If you're one of the few thousand people who dragged themselves to the theatre to see the new Dredd 3D and loved it as much as CB's own Paul Brian McCoy, you may be tempted to pick up the new Blu-ray release of the first movie that featured Britain's greatest action hero, 1995 Dredd. Do yourself a favor. Save your money and run far away from this turkey.
The Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd is a terrible movie. It's bad on nearly every level. The action is stupid, the special effects are horribly dated even by 1995 standards, the plot actively undercuts the integrity of the main characters, the acting is uniformly bad, Rob Schneider's character is really fucking annoying, and, oh yeah, the Judges all wear an absurd codpiece in their Gianni Versace-designed costumes.
But the settings are pretty damn awesome. Mega-City One looks freaking incredible; this movie presents the best set design this side of the classic Blade Runner.
Too bad the movie that surrounds these sets is a heaping turd of a flick.
See, it's really important to not undercut your own heroes when you create a movie about them. One of the coolest things about the world of Judge Dredd is the whole complicated world of the Judges in Mega-City One and the way that they deal with the world. The whole organization is complicated and sophisticated and a surprisingly complicated satirical take on fascism, power and police powers.
But Judge Dredd the Stallone movie subverts that whole concept in many, many ways.
For one thing, part of the power of Dredd comes from the fact that we never see his face, that the real story of Dredd is a complete mystery to viewers. We don't know him at all, so when Judge Dredd insists "I am the law!", he literally is the law.
But of course all movies are driven by star power. Stallone wants to have his face seen as much as possible because he's a handsome man and a movie star, too, so everyone wants to see his face. So we pretty much always see Judge Dredd without his iconic helmet, acting and reacting like Sylvester Stallone and not like the almost supernatural figure we love from the comics.
Worse, Judge Dredd is a buddy flick, as Dredd is saddled with an allegedly humorous sidekick in the form of the insufferable Rob Schneider. I'm sorry to say it to the twelve people who love Rob Schneider's comedy, but he's painful to watch even in his best movies and in this movie he's beyond awful. He doesn't just fail to be humorous, but his presence actually takes away from the scenes that he appears in. Every time Schneider appears onscreen I found myself filled with hate. I just wanted Dredd to kill this horrible asshole of a friend. Please, Sly, couldn’t you just put a laser gun through his head?
Then there's Armand Assante, chewing scenery as like a 400 pound woman at a chocolate factory. Assante's villain makes no sense in any way as part of the plot, but he certainly is full of energy and passion about his nonsensical goals. His performance is comic-booky in exactly the wrong sort of way. Undoubtedly he was coached to deliver a performance that could come straight out of 2000 A.D., but the performance is so over-the-top and painful that it's often unwatchable.
So if the acting by the three main actors in this movie is so bad (and by the way, Joan Chen as a supporting villainess is not quite as terrible as some of the other performances in this movie), then what is there to recommend it?
Not the plot, that's for sure. Maybe the worst thing about this movie is that the plot of the movie actively undercuts the Dredd character. I know it's a trope of action movies that everything has to be torn down before the hero builds them back up, but this movie goes out of its way to try to break Dredd, cast the Judges in a dark light and destroy everything that makes the world of Judge Dredd so special and unique and interesting.
How can a movie about Judge fucking Dredd even think about slapping the Judge in chains and sending him to jail? How can it be created as a morality tale when we don't care at all about the morality of the Judge and even actively undercut the Judge? What insane person would greenlight a potential tentpole movie and then destroy the very thing that makes the story so compelling?
And worse yet, the special effects in this movie are incredibly awful. The whole thing looks like it's made for about a buck ninety-eight, particularly a painfully dull chase scene filled with some of the worst back-projection so-called special effects that have ever been committed to a movie screen. It all feels so horribly dated and pathetic. Even the Roger Corman movie that I watched recently had better special effects than this barking dog of a flick.
So Judge Dredd is filled with bad acting and a terrible plot, but hey, at least the sets look good. These are some of the most interesting sci-fi sets since Blade Runner – Mega-City One looks like a really fantastic utopia/dystopia that feels vibrant and interesting and seems resonant of more interesting stories – none of which are on display in this movie.
The 1995 Judge Dredd is a mindbogglinly, braincrushingly, spirit-killing, terrible movie.
I gotta say, though, that it does look magnificent on Blu-ray DVD. The digital transfer is impeccable and every pixel of this wretched waste of celluloid is clear as the day it was spit out of the developing machine. That means that you can enjoy this turd in clarity so strong that you can almost smell it.