to a load of CGI and a unique comic-inspired look, the film has a sheen, though this doesn't prevent a healthy level of fine detail from shining through, along with bright, vivid color where appropriate (especially during the Slo-Mo scenes.) The clarity of the visuals probably doesn't help the realism of the many CGI blood-splatters, which almost feel like they exist separately from the rest of the film. Even so, it looks terrific.
In 3D, the movie, which was shot in stereo on Red cameras by DP Anthony Dod Mantle, using specially developed handheld cameras, is unique among 3D films, thanks to the frequent use of close-ups. You're not going to get a lot of in-your-face effects, but the separation between the foreground, mid-ground and background is particularly effective, and the subtle enhancement of depth is impressive, with the Slo-Mo scenes being spotlight example of the 3D effect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on this film is simply outstanding, delivering just the kind of aural blow-out an action film like this deserves. Pretty much every scene features some use of the surround speakers to enhance the scene, with impressive movement and placement in the soundfield, whether it's gunfire, a zooming motorcycle or a well-placed explosion. Despite all the bombast, the dialogue is equally impressive, coming off clearly in all instances. It's a truly fantastic presentation. This track is optimized for an 11.1 Neo:X set-up, but I don't know anyone with a compatible receiver or the speakers set-up for it, so I can't give you any insight on the performance. However, if you've already dropped the cash for the gear, it's unlikely you're sweating about paying for this disc. It's worth noting that the 2.0 track has been optimized for late-night viewing, so the louder moments are flattened out, letting you listen to everything at a nice legible volume without waking anyone.
There's some really nice extras included here, starting with "Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd." This 14:27 featurette covers the history of the character in comics, from his development to the stories to his look and impact. It features interviews with creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, as well as those who have been involved with the character over the years, including Matt Smith, Brian Bolland, Mark Millar, Jock and Chris Ryall. For anyone new to the character, it's a great introduction, while fans should enjoy hearing from the people behind the helmet.
"Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd 3D" (15:21) focuses on the special effects that permeate the film, looking at the theories behind the look, the concept art created during pre-production and what it took to shoot the film in 3D, with interviews with Mantle and his crew. Considering how big a part of the film the look is, this is a solid look behind the scenes.
The remainder of the featurettes are promo pieces, including "Dredd" (1:53), which is an overview of the movie, "Dredd's Gear" (2:31) an exploration of the equipment created for Dredd to use, "The 3rd Dimension" (2:00), looking at the stereo shoot, and "Welcome to Peach Trees" (2:33), covering the set design and decoration. There's good info, but they are brief and a bit too glossy.
The final content extra is a motion comic prequel to the movie (2:57), which reveals a bit of the origin of Ma-Ma. It's quick and well-made, and worth watching to get a bit more story. Beyond that, you've got the film's theatrical trailer and a bunch of other Lionsgate trailers.
Also included in this set are a digital copy of the film and an Ultraviolet stream or download.
The Bottom Line
You're not watching Dredd for a substantial story or complex characters. This is a bang-bang shoot-'em-up that's all about delivering excitement, and it does a terrific job at it. The disc looks and sounds fantastic, especially in 3D, and there's an interesting, if limited collection of extras. If you enjoy a all-out action flick. you can't go wrong with Dredd.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.