Dredd (Movie Review)

Title: Dredd
Director: Pete Travis
Studio: DNA Films/Lionsgate
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey
Excellence: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A bomb at the box office that is destined to be a cult classic on par with Blade Runner for it's excellent portrayal of a post-apocalyptic future, good acting, and lots of good action as Judge Dredd and rookie Judge Anderson must fight their way out of the Peach Trees megablock controlled by psychopathic crime boss Ma-Ma.

This film was one of the most pleasant surprises and enjoyable viewings of all the films I've watched this year. Although I expressed cautious optimism in the summer, I was skeptical, especially after how horrifically bad Prometheus turned out to be. I really REALLY wish I'd given Prometheus a miss and seen Dredd in the cinema.

The film wisely took the approach of offering a "slice of life" of the violent, post-apocalyptic Mega City 1 rather than trying to show everything as in the Stallone film. The main premise of the film is that the Judges of the Halls of Justice (police) have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. Dredd tells the story of novice Judge Anderson's first day on the job under the supervision (and assessment) of the legendary Judge Dredd; they are trapped inside the 1 km-high Peach Trees megablock which houses 75,000 people by a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO and must fight their way out.

First: the atmosphere and fully-realized world. I always love a film with a well-developed and well-portrayed, gritty, lived-in, "maculate reality" aesthetic. It's a big part of what made Alien and Blade Runner classics, and as I alluded to in my one-sentence summary, Dredd definitely has it. Real sets, real people, and a very lived-in feel to the whole thing. It really allowed me to get "into" that world.

The plot was fast-paced and well-conceived. The right amount of levity (usually via Judge Dredd's deadpan) was inserted and the characters were all well done and interesting. The action tended to be very violent and bloody, as befits this sort of film, so be warned that it is quite brutal in parts. But it was very well-done action: nothing over-the-top, giving it more of a realistic feel, and because the characters were well-done, one cared about the outcome. The special effects were very-well done (the way SLO-MO is portrayed was great) nicely understated and blended into the scenery -- makes me wish ALL sci fi films were limited to a $40 million budget!

The acting: one doesn't always expect great performances in an action film but I thought everyone was great in this one and very convincing. I've enjoyed Mr. Urban's performances in all the films I've seen him in, including The Two Towers/Return of the King, RED, and even The Chronicles of Riddick, but I must say he's now one of my favourite actors. His portrayal of Dredd was absolutely perfect and really made the film. Olivia Thirlby did a great job as a young/frightened novice judge who really comes into her own through the crucible of the Peach Trees megablock. One wonders if Lena Headey isn't actual an evil psychopathic woman given her excellence in the role of Ma-Ma and her reportedly spot-on portrayal of Queen Cersei in the Game of Thrones TV series.

It should be noted, however, that this is a film STRICTLY more mature adults, and adults who are not sensitive to violence, foul language and some suggestive content. According to kids-in-mind.com, the "F-bomb" is dropped 47 times and there is 1 "religious exclamation". The violence is fairly intense in parts and quite "no holds barred", although I would think one would expect that for a post-apocalyptic film taking place in a violent, crime-ridden city. The sexual content may disturb some, although I consider myself pretty strict on that score, and was not troubled by it (certainly not titillated given the context). The worst is a very brief soft-focus shot depicting a criminal's imagining having sex with the rookie female judge and you can see bare breasts, buttocks and legs (sort of, given the soft focus).

Overall, I thought this a fine, fine film. The most enjoyable new science fiction film I've experienced since Serenity way back in 2005. Like Serenity, it did quite poorly at the box office and I can't fathom why, aside from poor marketing.


Sophia's Favorite said...

Serenity did poorly because it was the confusing ending to a story nobody saw. It was also emotional abuse ("I kill off these characters just to show you that you love them") and an Idiot Plot ("here, senator with a head full of state secrets, tour a facility full of telepaths"), but since when have those ever hurt a movie?

Dredd did poorly because it was a remake of a movie that didn't do well the first time, and its main selling point was "This one is more like the original British indy comic", which ain't exactly box-office catnip.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

As I wrote, poor marketing. They should have marketed it more as a mid-budget sci-fi/action film without linking it too closely to the comic (although with fans you play-up its faithfulness to the original comic).

