JUDGE DREDD (1995) Director: Danny Cannon
Writers: John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra (characters), Michael De Luca, William Wisher, Steven E. de Souza (Screenplay and story).
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Max von Sydow
Shooting locations: Shepperton Studios UK and Iceland.
Budget: est $90m vs Box Office: est $113m global
RottenTomatoes Score: 22%
A twisted pre-production story saw Arnold Schwarzenegger considered for the role at one point. Multiple directors came and went, with Brit Danny Cannon (a Dredd fan) being hired on the strength of The Young Americans. Comics creator John Wagner was set for a consultant role. However, in a later Empire interview, Wagner talked of how ambivalent the film’s makers seemed to receiving any meaningful input from him, their lack of serious interest epitomised by what he refers to as their desire for “involvement with no remuneration”.
Released over 10 years before the Marvel and DC shared comic book universes escalated the genre to global domination, Judge Dredd remains a critically-maligned (even Stallone has publicly stated his regrets) but nevertheless interesting example of how Hollywood was feeling its way into making comic book properties and experimenting with genre. Judge Dredd is clearly an attempt to use the IP of the darkly satirical 2000AD comic but fuse it to a then-familiar ‘buddy action-comedy’ Stallone vehicle. It takes elements of the comics as it needs, but fidelity is not the main goal.
In the comics, Dredd is famous for having never removed his helmet. In Judge Dredd, he removes his helmet near to the beginning of the film. This was clearly a move to ensure that the star power of its lead actor was a factor in audience participation but remained such a point of contention the retaining of the helmet (and other signs of loyalty to the source material) was a part of the marketing of 2012 Dredd.
Perhaps the most striking element of Judge Dredd is the vivid production design. The movie even ventures beyond the city, showing The Wastes and mutants during Dredd's exile in the Cursed Earth. The outré costumes were designed by Versace.
Judge Dredd is a great example of a major Hollywood release where the critical reception seems in inverse proportion to the quality of its orchestral and song-based soundtrack. The Judge Dredd official soundtrack features songs from none other than The Cure, The Cocteau Twins, The The and White Zombie. Composer Alan Silvestri handled the orchestral score.
Despite the financial flopping and critical mauling the film got, ranging from a perceived lack of authenticity to the comic’s setting and character and being more a star vehicle for Stallone, some re-thinking has taken place since. E.g an essay in Comic Book Resources argued: “ Judge Dredd's comics are anything but subtle; the Judges are monuments to overcompensation, the Dark Judges are literally evil made flesh, and Mega-City One is a satirical microcosm of Western society's (primarily Britain's) problems. For all its faults, the 1995 movie actually got this aesthetic right. In the movie, the Judges and criminals look as ridiculous as they should, while the colorful Mega-City One is an appropriately rotting cyberpunk metropolis.”
DREDD (2021) Director: Pete Travis
Writers: John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra (characters), Alex Garland (screenplay)
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Shooting Locations: Cape Town Studios and parts of the UK including the now-demolished Oriental City Shopping centre in Colindale, London.
Budget: est $50m vs Box Office: est $41m global
RottenTomatoes Score:79 %
The second major feature film attempt at Judge Dredd tried to counter fan scepticism by bringing on board The Beach and 28 Days Later writer (and self-confessed hardcore Dredd fan) Alex Garland, and promising an aesthetic and story that would show fidelity to (certain elements of) the comics judged to be important to fans. Star Karl Urban also made it clear in publicity he was a Dredd fan and valued authenticity to the source material, with Dredd’s helmet staying firmly on. Dredd creator John Wagner was more closely involved in the project and praised it publicly (“this one is all Dredd”, he said in an Empire interview) and screenwriter Alex Garland promised a version that "commits completely to the character".
This appeal to fan loyalty and promises of a new level of care for the original comics are common in comic book moviemaking now; they were a key part of winning burned fans over to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, for example. Dredd, like many other comic book movies, previewed at Comic-Con in the US to build excitement.
The striking cinematography and production design, overseen by DP Anthony Dod Mantle and Production Designer Mark Digby, blends verisimilitude to real life urban sprawls and considerations of practicality in weapons and costuming, but also contains many nods to the original comics (check the mega block names). In Garland’s opinion the aesthetic of the film was “a believable extension of our own world, as opposed to a more Fifth Element flight of fantasy.”
Alex Garland’s own directorial career later flourished with “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation. Debate continues as to whether he ended up steering Dredd to completion, as opposed to actual director Pete Travis. Star Urban seemed to confirm as much in an interview with JoBlo, highlighting tensions between director and studio Lionsgate that led to Garland being brought in to helm the film during postproduction.
Dredd was a box office disappointment, though it was much more warmly received by fans and critics than its predecessor. To date, no further reboots or sequels have materialized for the big screen, leaving a fascinating cinematic property sitting dormant yet again.