The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic.
Director Pete Travis (known for Vantage Point and Endgame) brings his interpretation of the comic book character Judge Dredd to screens with Dredd 3D starring Karl Urban in the lead role. Dredd of course is the character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra and appears in the british science fiction publication 2000 AD where he first appeared in 1977, and has since become the magazine’s longest running character.
Dredd 3D was brought to screens on a production budget of approximately $45 million, an ambitious proposal given the setting and action heavy character. However in Dredd 3D Travis has delivered a tight, unforgiving and entertaining film which successfully delivers a very specific experience.
Set against the desolate urban landscape of Mega City One, Dredd 3D successfully lays the groundwork for the background within which its somewhat insular story takes place. After giving context to the setting the film quickly drills down into the detail of what is about to unfold.
Setting aide sprawling landscapes filled with city wide epidemics and extravagant set pieces, Dredd 3D delivers a tight, claustrophobic, action heavy experience intermingled with stylistic slow-mo moments that are not just superficial eye candy but are organic to the plot. The setup is straight forward, and the overall story is simple, allowing the film to focus on mounting suspense, and a grounded series of gun heavy action scenes delivered with a hard hitting level of brutality that complements Dredd’s unforgiving black and white perspective of the world.
Dredd 3D holds little back, remaining true to the violent nature of the characters occupying the screen the action in the film is both gritty, brutal and high impact. It acts as a vehicle for driving events forward but it is within the action sequences and the characterisation of Dredd that the film shines.
Urban’s take on Dredd is pitch perfect, his harsh grimace is unwavering, and to the films benefit Dredd is not dissected, fleshed out, put on display for the audience to explore or gain an understanding of through an origin story told by flashbacks or otherwise. In fact this film merely plays as a chapter in his war on crime, he is kept virtually faceless (in both the physical and metaphorical sense), yet the film still manages to articulate his uncompromising sense of justice in a fashion that doesn’t leave the film with a sense of some important piece of information missing.
With a central character that undergoes little in terms of a character arc throughout the film, more reliance is placed on Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson for any sense of character progression. The Anderson character plays incredibly well as a contrast to Dredd, her temperament and deep empathy portrayed in the film implies a greater sense of burden than what Dredd endures which adds an interesting angle to the pair.
To complement the dark tone of the film, a satisfyingly dark colour palette also dominates, with a thick film grain and practical grimy sets that add to the gritty, worn out industrial look and feel of Mega City One. In the visual effects department Dredd uses its budget where it needs to, the wide shots of the city, the high octane fire fights, but does so sparingly so that the pacing of action is maintained beginning to end.
Similarly Travis exhibits an excellent balance with the use of 3D, not over saturating any scenes with meaningless and excessive 3D use, but using it to complement various shots that make good use of the 3D effect. Effective 3D use has been elusive in many 3D releases this year so it’s nice to see it’s use managed so well here.
Dredd 3D effectively delivers a fairly specific experience and is certainly not going to be for everyone, however the film fulfils its promises, here we have a violent, uncompromising and brutal take on the character of Judge Dredd, with solid performances and visual effects that know the constraints within which they are forced to operate.
Dredd 3D proves that you don’t need a cast of expensive high profile actors and an out of this world production budget to faithfully bring a central character out of its source material to the big screen.
I’m giving Dredd 3D 8 out of 10 stars, it’s in cinemas across Australia right now.