As for Serenity, I thought the killing-off of characters worked to heighten the sense that they might not actually make it through the final battle. It made for more suspense, in my view. As you say, idiot plots never hurt box office earnings. There are lots of successful films with much more problematic plots. I personally don't think Serenity's plot counts as an idiot plot. Stuff like that does happen. I could see some senator full of hubris wanting to check the psychic out.

Sophia's Favorite said...

How about that the Alliance's mind-control drug testing appears to have two stages, "drawing board" and "full-scale field trial"? We test dietary supplements rigorously enough to catch the "occasionally becomes a Reaver" side effect. Drug tests involve thousands of subjects before you ever get to field trials; since 1% of subjects become Reavers, that means they'd have more than 10 cases of Reaver-ness. Also they would at least catch the catatonia that happens to 99% of subjects, if they did so much as one lab test.

And even if the senator would be allowed to tour that facility (apparently the staff don't have a protection against telepathy, or don't feel like sharing it?), there's still the issue of giving their telepaths super-soldier training. It is never a good idea to have super-soldiers, or any kind of special forces, who can read their commanders' minds. Sometimes you have to use those people for double-blinds ("To deceive the enemy, first deceive your friend"—The Art of War), and double-blinds and telepathy don't mix.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

Going straight from "drawing board" and "full-scale field trial" with the G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate seems realistic to me. Idiotic, but this is the kind of crap that modern democracies that have nothing but disdain for their citizens do.

Just an example, Canada rushed the H1N1 flu vaccine then had to withdraw it after a number of deaths. Not to mention the issues with vaccines in general where ideology clouds what little research there is and the fact that there's never been a single case of autism among Amish is ignored (yet autism is exploding among the vaccinated population). Not to mention the fact that just because something is approved doesn't mean it gets produced correctly. My wife used to work for a pharmaceutical company and she saw things being produced contrary to the process approved by the FDA.

Or another example: Genetically Modified Organisims in the food supply. They haven't even been around long enough to know what long-term effects are so obviously they weren't withheld from the market until such could be determined. What I got from Serenity was that the Pax worked fine for quite a while and only later the side-effects started up.

Or I could definitely see clinical tests being covered up or "interpreted" in a way that it satisfies the higher-ups, then dumping the stuff into the terraforming processors. So if it's "idiot plot", it's consistent with how the idiots in real-life governments behave.

Same with psychic super soldiers. Just because it isn't a great idea doesn't mean someone wouldn't try it. Incompetency is nearly synonymous with military history.

Sophia's Favorite said...

The study purporting to link vaccination to autism—the only one, compared to several studies demonstrating there is no link—has not only been disproven, the guy behind it has been shown to have faked his data. Of his 12 test subjects, 5 already had autism symptoms, but he covered that fact up.

And personally, speaking as someone whose mother has had several autistic and autism-spectrum students, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer children be autistic than that they die of measles. Which is what started happening after that anti-vaccination conspiracy theory started spreading.

As for the Amish.

Aside from the fact all GM crops do, in fact, have to pass the same food-safety standards as other food, there really can't be risk-factors in GM food. We're not engineering unknown glandular secretions, we're changing things like frost resistance. (Ironically, most of the people who fear GM food also advocate herbal supplements—many of which contain the many unanalyzed ingredients of their parent plants, causing highly unpredictable side-effects.)

Speaking of GM food, long before we ever even knew genes existed, we genetically modified wheat—the old fashioned way, by selective breeding—to the point where it has different chromosomes. We caused speciation, there is no greater modification possible to an organism's genes.

Sophia's Favorite said...

Oh yeah, as for real-life governments doing those things (the H1N1 thing happened because there was a pandemic-panic on, there was no such panic when Pax was deployed in Serenity), writers aren't allowed to make that excuse.

Real criminals leave behind monogrammed handkerchiefs and check their Facebook from their victims' computers. But if a cop-show uses that plot, it damn well better be a farce, or the studio will be burned to the ground by an angry mob.

