I know i'm in the minority with this, but I happen to really love this film.
And after finishing my last post, it got me to thinking about other Stallone films that i'd like to see redone or sequalized. Cobra is one of them, and Judge Dredd the other. Cobra i'd like to see done into a sequal. But Judge Dredd was one of those completely missed opportunities, where it could have been one of the seminal sci-fi flicks of the 90's, but ultimately didn't satisfy any fans of the comics. There was so much that was done right with this one, but a few bad choices are what ultimately sank it.
I personally still enjoy it, quite a lot actually. And there is a lot to like. Stallone cast as Judge Joseph Dredd for one. The character is just plain badass. Tall, big, tough and doesn't give a fuck about anybody or anything. He handles the law his way and you take it or leave it. This was at the height of Stallones career, where he was larger than life and hadn't yet been relegated to the Direct-to-DVD market. He plays him so over the top, so stoic and brash that he almost came out like a cartoon. And that's what was most peoples complaints. If they only knew that they actually held back so much compared to the Dredd character of the comics. His interpretation was pretty tame in comparison. And besides, who else could scream out "I Am The Law" better than Stallone with that slight slur? Nobody!
The look of this film is another. It looks great. Right from the opening credits they blare the Judge Dredd logo with pages of Judge Dredd comics (just in case you didn't know it was indeed based on a comic book) flipping behind the credits, Alan Silvestri's hard hitting and thunderous theme song pounding your ear drums, and the movie kicks into gear right from the get go. I love the look of this film. The effects are some of the best i've seen.........ever. You can quote me on that! I"m dead serious, the effects team here did an outstanding job. Mega City One looks simply amazing, whether it be the breathtaking, sweeping city skyline or the dark, crime ridden and gritty underbelly below, it just all looks amazing. I just wish they had put as much work into the script as they did with the effects, but i'll get to that later. The costume design work by Emma Porteus and production design by Nigel Phelps is outstanding, just simply outstanding. Everything from Dredd's outfit, to his Lawgiver, to his Motorcycle were all done perfectly. Director Danny Cannon's visual style worked perfectly here, especially if you consider this was his first big budget film. All in all, this is a really great looking sci-fi action flick. Oh! And that fucking robot! All done completely with animatronics and not one bit of CGI and looks cool as hell. And for all of these reasons, I can watch it over and over as i often do.
First, the story:
In the year 2139, crime has completely taken over Mega City One, with the justice system powerless to control it. In this time, there was a new breed of officers called Judges. They were given the power of judge, jury and executioner with Judge Dredd being the most celebrated and most powerful Judge. Judge Dredd is framed for murder and sent to prison, (a bad move on the script writers part) where he ultimately has to escape so he can clear his name. And that's what this movie basically becomes, a "chase movie". He ends up finding out that he was framed by his brother who he didn't even know he had, also a former judge named Rico. It has something to do with Rico working with a few other bad guys trying to create clones using Rico's DNA, which also happens to be Dredds, to take over the city and whatnot.
Now on to the bad. There are two main problems I and most other people have with this movie. Actually, lets make that three. The fact that he did "NOT" wear his helmet or judges outfit for like 90% of the movie, the casting of Rob Schneider as his sidekick (obviously for comic relief), and the R rating.
The appeal of the comics and the character in general is that he's just simply a badass don't you dare fuck with me kind of character. In his judges outfit, he exudes threatening. All you ever really see is his mouth, the rest of his head being covered with that awesome helmet. You don't even see his eyes. Why the studio, writers, producers or whoever thought that it was a good idea to not have him wear his custom for most of the movie is beyond me. I know Stallone was one of the biggest and highest paid action stars at the time, but you still know it's fucking Stallone. Did you think we would forget? It just simply amazes me that somebody thought it was a good idea to have Judge Dredd look all super cool and badass for the first 10 minutes of the movie and then take him out of his outfit for the rest of the film. THAT is my number one biggest complaint.
The casting of Rob Schneider:
One of the biggest missteps I have ever seen. I can just see the studio suits sitting there in there office, watching the daily's coming in.
Studio suit #1:"You know, this movie looks so dark and violent".
Studio suit #2:"We need something silly and funny in here to lighten the mood, and who knows, maybe it'll appeal to a broader audience?".
Studio suite#3:"Hey! What about that funny guy from Saturday Night Live?" "The one that makes those funny comments by the fax machine in those skits!" "That's hot right now isn't it?".
Unfuckingbelievable! That one stupid decision ruins the entire vibe of this movie. This is a movie about a character who kills without hesitation, who dispenses punishment without remorse, and the powers that be decide to add a wise cracking sidekick in the mix to lighten things up. Unfuckingbelievable!
The dreaded R Rating:
The MPAA (your worst enemy if you were a filmmaker back then) thought that the film was too violent and refused to give it a PG-13 rating, feeling the dreaded R was more suitable. By today's standards, it would have been given a PG-13 for sure, but back in 1995 maybe it wasn't so acceptable. And to this day, I don't know what the problem was. It's violent, but in a fun way. It's not bloody, gory or anything where you have heads, limbs and blood spraying all over the place. Though I wish it was. A lot of people get killed, but theres rarely any blood. And I say "dreaded R" because receiving an R rating pretty much guarantees to cut your audience in half, and when your target audience is teenagers, that's a deathblow. I only wish that if they knew there was no way of getting out of that R rating, why not just go all out then and bloody the thing up? It's a violent character, it's a violent comic, why not make an Ultra-Violent film? Bah!!
And who knows who is ultimately responsible for all of these bad decisions? Director Danny Cannon was a die hard Judge Dredd fan and championed for the job of directing this and was intent on making the best Judge Dredd movie he possibly could. But Stallone was one of the biggest stars in the world back then and you often hear stories about the constant butting of heads between the two over creative differences during the production. I honestly don't think they (meaning Stallone and the studio suits) knew what kind of property they had. A few changes could have turned this movie completely around, because inevitably it was a bomb. It cost $90 million dollars to make and only made a third of that, $34 million to be exact. Ouch!
All in all, this film deserves much more respect than it's gotten. If you can look past Rob Schneider's stupid character and the fact that Judge Dredd doesn't look like Judge Dredd for most of the movie, you could actually enjoy it, because it is quite entertaining.
There is good news though. There is currently a remake in the works, filming as I type this I believe, simply titled Dredd. With Karl Urban taking over the role of Judge Dredd, and vowing to fans and loyalists of the comic that Judge Dredd will never take off his helmet for the entire movie, I think we finally might have the Judge Dredd movie we've all been waiting for.