Dredd 3D (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Dredd 3D (2012)

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In this delirious age of reboots there have been few films worthy of going back to an existing intellectual property.  The likes of The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks are the chief offenders of tugging at the nostalgia strings of the public in the hope of making a buck or two.  Dredd doesn't really have any heartstrings to tug on, just the one cheesy mid '90s film with Sylvester Stallone that has become a camp classic in some circles thanks to some creative acting decisions.

The film is based on the long-running comic series that ran in the United Kingdom science-fiction magazine 2000 AD.  The Judge is the right-wing taken to the extreme.  Creatively, he grew up in the Thatcher era and his approach to justice works much the same way as her administrative style - that being, individuals with absolute authority are the vanguard into public safety.  You might call this a tad fascist, but this is the right-wing we're discussing so it's just what's "Good for the people."

Dredd has a rich history to draw from and lessons to be learned from the Stallone failure.  Unfortunately, it seems that the motto of Dredd is "Those who don't learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them."  After a darkly comic opening where Dredd's self-granted authority in apprehending suspects puts more lives at risk than it does save them, it settles into a comfortable action routine that you've seen dozens of times before.  The promise of a better piece of art gave way to basic disappointment, followed quickly by boredom, rage, and ultimately resignation that too many filmmakers decide to play it safe.

Get used to seeing this shot with various color filters and debris, you'll see it a lot.

The movie introduces Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) with little fanfare since his role in Mega City is pretty clear.  Most of America has been ravaged by nuclear attacks, so now endless cities stretch up and down the east coast with the appointed caretakers only able to respond to 6% of all crimes.  He has the authority to execute because that's what's needed to maintain some sense of order.  At this point, it might be better just to let the lunatics run the asylum, but that's an idea that's a bit beyond the grasp of what I saw with Dredd.

Again, the opening sequence is the most promising.  Dredd is in pursuit of a trio of stoned criminals and decides that the safest way to dispatch them is to blow out their tires and send their vehicle careening into a mall.  He takes his role as self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner seriously and executes the surviving criminal just in time for the mall Roomba to clean up the blood of all the victims.  A voice overhead cheerfully announces "The mall will reopen in thirty minutes."  Watching the barely functioning robots make a clean environment for the shoppers by carting away body parts was darkly hilarious, and gave me hope for a movie that didn't happen.

After that opening case, Dredd is assigned to give an evaluation to a new Judge and she picks the case that they decide to work.  She is Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby), and your audience identification tool for the film who also happens to be a telepathic mutant who can't wear a helmet that interferes with her plot-convenient powers.  This is a gigantic screenwriting mistake and invites way too much criticism into the self-propelled logic of the film.  Putting an audience identification character into the movie is not a bad idea, especially since it's clear we're never going to see behind Dredd's mask, but this invites too many questions about why her powers turn on and off when most convenient.

The same repetitious theme applies to these slow motion shots when people do the drug "Slo-mo." There's an opportunity for more satire there, but instead we just end up with eight different nearly-endless slow motion shots.

Shortly after beginning their investigation into three murders they find themselves tangled into an old-fashioned whodunnit as well as a storm the castle scenario.  This is the perfect scenario to have a psychic around for given the close proximity of all the players, but has tons of logic issues.  Why, for example. does Dredd not take the psychic with him when he's walking into an obvious trap?  Why can she jump into the mind of a prisoner at one point but can't do the same when she's captured later?  Why is she captured at all, when it's clear early on she has a vague telepathic sense of her surroundings but can't do the same thing when her obviously armed prisoner is threatening her?  Case in point: telepathic powers are a curse or a hindrance when best implemented in films, in this case it just adds unnecessary baggage.  There is no more satire 20 minutes into the movie, just this psychic and Dredd killing folks in bland corridors.

But if I were just picking at the broad plot elements, entirely provided by the psychic since she picks the case that starts the movie, then I might be discounting what visual pleasure is wrought from the film.  There is none.  It doesn't look like it's filmed in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it looks like it's filmed in the armpit of my high school after someone decided to coat the corridors in a thick layer of dust.  The action scenes are all filmed the exact same way, with the camera slightly above Dredd's shoulder as he extends his arm out two feet to gun down pop-up targets, switching perspectives just to get the occasional shot of Dredd pointing his gun kind of at the screen.  Sometimes director Pete Travis tosses a stylistic bone and shoots the exact same action scene with a color filter, but it doesn't change the end result of genero-corridor action shooter.

Dredd is a wretched film.  It proceeds on rails with little visual invention and invites far too many questions into it's limited worldview.  The opportunity for satire in the opening scene is replaced with so many generic action sequences that the promise of something better becomes a horrible tease.  Avoid Dredd, at least the original is good for some cheesy chuckles.

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Dredd 3D (2012)

Directed by Pete Travis.
Screenplay written by Alex Garland.
Starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thurlby.

Posted by Andrew

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