Danny Cannon directs Sylvester Stallone, Diane Lane and Rob Schneider in this comic book adaptation of the future lawman in a wild future mythology.
A neighbour’s older son used to give me his toys when he outgrew them. And then his comics. His 2000AD comics. They were random issues. Full of incomprehensible snippets of plot and violent imagery. Not anything like the tricolour The Beanos or It’s Wickeds I was buying … this was pretty adult stuff… 2000AD had matured with its initial readership who came onboard in the late 1970s and any innocent newbies were thrown in at a deeper end of content by 1991. Some stories had 13 year strong mythologies and the creatives were now experimenting with gore, surrealism and maybe a little nudity in their narratives and art. Dredd was the mainstay – present in every issue and, more often than not, his stories favoured action over pretentiousness and lore.
When I was 11, I bit the bullet and started committing my pocket money to the weekly comic myself… Prog 735. Inside was a hyper nasty thriller about Victorian time travellers heading on a crash course through reality with Jack The Ripper on board that might still be my favourite comic story ever AND a fully painted Mean Machine solo adventure. And Judge Dredd… fascist executioner… Dirty Harry in a lunatic dystopia. I collected the fuck out of those comics… weekly new purchases plus back issues and collected editions. By the time the Stallone film came out, my paper hoard could be stacked higher than me. I had read and reread every page at least a half a dozen times. So yeah… I was into 2000AD but Dredd wasn’t my favourite character. I easily preferred Judge Anderson, Slaine, Button Man, RoboHunter, Shimura… I wasn’t quite as precious about the iconic, almost inhuman anti-hero taking his helmet off, gaining a comedy sidekick and kissing girls in a big budget adaptation. Hollywood gonna Hollywood. I was more excited about an expansive vision of the future that took in Block Wars, The Cursed Earth, Lawgivers, The Angel Gang, clone judges… hell… there was even a fully functional ABC Warrior droid from a different strip thrown in for luck.
The production design and scope for Dredd is epic. Just look at visual artist Chris Hall’s accurate but gruesome realisation of Mean Machine. Or the opening SkyKab tour through a Mega City One. The FX aren’t always perfect – the CGI sequences certainly haven’t aged well – but in their best moments the ambition can keep the company of contemporaries like The Fifth Element or Total Recall. Certainly Tank Girl. There’s a stacked cast… Joan Chen and Scott Wilson and James Remar and Ian Dury and Ewen Bremner have three liner roles that in any sensible production might have gone to nobodies. Any sign of studio interference wasn’t present in the pre-production phase when the hiring happened and the blueprints were approved. Neophyte director Danny Cannon wanted a futuristic Ben-Hur… those initial 60 minutes very much see him deliver.
This watch though I can see the scars of a troubled production. The first hour is a purposeful, busy sci-fi romp… then the last 30 minutes everything putters to a stop. The wobbly last act is rushed, missing scenes, overwhelmed by Schneider’s incessant dumb-cracking and every moment of minor peril is resolved by a side character appearing behind the villain to kill them and save Dredd… just… in… time. What excited me as a teen and was forgivable in my fonder memories couldn’t fully live up to scrutiny on an adult revisit. Still, The Cure recorded a banger of a forgotten theme song for the end credits that smooths over the bad aftertaste from the truncated, bastardised finale. And Joe Dredd would soon return to mete out his own more faithful, more lethal mode of justice in the superior Karl Urban reboot.
Check out my wife Natalie’s Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/