Judge Dredd (1995) Vs Dredd (2012)

If ever there were two films which epitomised how to create complete polar opposite versions of the same comic book character, then these two portrayals of the 2000 AD Comics character Judge Dredd are them. They are as far away from each other in tone and style than say Batman Forever (1995) is from the The Dark Knight (2008), although these are the only two movies currently covering the iconic character of law enforcement, while Batman has of course been recreated for the silver screen around a dozen times and counting.

For those not up to speed with the premise, the year is 2139 and America has transformed into a poisonous scorched desert known as The Cursed Earth. The surviving population of around 200 million have all banded together to live in Mega Cities, where roving bands of street savages create uncontrollable violence, and law and order has collapsed. From the decay of Mega City One rises a new society ruled by an elite force with the power to dispense both justice and punishment. They were the police, jury and executioner rolled into one. They were the judges, and the most feared and revered of all was … Judge Dredd!

Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) was the first actor to bring the character to life in the little known director Danny Cannon’s (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer) version of the future dystopian world. And Judge Dredd (1995) has not aged well. Even at the time it was widely panned on its release, as it fell into the trap of other comic book / video game adaptations of the era, such as Street Fighter (1994) or Barbwire (1996), that were over the top, incredibly clichéd and poorly executed. You can clearly see the influence of quality Sci-Fi / Action films from the 80’s and 90’s trying to come to the surface, such as Robocop (1987) which itself had been hugely inspired by the Judge Dredd comics, or Stallone’s earlier hit Demolition Man (1993). But something seems to have gone terribly wrong during the film making process here.

This is evident from the very moment Stallone rolls into the middle of the chaotic intro scene, wearing a ridiculously camp costume with gold shoulder pads and cod piece armour, delivering a number cheesy crime & punishment orientated one liners. The differing visions of director and star reportedly clashed throughout the production, and Stallone certainly had a hell of lot more clout and was always going to win that battle. Cannon who allegedly was not invited back on set for post production reshoots, states the final product differed vastly from the original script due to Stallone’s ego and constant tampering.

The directors vision of the screenplay was to create a dark, satirical sci-fi comic book movie, while Stallone believed a comedy/action film would be the bigger hit, perhaps influenced by the success of his rival Arnold Schwarzenegger with movies such as Kindergarton Cop (1990) and Last Action Hero (1993). However the source material has to be right of course and the darker tone of the comics and graphic novels were sidelined. And while an established director such as Paul Verhoeven (Robocop / Total Recall) would no doubt have had the respect to have managed Stallone and impose his own vision and that of the original script, this clearly was not the case here.

In fact Schwarzenegger himself was originally attached to the film prior to Stallone, and you could imagine how great this may have turned out with him and perhaps Verhoeven at the helm, following their success with Total Recall (1990). That’s not to say that Stallone could not have got this right, I mean this is the guy that wrote and directed the Oscar winning Rocky (1977), however we all have a bad day at the office once in a while. And it’s fair to see he was way of the mark here, helping to create a hammy Action / Sci-Fi movie both in terms of script, costume / set designs, and overall visual cinematography with some spectacularly dodgy special effects, which proved very difficult to be taken seriously in the genre,

The story of the movie revolves around the escape of a highly dangerous criminal called Rico (Armand Assante – The Mambo Kings), a rogue ex Judge who took to killing innocent people rather than delivering justice. He has a vendetta against Dredd, who was the Judge that brought him down leading to his incarceration. Once he is free he acts out his revenge by setting up and framing Dredd for murder, who is sentenced to life imprisonment and the prospect of being up locked up with many killer rogues and fiends he’d sentenced himself. However his need to fight for survival is accelerated as the prison transporter is ambushed en route to the penal colony, and he is captured along with petty criminal Fergie (Rob Schneider – The Animal) by a mutant gang of cannibal desert dwellers.

From here he needs to escape and uncover the truth behind his frame, which sees him uncover a conspiracy and corruption within the force, while he also learns some surprising facts about his own existence in the process, prior to a final showdown with Rico. On paper despite being somewhat of a clichéd storyline, it all sounds great, and if the original vision of the director had been one of a darker film, closer in style perhaps to Tim Burton’s vision of Batman (1989) rather than Joel Schmacher’s Batman and Robin (1997), then they might have just been pulled it off.

