Is It Just Me... Or Is Judge Dredd Just Fine?

Stallone's version of the comic-book adaptation reappraised

When Judge Dredd was released back in 1995, it was panned. Seemingly every critic in the western world labelled it “Dredd-full,” then sat back, proud as punch with the pun like the smug gits we critics are.

And you know what? They were wrong.

Sure, you’d be unwise to hold your breath for a 20th anniversary retrospective in Sight & Sound, but here’s what the screening-room lurkers missed: as a reflection of its source material, which has now raised two generations of Brit comic book aficionados, Judge Dredd is nigh perfect.

Yes, 2000 AD readers, he does take his helmet off. Which for some – OK, many – was sacrilege. But it was the ’90s, it had to be a studio picture to get the necessary effects budget, you couldn’t secure the moolah without a big star, and there’s no way the money men would fork out for Stallone without seeing his face onscreen.

And yes, Dredd does have a snog – admittedly for less clear reasons. But what comic book arrives at the screen unmolested? Look how Zack Snyder’s Watchmen turned out.

The truth is that, while Judge Dredd was all over the place, it was an accurate reflection of the comic – because it is itself all over the place.

The nutty, unbalanced tone of the film – veering from out-and-out comedy to a dismembered Jurgen Prochnow, via Armand Assante giving one of the great scenery-munching villains of all time – has been there from Dredd’s first appearance in 1977.

Tharg’s finest son has encountered pan-dimensional superbeings and encased them in a plastic called ‘Boing!’, toured a city in Egypt where his counterparts dress like Tutankhamun visiting Studio 54, and fought an army of clones who had their base under Ayers Rock.

All wonderful, of course, but if you’re looking for coherence, this is the last place to start. If there’s anything that unites the countless storylines of the past 34 years, it’s been the more or less constant heightened, hysterical tone – today’s extremes are taken as far they can, for a stylised and – well – comic-book-y tone.

Now, nobody could argue that Judge Dredd doesn’t capture that. Turn to YouTube for exhibit one: the parody vids of Assante’s fantastic overdoing of the simple line “law” are worth a thousand tumbling kittens.

Exhibit two: the film’s realisation of Mega-City One, equal parts the edifice complex of Blade Runner, the sledgehammer gags of Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi flicks (RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) and the future-weirdness of Back To The Future Part II.

And before you complain about lack of originality, consider the futility of doing so over a comic-book adaptation.

The point here is not just to say that tonal incoherence and isn’t-the-future-weird gags make a good film just because they’re in the source material. It’s just that everything people complain about over Judge Dredd’s journey, from the school bus to the cinema, is in fact a direct port from the much-loved comic itself, or at least an understandable compromise. Or is it just me?

Are you a secret Judge Dredd fan? Or does this year's Dredd film beat it? Let us know below...


    • 2Dglasses

      Sep 9th 2012, 6:58

      Its certainly watchable, and it was never going to be citizen kane...shhould have had someone other than sylvester 'i'm brooding about a terrible event in my past' stallone and less rob schneider making jokes about soiling himself. The finale was also very similar to demolition mans-it cant just be me who thinks that-the frozen science facility thing race against time. Great music though.

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    • Hadouken76

      Sep 9th 2012, 9:41

      First its fine, then its nigh perfect? and big NO. There were some good elements, like the stunning backdrops, impressive make-up on Mean Machine Angel and actually creating an ABC robot from scratch, rather than resorting to bad CGI. You could see the graft that was involved. But it was textbook Hollywood all the way, you could tell Danny Cannon wanted to be a bigshot and this was his foot in the door. Schneider was the token sidekick, Lane was the token love interest(!) Token catchphrase: "I knew you were gonna say that". The movies paymasters didn't understand the subtle satire of the comics, they wanted a full-on summer tentpole. Stop playing devils advocate. It sucks.

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    • Optiboptimus

      Sep 9th 2012, 10:25

      When I was reading the first comics I realized they're the exact same. I think that it was definitely based of the early ones.

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    • JohnJDuffy

      Sep 9th 2012, 10:29

      I remember liking it as a kid, mostly due to mean machines appearance

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    • FilmFlamFan

      Sep 9th 2012, 11:11

      Why is the photo of Stallone / Dredd a mirror image?? The problem with Judge Dredd was that they got the character completely wrong< But the City and setting was bang on , Straight out of 2000AD. The New Dredd movie has the Character down to a T, But the city and setting is way too wrong, I mean VW vans? and Cars with wheels? Come on. The next one should be Just right :P

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    • MoodyMonkey

      Sep 9th 2012, 19:55

      No its just you. Personally, i can accept almost any liberty taken in an adaptation as long as they stay true to the spirit of the character and on this one they didn't! Production design aside, there is nothing to recommend this awful, awful film.

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    • BobTheSkull

      Sep 10th 2012, 9:10

      I remember when this came out, I went to see it in the cinema, even after all the negative hype... and loved it. My only gripe with it was Schneider. To me, it had all the visuals and bizarreness of the comics that I read as a kid. I could even get past him taking off the helmet. It wasn't perfect, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. Any time there is an adaptation, you're never going to please everyone. There will always be fanboys ready to tear it apart, or critics slating its cinematic worth. I must be one of the few comic fans that accepts that changes sometimes have to be made. The thing that a lot of people tend to forget is that some of these comics have been going for decades... that's hundreds of story arcs! And for some characters, several 'reboots'. How can they complain about a big screen adap that doesn't stick precisely to the source material when the source material itself can differ so greatly?

