And so to Dredd…

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In 1995, I was unfortunate enough to have been exposed to that dreary Sylvester Stallone movie, Judge Dredd. The good news was that this was in the early days of the SDDS digital sound system, and the sound system in the Sandton City cinema in which I was watching the film kept slipping out of sync – which gave me ample excuse to flee the theatre. [South African cinemas never seemed to get SDDS right, incidentally. Sad, but that’s old history now, and outside of the ambit of this discussion.]

As it appears to be with most films set in the future, Dredd 3-D’s setting is post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that the film was shot in South Africa. There are street scenes shot in downtown Johannesburg that don’t even need set-dressing, ravaged and garbage-strewn as they are…

The narrative revolves around a banned narcotic called SLO-MO that, as the name suggests, affords users a sense of slow-motion euphoria. So, if the writers are to be believed, a prohibition mentality will persist into the future.  Despite the embarrassing failure of alcohol prohibition in the States. Despite the failure of the risible “War on Drugs” that currently kills more people than it purports to save. The action happens in a huge apartment building that falls under the ‘jurisdiction’ of a drug gang (reminiscent of Hillbrow today – right, South Africans?) The deal on Dredd, in case you aren’t in on it, is that the law-enforcement officers in this future society each have the authority to act as judge, jury and executor – yet another South African parallel.

Judge Dredd and a female rookie step into this urban threat zone, which goes into immediate lock-down. Let the shooting begin! The film’s star, Karl Urban, isn’t afforded much of an opportunity to perform, given that all we see of him is his mouth and chin. Given these constraints, Urban acquits himself with dignity, and the film earns kudos for keeping its look-and-feel faithful to its “graphic novel” origins. Olivia Thirlby is smart, sassy and grittily glamorous as the new kid on the block, and the 3-D is clean and effective.  

So, I had dragged my heels going in, and emerged pleasantly surprised. Of course, they do have the added benefit of the comparison to Stallone’s dreadful original!

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