Dredd (2012)
By: Fin H. on April 5, 2013 | Comments
Entertainment in Video | Region B | 2.40:1 | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 95 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headley
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Country: UK, USA
External Links
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If one were to place much stock in the mutterings of the internet then they would have you believe that Dredd has but one pertinent selling point: "He doesn't take his helmet off", confide the would-be cognoscenti of the worldwide web, nodding sagely. Of course, to fans of the titular comic book hardass, this is akin to declaring "At no point does he sit down in the middle of a firefight and start enthusiastically smearing his own faecal matter all over his face." Of course he doesn't: we wouldn't expect him to do any such thing. The 2012 interpretation of 2000AD's granite-jawed poster boy does, however, have a lot more going for it than that.

The story wisely treads a fairly traditional path of cops n' robbers – dunking unfamiliar audiences headfirst in the rich mythos of Mega City One and its bizarre denizens would have alienated the uninitiated without a doubt. We therefore have a simple setup in which Karl Urban's Dredd, the most feared and respected of Mega City One's Judges (future law enforcement operatives who fulfil the role of cop, judge, jury, executioner, bailiff, clerk of the court and occasional stenographer), must take out underachieving rookie Anderson for a baptism of fire/field assessment. Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby (best known for exchanging unrealistically hip lines of dialogue with Ellen Page in Juno), is far removed from the brassy, smart-mouthed character of the comic books, but provides an invaluable foil to Dredd throughout. Whilst Urban perfectly embodies the inhumanly stoic, perpetually glowering Judge Dredd, Thirlby's lip-chewing, introspective greenhorn provides a vital window of empathy for the audience. Urban manages to convey a great deal through some extremely understated and subtle inflections of voice and slight facial tics, but his role in the film is to serve as a grimly relentless angel of death for lawbreakers. Whilst an early scene involving Anderson's psychic powers hints at deeper goings-on beneath the helmet, we are never allowed to really know Dredd. The vulnerable, inexperienced Anderson offers a human aspect to which the audience can relate.

Endless comparisons have already been drawn between the plots of The Raid and Dredd, as both share the scenario template of "Protagonists enter a high-rise building, are sealed in/marked for death by the big bad and have to fight their way through floor after floor of highly motivated goons to escape." Those who have made this observation have also invariably failed to note that The Raid is a close-quarters chopsocky extravaganza and Dredd is a sci-fi action-thriller and that the films really share very little else in common. The big bad in Dredd's case is Ma-Ma: scar-faced crime matriarch and purveyor of "Slo-Mo", a drug which slows down the user's perception of the passage of time to 1% of its normal speed but apparently doesn't make you able to react any faster (it's great for splish-splashing pretty patterns in the tub, though). Ma-Ma really is a fantastic villain: the skanky creature just oozes casual malevolence and understated menace and is played fabulously by Lena Headey (vindictive bitch-queen Cersei Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones – honestly, I'm surprised the poor woman doesn't get punched in the face by complete strangers at the supermarket). Able support comes from Wood Harris (The Wire's Avon Barksdale) as Kay, Ma-Ma's lieutenant and possessor of vital information which Ma-Ma doesn't want leaving the block. Harris summons up the same pragmatic everyman with ice in his veins persona that served him so well in The Wire and comes across as a believable low-key threat with the patience of a crocodile.

Budgetary limitations make themselves apparent every so often, particularly in wide angle shots where pennies clearly did not permit the makers to replicate the psychotic Disneyland of the comic books and the Mega City One we see is a much more standard-issue grim urban dystopia. For the purposes of this film, though, it will do well enough, and it actually augments the grimy, lived-in atmosphere which permeates everything else in the film. The occasional crumb is tossed to the die-hard Dreddhead in the way of fleeting references to comic book lore (a "Chopper" graffito here, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Judge Hershey on a computer screen there…) but Dredd wisely refuses to fellate the fanbase for an hour and a half. The 1995 Stallone vehicle might perhaps have heeded this advice rather than chucking in mangled allusions to everything in the comic's grand history with all the restraint of Mean Machine Angel on 4½ (including characters from other stories).

Much has been made of the various "slo-mo" scenes in which bullets, the ground and other unyielding objects interact at greatly reduced speed with the squishy, vulnerable bodies of a few hapless individuals, and it is nice to be able to report that these are, indeed, somewhat awesome. It might have been nicer, though, if the resulting blood was not so glaringly computer-generated. A few other very minor criticisms might also be levelled at Dredd (a somewhat bog-standard "Here is our hero, here are some goons – see how our badass hero mangles them" introduction to the main character, a crooked Judge who looks disconcertingly like Tom Arnold at Comic Con…) but overall the 2012 rendering of everybody's favourite fascist transcends its fiscal restrictions to provide an extremely satisfying slice of ultraviolent futuristic action. Now, hopefully the rental revenue from this one will pave the way for further instalments with more gonzo subject matter (all rise for Judge Death…).
The Disc
The disc being reviewed is a UK import by Entertainment in Video, and in this case Dredd on blu-ray is, quite simply, a joy to behold. Picture quality (2.40:1) is absolutely superb, with a slightly saturated colour palette which adds to the hyper-real, comic book feel of the onscreen action and gives a suitably visceral edge to the numerous scenes of carnage. Sound (DT-HD Master Audio 5.1) is similarly impressive, although sometimes the John-Carpenter-goes-industrial soundtrack can be a tad overpowering if you don't feel the need to experience every bass note via your genitals. The 3D version is also featured for those with the relevant technology, which makes extremely effective use of the technique (particularly during some of the mesmerising "slo-mo" sequences).

For a movie which has been essentially 35 years in the making, the makers don't seem terribly keen to tell us a whole lot about it. A smattering of short featurettes of the kind broadcast on publicity websites leading up to the film's release each dole out an airline meal-sized serving of titbits about various subjects, but there is nothing to get one's teeth into. It is particularly infuriating to see the revered, grand old Scot who created the character, John Wagner, sit by in awkward reticence as the guy who wrote The Beach burbles animatedly on about this and that. We also have a few of those interviews with cast and crew where a cue card bearing a question appears and we cut to the interviewee answering in slightly embarrassed, stilted fashion. To not have so much as a commentary for a movie with such illustrious source material is downright criminal. So…y'know…20 years in the iso-cubes, creep. Et cetera.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Boasting an actor who fully inhabits the iconic title role, a strong grasp of the required vibe and a conspicuous absence of designer codpieces, Dredd is proof indeed that all that is required for a successful meal is the correct list of core ingredients. Spiritually closely enough aligned with its revered source material to appease the diehards but offering enough generic action to satisfy a general audience, it ably delivers the goods.

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