Anonymous said...

After listening to your glowing recommendation of the film Dredd, I watched it and I must say that I am appalled. I am appalled that you would use a Catholic radio forum to promote the viewing of a motion picture that is clearly offensive to God. Let me explain, in brief, why this film is troublesome.

The only time God is referred to in this entire film is to take his name in vain, by someone using it in a curse. This, of course, is a violation of the 2nd Commandment – “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” On this score alone, I don’t understand how any Catholic could recommend this film. But there are more problems.

The scene in which the prisoner lusts after his female judge, Judge Anderson, and the consequent showing of her naked body is a clear occasion of sin against the 6th Commandment. (A scene, by the way, that had no bearing on the story; just the devil extracting his usual dues from his dutiful Hollywood elitists.) Are you unaware of the fact, Mr. Wansbutter, that due to the effects of original sin that man is inclined to lust? Are you unaware of the fact that many of the Fathers of the Church taught that more souls go to Hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason? A fact confirmed, by no less a personage, than Our Lady of Fatima herself. Do you not know, Mr. Wansbutter, that to show a naked female body in a sexual manner is a proximate occasion of sin for the average man? And that he who “looks upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart”?

Are you also unaware of the fact, that if someone watched this film at your recommendation, and consequently committed a sin, that you are partially responsible for this sin? That you are a partaker in his sin insofar as you encouraged him to put himself into a proximate occasion of sin? Man, where is your moral compass?

I could give you other reasons why Catholics should not watch this movie, but they are lesser concerns compared to the two given above.

I remember you stating on one of your radio programs that you were an admirer of the medieval Catholicism. As someone who has given some study to medieval Catholicism, let me assure you that in that era the Church would have condemned this movie and forbad any Catholic from watching it. And you, Mr. Wansbutter, would have been summoned before a tribunal to account for publicly promoting something that is offensive to God and a danger to good morals.

I say this without any animosity - but you will be summoned before the tribunal of God on the day of your death, and you will have to give an accounting to your JUDGE for publicly promoting something that is offensive to Him and a danger to the good morals of others. You don’t want to have to do that.

I’ve listened to some of your radio broadcasts and you strike me as being a decent man who is trying to do his best to live a God-centered life, but I just can’t believe that you gave this film a serious Catholic consideration before promoting it.

For the love of your soul and for the souls of others, I hope and pray that you will withdraw your recommendation of this film.

Thank you.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss "Anonymous":

Thank you for taking the time to write, although frankly, it would have been much better to follow the old Catholic rule to "praise in public, chastise in private". I would certainly be happier to not be excoriated and humiliated publicly (by someone hiding behind anonymity, no less) even if I am wrong.

My view of the things you mention in your post is that, for myself, they were no worse than what one sees on a daily basis on billboards or certainly if one attends the mall. I personally found the scene in For Greater Glory where the women are hiding bullets for the Cristeros inside their clothing more provocative than the soft-focus, less than a second shot depicting the criminal's lustful fantasy (which was just mildly disgusting to me, not titillating at all). So while I see what you are saying, I think there is a distinction to be made between our time and the Middle Ages. That said, I am seeking a "second opinion" from a trusted friend. If my friend agrees with you I'll have no problem taking down my review and deleting the podcast.

In future I ask you to consider doing myself or others the courtesy of pointing out faults via a private email. It is much less embarrassing, more fruitful (the receiver of the chastisement will be more open to it), and less scandalous to non-Catholics who are spared seeing Catholic tear each other to ribbons in public. If you truly mean someone no animosity, this is a good way to go.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Wansbutter,

I thought that you had the option of publishing or of not publishing posts. Had I known that you did not have that option, I would have simply asked for your email address. My apologies. I did look for an email address on your site before I wrote my post, but I didn’t see any, which was why I chose the post option. If you email address is there, it simply escaped my notice.

I have a few comments to your last post, but I will refrain from doing so per your request. If you wish to hear them, then please provide your email address and I will write you privately.

Thank you for reconsidering your position.

Again, my apologies.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...


Once I receive your email I will likely delete our exchange above. Thank you for agreeing to discuss in private.

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