or reboot? Or (shudder) sequel? That will be the question facing cinema audiences confronted by
a new, big screen Judge Dredd movie that is to be filmed in South Africa
in 2012 . . .
Most people (particularly in the States) will probably
know Judge Dredd from the 1995 movie directed by Danny Cannon, and starring
Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane, Rob Schneider, Armand Assante and Max von
Sydow. The character however has its roots in the weekly British comic
book 2000 AD, where he appeared as long ago as 1977!
Basically a one-joke character when one thinks about it,
Judge Dredd is a single-minded lawman of a distant future in which
black-clad, fascist-like police officers preside over an overpopulated
Mega-City One encompassing the U.S.’s entire East Coast. These so-called
“judges” act as on-the-spot judge, jury and sometimes even executioner.
“Twenty years, punk!” is probably the line of dialogue most often spouted
in your average Judge Dredd comic as Dredd immediately sentences
criminals he has just apprehended! “The justice system works swiftly in
the future now that they've abolished all lawyers,” as Doc tells Marty in
Back to the Future Part II. Indeed.
Power may corrupt, and absolute power may corrupt
absolutely, but in the comics Judge Dredd is basically Dirty Harry on
Overdrive, an incorruptible lawman obsessed with The Law and Justice. The
official plot synopsis of the 1995 movie swallows the official line too:
“In the Third Millennium a powerful and efficient hybrid of the police and
judicial system has given birth to group of new guardians of the law with
the power to dispense instant justice and punishment. These judges are law
enforcer, jury and executioner. One of these judges, Judge Joseph Dredd is
a living legend - six feet of armored justice with no outside interests
besides his devotion to enforcing the law.”
Why anyone would however want to make a sequel or
(bullshit Hollywood jargon coming up) “re-imagining” of Judge Dredd
is a bit of a mystery. The original film disappointed at the box office
and made a mere $113 million world-wide. Audiences who didn’t know the
character beforehand were baffled. “Considering that the movie was adapted
from comic books, the least we should expect is a juicy battle between
good and evil,” Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, “but the conflict is, in fact, a matter of fine distinctions
between shades of Fascism.”
He added: “Whenever you sit back and try to enjoy the pop wizardry of the special
effects, you catch sight of Dredd's epaulettes and think of Mussolini.”
Fans of the comics nitpicked it to death; complaining
about how the movie departed from the comics: how Dredd never removes his
helmet in the comics and how sexual relationships between judges (or
anyone else for that matter) are verboten too in the comics. (No wonder
they are so violent!)
Even the movie’s star thought the movie sucked. As
Sylvester Stallone admitted thirteen years later in an interview with
“I loved that property when I read it, because it took a
genre that I love, what you could term the 'action morality film' and made
it a bit more sophisticated. It had political overtones. It showed how if
we don't curb the way we run our judicial system, the police may end up
running our lives. It dealt with archaic governments; it dealt with
cloning and all kinds of things that could happen in the future. […] But I
[…] look back on Judge Dredd as a real
missed opportunity. […] For me it is more about wasting such great
potential there was in that idea; just think of all the opportunities
there were to do interesting stuff with the Cursed Earth scenes. It didn't
live up to what it could have been.”
(Click on images to download)
So why bother remaking a movie that did poorly at the
box office, and which even its star didn’t like?
The new movie will be produced by 2000
AD, Rebellion, and DNA Films, the production company behind
28 Days Later. “We can't give away
too many details at this point, but we’re looking forward to working with
DNA Films to bring Judge Dredd back to the big screen,” Jason Kingsley,
CEO and Creative Director for 2000 AD told the press.
The involvement of 2000 AD can only mean
one thing: that the publishers weren’t happy with the Stallone film and believe that
the property has more potential. (The same reason why Marvel basically went for
another Hulk movie last year.) But does it? Sure, any new movie
version will probably be way better than the 1995 original as long as Stallone
and Rob Schneider (in annoying sidekick comedy relief mode) stay far, far
away from the project. Judging from the recent Rambo movie Stallone
doesn’t believe he is too old at 62 to be a kick-ass action hero, but
we’ve got some news for him!
think “reboot” instead of “sequel” here, which is a good thing. But the
problem is that any new movie version will struggle with the same issues
that the 1995 version did. What works on the comics page doesn’t always
work on the big screen. How does one make audiences care about an
inherently unlikable one-dimensional character who never even removes his
helmet (no, never!) throughout an entire movie? Can you imagine a
Batman movie without the Caped
Crusader slipping into his Bruce Wayne persona at least once? Audiences
need a, er, human face to relate to. Remember how dumb all those scenes
with the talking masks (of Spider-man and Green Goblin) looked in the
first Spider-man movie? Now imagine an
entire movie like that . . .
Also, when one thinks about it, the perfect Judge
Dredd movie has already been made: the 1987
Robocop . . .
However, if Hollywood is intent on giving Judge Dredd
another shot, then we’d suggest the following: travel 20 years back in
time, hire Paul Verhoeven and let him make the movie with Arnold
Schwarzenegger as Dredd. It’d be ultra-violent and darkly humorous, and
fans will never have to cope with that whole Sylvester Stallone as “six
feet of armored justice” nonsense.
If you can’t manage the time travel thing, acquire the
rights to John Wagner’s Judge Dredd story, America. First published
in 1990, America takes the whole “future run by fascists on
silly-looking motorbikes” thing quite seriously. It is a heartfelt and
elegiac story that shows the flip side of the coin. In most Dredd
comics the judges are the heroes, but America is an earnest
examination of what it would be like to actually live in such a future
society as an ordinary citizen.
Told in flashbacks, the story is about two childhood
friends, America Jara and Bennett Beeny (who secretly has a crush on her).
Beeny grows up to become a famous singer and comedian. America however
becomes more and more disillusioned with the fascist police state run by
the judges. She becomes a pro-democracy activist and later a terrorist.
2000 AD editor David Bishop has it right when he describes Wagner’s tale
as “the best Judge Dredd story ever written.”
Sure, it shifts the
focus away from Dredd (who is a flawed background villain at best in the
story), but it is a deeply-felt emotional love story of betrayal and idealism.
Get Ridley Scott to direct it in his signature visual style and you will
have the big screen equivalent of the new
a dark, foreboding tale that will appeal to non-genre-fans too! We won’t
pay good money to see anything less ourselves! Unless you manage that time
travel stunt of course, in which case we’ll pick up the DVD later this
afternoon . . .
(The film has a budget of $50 million and will be in
3-D. Screenplay will be by novelist Alex Garland, who also wrote The
Beach, 28 Days Later and
Sunshine. Vantage Point director
Pete Travis has been hired to direct it.)
UPDATE (23/7/2010): According to the latest
reports at Comic Con actor Karl Urban, probably best known to most
audiences for playing Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the 2009
Star Trek movie, is going to play
UPDATE (7/9/2010): The movie has been named
Here's the official plot synopsis:
"Dredd takes us to the wild streets of Mega City
One, the lone oasis of quasi-civilization on Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd
(Karl Urban) is the most feared of elite Street Judges, with the power to
enforce the law, sentence offenders and execute them on the spot - if
necessary. The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and the
frenetic vision of director Peter Travis bring Dredd to life as a
futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to
the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's
revered comic strip."
Olivia Thirlby plays Cassandra Anderson, "a telepathic
rookie cop who gets mentored by Karl Urban's title character."