Stallone’s version of the character also created the ultimate sin as far as many fans of the character were concerned, in that after his set up and for the majority of the movie, the role is played without him wearing the iconic helmet, which is the ultimate identity of the character and who’s face was never shown in the comic books. I mean imagine if Darth Vader removed his helmet during A New Hope and stayed that way through The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi !? Ok we shouldn’t really be comparing Judge Dredd with Star Wars in all honesty, but you get the idea … it apparently pissed off a LOT of diehard fans of the character back in the day.

The movie quickly turns into a bizarre Stallone action fest in a Mad Max / Escape From New York kind of style, but without the style. And the ‘comic’ relief provided by Schneider’s character is massively misjudged. Also misjudged was R rating of the movie in the US (age 15 in the UK), when the dumbing down of the material would clearly have benefited from the film being classified a PG13 as per Stallone’s intention to bring in a younger audience. This certainly did not help the launch of the movie which reportedly cost around $90m to create, and pulled in just $12m on its opening cinema weekend.

John Wagner the creator of the comic books had gone on record stating that he did recognise the Stallone portrayal as that of his character, and that the film was a mess in that it tried to do too much and told the wrong story. Although he has also gone on record as praising the production and budget, no doubt as he cashed the large cheque, that would have come with the creation of the original cinematic version of his creation.

Rolling forward 17 years and it appeared we were returning to Mega City One and getting the sequel to a movie that no one asked for. However Dredd (2012) was to be a completely different animal altogether, and a welcome one at that. Maybe buoyed the success of Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman Begins (2005) which had rewritten the rule book for what was possible with comic book movies, and had all but erased the memory of just how bad the Schmacher Batman films were stylistically. It appeared the ideal opportunity timing wise to reimagine and reinvent the character’s portrayal.

Directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point) with a screenplay by Alex Garland (The Beach) and starring Karl Urban (Star Trek / The Boys), straight off the bat the intro paints a dark and bleak picture of what’s to come. Setting up Mega City One as ‘The Cursed City’, an unbroken concrete jungle stretching from Boston to Washington DC, and where ordinary citizens live in fear of the streets, which are overrun with violent gangs. We join Dredd on any given day at work in the city, following leads and tailing criminals. He is tasked with taking rookie recruit Anderson (Olivia Thirlby – Red Knot) out to shadow him and so he can asses her credibility to become a judge. She marginally failed her entry exam but is a mutant human with psychic abilities, and his superiors are keen for her to join the team, who appear to be in a losing battle for the soul of the city.

A powerful new psychedelic drug that slows down time for its users is flooding the streets, and the gangster controlling production and distribution across Mega City One is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey – Game Of Thrones). Dredd and Anderson are called to to the mega block she inhabits, after a couple of goons are executed by being thrown to their death, splattering onto the streets below. They soon become trapped in the building following the arrest of one of her lieutenants, and as they try to take him in for questioning Ma-Ma locks down the structure and announces her plan to execute them. It becomes apparent she will be unleashing an army of armed street soldiers against the pair who with their hostage in tow, have no choice but to move their way through the mega building, fighting for survival in a videogame esq narrative, while they hunt down their tormentor with the aim of taking her out.

The pair come to the realisation that they are in the hornets nest of Ma-Ma’s operation, and the tables are turned as their hostage manages to escape, taking Anderson and leaving Dredd to fly solo on what is now a rescue mission. This is a violent and bloody movie, homaging back to the classic horror of quality Sci-Fi / Action movies of the 1980’s such as Predator (1987) or Terminator (1984). A pure and unadulterated X Rated / 18 Certificate movie that tones down the camp element of Judge Dredd (1995), which ramps up the action taking elements from modern films such as The Raid (2011). The tone is much closer to that of the 2000AD comics and graphic novels. Dredd certainly does not fuck about when it comes to administering his justice, especially if the crime is severe enough for him to administer a death sentence, which he conducts swiftly and mercilessly, especially when he learns the Judges he had called in for back up are corrupt and on Ma-Ma’s payroll.

Judge Dredd (1995) is ultimately a messy film, all to apparently pulling in differing directions as it tried to fit the visions of both director and star, proving to be ill fated in its end product, and a definite low point in Sylvester Stallone’s career. Dredd (2012) however in comparison is stylish, full of tension and was critically acclaimed at the time, rightfully showing that a darker and violent edge was a welcome addition to the comic book genre. Although it was no box office smash hit, its execution would influence modern Action films such as John Wick (2014) and would also help influence the likes of Marvel to take a chance on introducing far darker elements and an X rating to some of their output, with movies like Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017) …. Oh and for all of the diehard fans out there and for what it’s worth … Dredd’s helmet is not removed once during the entire spectacle!


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