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Face-Off: Judge Dredd (1995) vs. Dredd (2012)

07.17.2014by: Dave Davis
Last week's Face-Off column was a showdown between two successful tales of survival in a world after a virus outbreak, and more of you agreed that 28 DAYS LATER provided the more satisfying post-apocalyptic thrills over I AM LEGEND.

This weekend brings the sequel THE PURGE: ANARCHY, which offers a glimpse into a future defined by its unique set of laws. And speaking of both the future and THE LAW... it has now been personified on screen twice, in 1995's JUDGE DREDD and 2012's DREDD. Both are R-rated sci-fi/action movies, but which is actually the better representation of the classic 2000AD comic character?

(Please note: Face Off is an opinion column. We're not using any actual science to prove or disprove anything. It's just for fun.)
Action legend Sylvester Stallone
Current go-to genre guy Karl Urban
Judge Hershey (Diane Lane), Chief Justice Fargo (Max Von Sydow), and annoying criminal sidekick Fergee (Rob Schneider). The inherent awesomeness of Von Sydow is sadly stifled by the endlessly obnoxious "comic relief" of Schneider
Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie Judge who has psychic powers due to genetic mutation resulting from radiation exposure. She handily assists Dredd by shooting the hell out of numerous bad guys, and survives to graduate her "test"
Rico (Armand Assante), Dredd's homicidal genetic brother, corrupt Judge Griffin (Jurgen Prochnow), scientist Ilsa Hayden (Joan Chen), and a cool hulking ABC War Robot. Plus the comic-accurate mutant Angel Family (Pa, Junior, Link and Mean Machine) encountered in the Cursed Earth
Ruthless crime boss and drug dealer Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), and her heavily armed gang of amusingly ineffective henchmen. How the hell did they manage to take over a building? (Besides, the more colorful variations of gangs would have made for a more interesting visual.)
The helmet and oversized shoulder pads are close to the comic version... but Stallone ditches them for good after 15 minutes of screentime
DREDD dialed down the cartoonish outfit for more practical body armor... and like the comic character, Urban never removes his helmet
Everyone (even out in the Cursed Earth) is familiar with the reputation of Dredd -- his name incites quivering fear or anxious bravado
Aside from the crooked Judges who show up to eliminate Dredd, for some reason nobody seems to know Mega City One's top cop (unlike the comic, where Dredd's name and presence are immediate cause for alarm among the perp population)
An overcrowded, multi-tiered high-tech metropolis filled with hovering vehicles and ubiquitous advertising
Concrete, grime and green lighting. Basically it looks like Johannesburg, South Africa with a few extra-large skyscrapers (it resembles ROBOCOP's Delta City more than the surreal futuristic Mega City One depicted in the comics)
Danny Cannon, who went on to direct I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and executive produced three "CSI" series and CW's "Nikita"
Pete Travis, whose only other feature was the thriller VANTAGE POINT (although there were reports that DREDD screenwriter Alex Garland was heavily involved in the production and that he and Travis had an "unorthodox collaboration")
$113 million worldwide (on a $90 million budget)
$45 million worldwide (on a $41 million budget)
The script provides some unfortunate one-liners for Stallone to slur, and clumsily attempts to "humanize" a character that is essentially the embodiment of fascist satire on the page
Urban (or his chin, anyway) gives his best deadpan Eastwood rasp and keeps the character's perpetual scowl, and while the script almost entirely strips the comics' satirical elements, his Dredd remains the relentless, excessively violent personification of Mega City One's law
The two DREDD movies turned out to be on equal footing in a few ways -- neither deserves any awards for their directing or storytelling, and both made back just a little more than their budgets during their theatrical runs. But as far as their success adapting the comic, they're almost two halves of one good Judge Dredd movie.

Thanks to an extensive budget and designs that realize the heightened-reality aesthetic of Mega City One, the Stallone JUDGE DREDD got just about everything right... except the lead character. Stallone was an action god in his prime, but the wrong guy for this role. The movie's attempts at satire and comedy ultimately swung too broad, and Dredd himself is almost unrecognizable from his comic counterpart, which leaves a glossy but hollow futuristic shoot-em-up.

As for DREDD, it's a half-decent sci-fi riff on DIE HARD, and the "gritty realism" might make it a rewarding action flick... just not a particularly good Judge Dredd movie, as its Mega City One bears little resemblance to the comic universe. The budgetary limitations clearly prevented any scope and confined Dredd to a single nondescript skyscraper for most of the running time, which seems like a wasted opportunity when the comic character is mostly defined by his interactions with the ludicrous citizenry and situations of the sprawling metropolis.

Urban, however, is the definitive Dredd. He just needs a bigger and better sandbox.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?



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