Pulled from the pages of a comic strip, Pete Travis' Dredd is the second live-action version of the material, after the Sylvester Stallone-led Judge Dredd that was released in 1995. Written by Alex Garland (Ex Machina), Dredd stars Karl Urban, in the title role, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey. In a dystopian future, Judges also serve as jury and executioner, and Urban's Judge Dredd patrols the squalor and high rises of Mega-City One in a killer metal helmet. He is joined by a new recruit, Cassandra Anderson (Thirlby), to infiltrate the Peach Trees tower and root out a vicious drug trafficker, Madeline Madrigal aka Ma-Ma (Headey), who has consumed the upper floors with her criminal empire. Slick, straightforward and entertaining, Dredd is a modern compliment to, and possibly an improvement on, the original film.
The "Judge Dredd" comics are incredibly popular in Britain, and the Stallone film, fun as it may be, did not totally satisfy comic-book fans looking for an ambitious adaptation. Travis' update lacks the heavy satire of the comics, but is otherwise an entertaining and more focused live-action version of the "Judge Dredd" universe. Urban is excellent here, and his gruff, terse delivery and physical appearance seem tailored for the Judge Dredd character. Thirlby compliments Urban without playing a dainty damsel in distress. Her psychic abilities allow her an advantage over criminals, but Anderson is more empathetic than her teacher. Headey, best known for her work on "Game of Thrones," eats up the screen as the ex-prostitute, drug addict and vicious criminal matriarch. Her crew manufactures Slo-Mo, an addictive drug that slows the user's perception of time to a fraction of normal speed. Dredd and Anderson are trapped in Peach Trees when Ma-Ma discovers them in the lobby, and they are forced to fight Ma-Ma's foot soldiers on each floor of the complex.
Shot in South Africa for less than $50 million, Dredd still disappointed at the box office. That is too bad, because this is a faithful, highly entertaining comic-book adaptation. With excellent cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and impressive production design by Mark Digby, Dredd looks more expensive than it is. The slow-motion sequences are particularly dazzling, particularly the opening car chase and a late-game dive off a balcony. These shots were accomplished by shooting on newly developed, high-speed digital cameras, and Dredd was largely filmed in native 3D. There are plenty of nods to the comics throughout, including blink-and-you'll-miss-it graffiti and character cameos, and, as in the comics, Dredd keeps his helmet on throughout.
There is graphic violence in Dredd, but it is often filmed creatively or in hypnotic slow motion. Dredd doesn't waste time creating pointless sexual tension between its hero and Anderson, and runs a lean, quickly paced 95 minutes. I particularly enjoyed Headey's Ma-Ma, and she plays this villain to the rafters without being unnecessarily campy or over-the-top. The fight sequences are well shot and believable, and the filmmakers make good use of the tight quarters to increase tension. This is one of the few movies that actually impresses in 3D. While this new 4K transfer is good, the 3D version remains my favorite, as it offers increased depth, subtle effects tricks and immersive environments. Whichever version you choose, Dredd is a strong, modern action film.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Lionsgate releases Dredd with a 4K/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer at 2.40:1 that offers subtle improvements on the 2D image from the previous Blu-ray, which is also included in this package. The film was shot digitally in 2D and 3D and mastered at 2K, so this is an upconvert to 4K. Nevertheless, the 4K version offers bolder, deeper colors thanks to a new HDR pass. Check out the opening slow-motion sequence to see the difference between the reds, yellows and blues of the color palette between 4K and Blu-ray. This is a highly detailed, gritty image, with strong fine-object detail and excellent texture. Interior shots offer abundant details in fabrics, furniture and weapons, and wide shots are deep and crystal clear. Blacks are inky, and shadow details are moderately improved here, too. There is some minor video noise, but this is an improvement on the 2D Blu-ray image. The included 3D presentation on Blu-ray is still impressive, with excellent depth and detail.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is fantastic, and very closely replicates the presentation I remember from theaters. This action-heavy film provides ample opportunity for effects panning and LFE support, and the track delivers in spades. Gunfire whizzes about the surrounds, and slow-motion sequences offer tinkling glass, dripping blood and altered speech; all of which surround the viewer. The soundtrack is weighty and appropriately integrated, and dialogue is crystal clear. The disc also includes a Dolby 2.0 English mix and both Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The packaging is not explicit on this point, but this two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, the Blu-ray with 2D and 3D transfers, and an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a black case that is wrapped in a rounded slipcover. Extras carry over from the previous Blu-ray and are found on that disc: Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of "Judge Dredd" (14:27/HD) is a retrospective about the Dredd material; Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd (15:21/HD) tackles the impressive VFX; Dredd Featurette (1:53/HD) is basically an extended trailer; Dredd's Gear (2:31/HD) discusses the costumes; The 3rd Dimension (2:00/HD) offers interviews about shooting in 3D; Welcome to Peach Trees (2:33/HD) spotlights the high-rise setting; Dredd Motion Comic Prequel (2:57/HD) gives background on Ma-Ma; and things wrap up with a Theatrical Trailer (2:30/HD).
Exciting and impressively lensed, Dredd is a great update to the material and arguably a better adaptation of the British comics than the 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone. This new 4K Ultra HD edition offers subtle upgrades in the video department and includes the previous 2D/3D Blu-ray. Recommended.