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In the third millennium, the world changed. Climate. Nations. All were in upheaval. The Earth transformed into a poisonous scorched desert, known as ‘The Cursed Earth.’ Millions of people crowded into a few mega cities where roving bands of street savages created violence the justice system could not control. Law as we know it collapsed. From the decay rose a new order. A society ruled by a new elite force. A force with the power to dispense both justice and punishment. They were the police, jury and executioner all in one.

Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd was released at a very strange time for comic book adaptations. Studios were still frightened by known properties, specifically superheroes. Instead, they pilfered the relative obscurity of independent comics, like The Mask, and foreign market comics, like 2000 AD, when Hollywood Pictures pilfered this particular oddity of late ‘90s action. Fans of the 2000 AD comic despised Hollywood’s cartoonish, mainstream-friendly adaptation. The reaction is warranted – Judge Dredd is a sort of nothing movie for no one in particular and it has little of the comic’s beloved ultra-violence. It’s no secret that the studio desperately wanted a PG-13 movie and there’s no question that this was not the correct approach, especially since the MPAA hit them with an R-rating anyway (word has it that the new Dredd film remedies this issue). The problem in the fan reaction is that there’s no reason a Judge Dredd movie shouldn’t be at least a little campy. The heavy use of Rob Schneider is certainly a problem and the actor is a pretty consistent comedic black hole (too much of the story is built around him for no good reason), but the Paul Verhoven-esque satire works at least half the time and there are genuinely funny phrases mixed among the heavy-handed one-liners (‘eat recycled food, it’s good for the environment and okay for you’). At the very least, it’s a funnier movie than either of the Robocop sequels. If only it had the conviction to embrace and make fun of its utter fascism, like Starship Troopers.

In retrospect, the bigger issue is that, at its base, this isn’t so much a 2000 AD adaptation as it is a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, one that specifically came at a downturn in his career. Following the disappointment of Rocky V, Stallone’s ‘90s got off to a rocky ( Rocky pun!) start with a one-two punch ( Rocky pun!) of Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Frightened by his audience’s reaction to more light-hearted comedy work, the still powerful actor returned to familiar ground with Cliffhanger, Demolition Man (his first science fiction project since Death Race 2000), and The Specialist, all of which made money and put him back in Hollywood’s good graces. Apparently spurred by success, Stallone made two films in 1995, Judge Dredd and Assassins. What’s amusing is that Assassins is largely interchangeable with The Specialist and Judge Dredd is largely interchangeable with Demolition Man. Both films ( Assassins in particular) went on to be box office disappointments, supposed proof that audiences didn’t really want more of the same. It is the fact that Judge Dredd sits in the shadow of Demolition Man (an arguably better film) that really plagues it in the long run. Sure, Stallone plays opposite sides of a futuristic dystopia/utopia in the two films, but Judge Dredd still feels like an unneeded semi-sequel, rather than a standalone product that cares at all about its source material.

Judge Dredd
In the studio’s defense, they did hire a British director for their British comic adaptation, one Danny Cannon. Cannon, who has become a very successful television producer, does his best with a sloppy, schizophrenic script (it’s curious the lengths ‘90s comic book movies went to avoid origin stories and how many of these films feel more like sequels to unmade movies). His direction isn’t particularly flashy, but his direct, economical approach makes sense of the story’s diverging elements and his action has impact. More importantly for posterity’s sake, Cannon does a good job paying homage to Ridley Scott without mindlessly aping him. The film’s special effects are particularly impressive and generally under-appreciated. I’d hazard to say the effects are comparable to the vastly more praised effects of The Fifth Element, which had the advantage of two additional years production time. Every single one of the film’s $90 million (an almost modest budget by 2012 standards) appear on-screen and much of the production design is quite fun. The cast, which also likely cost a pretty penny, is top notch, Rob Schneider aside. Diane Lane kind of sucks, but everyone else appears to know exactly what kind of movie they’re appearing in and seems to be having a fun time, with Armand Assante emerging as the all-star. His ham is cut from the finest stock and I find it very hard to believe he had any voice left for years at the end of filming.

Judge Dredd

Video


Even an average 1080p transfer would be good news for fans still depressively hanging onto their old non-anamorphic DVDs, but Disney has done a nice job with this barebones release. The basic filmic look is maintained through persistent fine grain, but the name of the game here is ‘detail’ and lots of it. This is the first time I ever noticed that Stallone and Assante were wearing contacts to appear more believable as clones. I actually remember the film being more plastic-looking, but there’s plenty of grit to the production design. The general look of the film dictates that these busy, heavily textured backgrounds are usually in focus, which was definitely a problem for the old non-anamorphic DVD. Elements remain sharply separated, only occasionally turning a bit mushy during their deepest, darkest moments. The prevalent sharpness does, unfortunately, lead to quite a bit of thin edge enhancement and a few hotspots. Colour quality is vibrant and consistent without any major blooming or bleeding effects. The poppy effect of the Judge’s red helmets is especially nice, as is the contrasting cleanliness of the genetic clone set introduced at the end of the film. Some of the warm to cool hue transitions feature a touch of banding, but smoothness isn’t really a part of this film’s visual make-up anyway.

Judge Dredd

Audio


This new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a very impressive sampling of mid-90s digital surround excess. The film opens with a very aggressive, very loud block war sequence that features all manner of crashing glass, exploding mortar, flying bullets, and, of course, the Judge’s big, noisy motorcycle. From here, the noise never really lets up as Dredd’s wacky weaponry is pretty constantly firing throughout the channels and throbbing the LFE (which also gets a nice boost from the groan of the ABC robot’s voice). Dialogue-heavy sequences don’t feature quite as much ambient sound as we’ve come to expect from newer blockbuster releases, but the action work is never less than massive. Sometimes, the loudness of the action sequences leads to a bit of aural wash and minor distortion, but dialogue is rarely lost in chaos, nor is Alan Silvestri’s better-than-this-movie-deserves score. The music is simply massive on the track – big, brassy, and well-supported by multiple channels.

Extras


The brief extras include Stallone’s Law: The Making of Judge Dredd (20:00, SD), a vintage EPK featurette featuring behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews, and a trailer.

Judge Dredd

Overall


Judge Dredd hasn’t magically become a good film in the past 17 years, but its minor charms have grown a bit. It’s actually pretty entertaining and, according to early word on the new 2000 AD movie adaptation, is good enough that perhaps the comic’s fans can let this one go too. Disney kind of shoved this release out the door without much in the way of pageantry, but they didn’t skimp in the A/V department – this is a very good-looking and good-sounding barebones release.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative o the Blu-ray image quality.


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