Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dredd 3D

Olivia Thirlby and Karl Urban in Dredd
 **1/2 out of ****

Dredd is an ultra-violent action-fest that I'm guessing lives up to the expectations held by most Judge Dredd comic fans. All I know about Judge Dredd, is that when the Stallone movie came out in the nineties, critics hated it and comic fans complained that the biggest sin of that movie adaptation was Dredd's mask coming off (and staying off) early in the movie. It has been explained to me that Dredd's mask never comes off in the comic -and it never does in this new film. 

For those who are unfamiliar, Dredd is set in the futuristic "Mega City One" where the remaining human population of a devastated earth lives. With such a condensed population to govern, the futuristic law functions with the efficiency of police who have permission to judge and execute. No trials. They are called Judges and are provided with heavy armor and high tech gear. Dredd, (Karl Urban) is the main character and functions as an objective enforcer without personality or bias of any kind.

Dredd is tasked with training an aspiring Judge and psychic named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). She's something of an audience surrogate since she is a very emotional character who is practicing restraint in such an ugly landscape. She perceives the thoughts of others and helps as a guide when the two wind up in a lot of danger. While visiting a two-hundred story government housing super-structure, their apprehension of a criminal with connections to a drug crime boss known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) leads to the entire building's emergency lock-down system being activated through forgery by the criminal organization. With nowhere to go for anyone in the building, Ma-Ma makes the demand over the PA system that no one leaves until the two Judges are dead.

The movie that follows is a bullet riddling stylized gore-fest and pretty impersonal. Co-screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later and Sunshine) keeps everything as interesting as it can be, but I don't see a lot of interesting potential with a character like Dredd. This is the kind of movie I could enjoy more with a group of guy friends and a lot of alcohol. Most of the action is shot well and the atmosphere makes me think of the Verhoven wannabe films of the late eighties and early nineties. Predator 2 is a good example. The chaotic violent future is there but the satire and cultural commentary isn't. 

The special effects are heavy and bold in the creation of this environment. The superstructure's magnitude is more emphasized with the hollow center than with the exterior. Residents can look all the way up to see the sky through the opening half a mile above them. This is also a movie with a terrific color pallet with the bright-colored futuristic urban ghetto environment and constant bursts of bright-red blood that I normally associate with how anime looks. It all works naturally in this film's cinematography. It is very well designed and captured in 3D as well.

This movie and it's 3D make a big deal out of the future drug, "SLO-MO" which gives it's users a euphoric perception of small amounts of time passing by very slowly. The movie's best-looking sequences show the perception of it's users. At the same time they never really explain this drug which sparked a good amount of curiosity in my mind. Is the drug lethal? How dangerous is it? How long does the high really last versus the perception of it's experience? Does the extra perception of detail to time give you an advantage in a situation that requires quick action (like in The Matrix)? We're never told. The most significant use the drug in the film, is showing how terrifying it must be to be killed by someone while using it.

I really like that this movie avoids being epically convoluted and sticks to a simplicity of a John Carpenter setup; people stuck in a place with nowhere to go. Will they see the next day? I can also appreciate the way civilians look like current day people, kids are still skateboarding and assholes are still taking pictures with their camera phones. The movie was shot in South Africa and all the exterior scenes create the feeling of a landscape of sun-baked concrete.

There is also the creative casting of talented people to be in what would normally be a meat-head kind of action flick. Urban has proved to be a very versatile actor but he doesn't really have a lot of interesting things to do besides perform complex physical movement under a heavy costume while doing a Batman voice. He's a character who doesn't evolve much but he's not supposed to. Thirlby, who I associate with independent dramas (often in New York) makes all the strengths and vulnerabilities of her character clear. My favorite in the cast is Lena Headey as Ma-Ma the strung-out evil crime boss with a big scar on her face. This is a role normally reserved for a man. Looking at a potentially beautiful face of a ruined-looking woman ordering around thugs, which makes her responsible for the movies high body count is very unsettling.

I suppose my final opinion of this film, is that it's entertaining violent trash that doesn't have much of a point and wears pretty thin near the end. But it's way better than it should be.   

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