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    • jared3710

      Sep 10th 2012, 11:27

      Whilst I agree that Judge Dredd 95' isn't terrible. It has great costume and production designs, the script, whist hardly Bo Godman, isn't truly awful. No, my problem is fidelity to the source material and this is something that happens alot in big studio pictures...or,at least it used to do. 2000AD,despite being set in the USA of the future is a very British creation and 17 years ago not very well known across" the pond". It seems that the studio,producers and star didn't really understand what kind of a character Judge Dredd is. He is ultimate anti hero. The faceless representation of the law in a fascist police state. Dirty Harry pushed up to 11. Robocop without the machinery. The real blame for me probably lies with Stallone. He had enough clout with the studio to do it properly, but didn't. I assume he just read the script and never looked at the source material beyond the most cursiory glance. Poor Danny Cannon probably had to do what David Fincher did on Alien 3 and do as he was told...and we all know what a brilliant film the third Alien film could have been had the studio not got over involved. But maybe, Judge Dredd 95' is a product of it's time...a vehicle for it's star! Nowerdays, after Bryan Singer's X-Men and more importantly Chris Nolan's Batman, more thought is given to transfering these iconic characters to the screen. Judge Dredd 95' ,for me, just creeps in at 3 stars out of 5, whilst Dredd 2012 get a solid 4 stars out of 5.

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    • SiMan

      Sep 10th 2012, 12:36

      I personally remember quite enjoying it, but admitedly i haven't rewatched it in a while. I would like to raise another arguement though based on some points above. A lot of the points raised suggest it was a good adaptaion of what was in the comics and should be praised for that, but my question actually is should this not be the case for all adaptations?. Take Nolan's bat films - are they a true reflection of the comics? (for me they are not) - if so, should they not be 'marked down' for not being so. Now, don't get me wrong, from a film-making point of view, I love the 1st two. They are two of my favourite movies (so please don't have a go at me on that level!). But Nolan changed a heck of a lot of stuff to make it more realistic and so my question is should a comic-book adaptation, both Judge Dredds included, be marked higher or lower depending on how faithful it was to the comics, regardless of how good/bad the final film turned out? Or is it just me?

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    • CaptainCrazy

      Sep 10th 2012, 13:53

      People must accept the written and visual medium are 2 different things. But as someone else here mentioned you must keep the spirit of the original source if you are not going to copy it blindly. And I think THAT is what was wrong with the Stallone version. The biggest crime wasn't Schneider, the removal of the helmet (is that sacrilegious for me to say?) or the toned down violence - but with Dredd himself. Dredd is an unapologetic, ruthless, uncompromising face or fascist of the law. Toning down that aspect was what killed it for me. That said, if Dredd never existed in comic book form then this might have been one of Stallone's best features.

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    • FBKTudor

      Sep 10th 2012, 21:11

      This was an enjoyable film in an enjoyable summer of cinema. It wasn't Dredd, but was still a lot of fun. Just don't think of it as Dredd. It came out 1 week after Batman Forever, and had to compete with other films from June and July, such as Bad Boys, Congo, First Knight, and Casper, then in August with Waterworld and Die Hard With A Vengeance. In a summer of 2 or 3 star fun films, Judge Dredd fit right in. The ABC robot and the Mean Machine were particular highlights, and at 90 mins it's plotted well. And there were star turns from Max Von Sydow and Jurgen Prochnow. It's a fun sci-fi actioner based very loosely on 2000AD's comics.

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    • EdDeRs1

      Sep 11th 2012, 19:42

      no no no no no no NO!!!!!!! the film was terrible!!!!! they tore up continuity, Judge Goodman was one of the BEST Chief Judges in Mega City One, not a Judge Cal style power crazed mad-man, the cloning program was public knowledge and The Father of Justice Judge Fargo was (apparent) long dead, plus the helmet, there was a romantic subplot, and while many female Judges are attracted to old Joe Dredd, Judges are celibate by law, and any breach of that has an automatic penalty of 20 years on Titan, with the odd exception if the offending Judge redeems themselves, plus HE TOOK HIS DROKKING HELMET OFF!!!!!!! those breaches are as major as haveing Alfred betray Batman to the Joker, or... i don't, the Judge Dredd examples are the extremes it is all compered to, as you DO NOT see his face, for Dredd is the faceless representation of the Law, and if you so much as consider saying the Judge Dredd was a good film then i will find where you live and burn your house down. but the ABC Warrior was nice

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    • Aleric

      Sep 11th 2012, 21:58

      I liked most of the Stallone version of Dredd. Where they messed up was casting Schnider, who is the white Marlon Wayons, as the comic side kick. That is what brought the movie down the most, all of his screen time should have been used for Diane Lane and the relationship with Hershy and Dredd.

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    • marlowe9

      Sep 12th 2012, 9:46

      You can review Judge Dredd on two bases: either as a 90s action mega-blockbuster, or as a film that does its source material justice. The thing about Judge Dredd is, that as a 90s futuristic sci-fi action movie, it's actually pretty good - spectacular and fun, with a decent plot. Its only sunk by Schneider's pointless 'comedy' sidekickery and the godawful fx in the hoverbike chase. However, as an adaptation of the comics, it's deeply flawed because despite its incredible visual fidelity, it gets the fundamentals of Dredd's character wrong and the satire is all missing - so fans are justified in griping endlessly about it. But to be honest, an utterly faithful translation of the comics to the screen would be an utter mess - and has yet to happen for any comic in cinema history. Dredd is probably better approached as a Hollywood adaptation in the style of the Philip K Dick movies - there's a 'take the premise and run' type of philosophy behind it. So, considering the comprises that have to be made when making a blockbuster of this scale in order to render it marketable, Judge Dredd is a surprisingly close adaptation of the comics and therefore a surprisingly subversive blockbuster for its time. It's not a bad film, just a bad adaptation if what you're looking for is the comic on the screen.

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