Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THE LAWL - A look-back at "Judge Dredd" (1995)

Last Friday "Dredd (3D)" came out and word has it it's actually pretty damned good! So, it seems like the right time to remember the cult-classic comic book character's first cinematic outing, the Sylvester Stallone "Judge Dredd" that came out in 1995.

"Judge Dredd" belongs in that dreaded (lol) era of Stallone action flicks after his Rambo fame had died down a bit and it's an era I kind of hate. On principle.

See, I actually quite like good ole' Sly. Not just his movies, but I like him as an actor. Unfortunately, between Rocky and Rambo (the production of both of which he was involved in) he shot himself in the foot and got type-cast as the "action hero" (which he admits and takes reponsibility for).

This isn't inherently a bad thing, but rarely since did he find material to stretch his acting muscles. I mean, alright, he was never exactly the Christian Bale of '80s and '90s action flicks , but he wasn't Van Damme or Schwarzenegger either.

This is what annoys me about his work from that era. People had bundled him into the same group as those guys and those guys suck! Alright, they're incredibly fun to watch, sure, but the GOVANAH can't act for shit and his genuinely good movies are the ones where he doesn't need to convey any sort of emotion.

Stallone was nominated for Best Actor in Rocky, goddammit!

It's no wonder in the last few years he succumbed and did shit like "The Expendables" (the title of which seems to be Stallone's critique of his career), in one of the most glorious displays of "if you can't beat them, join them" coping mechanism.

So during the '90s and after he had hung both his boxing gloves and machine gun (at least until the mid-'00s), he was often-times cast in big-budget, dumb action flicks that couldn't begin to compare to the wholesome explode-y goodness of his Rambo stuff.

And while a lot of those films have their cult followings, let's not kid ourselves; they aren't exactly good films. "Judge Dredd" is REALLY not a good film.

The sets are well-done but unimaginative, the plot is stupid (and I haven't read the comics, so don't pester me about this), the dialogue is all over the place, there is literally ZERO characterization, there are far too many plot conveniences and the acting is so hammy and over-the-top it ends up being absolutely hilarious.


I mean, what was the deal with that Janus experiment shit? Right after the Apocalypse, the best plan was to create Solid and Liquid Snake to maintain order in the city? You'd think by the time the world almost ended, at least one motherfucker out there would've written a story about how these things never turn out well.

And why was Judge Griffin trying to reactivate it? What was the master plan? It seemed he considered it the best possible solution to maintain order in a crumbling city, but all the chaos we ever saw in this movie was chaos he instigated to get the project back online!

And what's with all the conveniences? I can look away and pretend the court had sufficient evidence against Dredd, but they were missing something somewhat important like, oh I don't know, A MOTIVE MAYBE? I know the reporter was talking smack about the Council and Dredd in particular, but we never see Dredd concerned about him even in the slightest. He looks at him through a screen at some point, without conveying emotions. This is not a proper set-up!

Also, even if Fargo didn't know Rico was still alive, there is no way the man could be officially incarcerated in the biggest prison they have, without SOMEONE else in the Council knowing and putting two and two together (Griffin notwithstanding).

What about the characterization in that there is none? Apparently Dredd is supposed to be generally emotionless. Okay, fine, this doesn't mean he needn't have a personality! Fucking RoboCop acted more human than he did! I don't even mean deep characterization. Rico's ramblings during their confrontation make Rico a much better-rounded and somewhat more sympathetic character than Dredd.

Yes, the psychotic villain is more sympathetic than the robotic hero. It's not my fault.

None of the above really annoy me, though. What does bother me about the film, to this day, is how it squanders its potential. We are told time and again about the intricacies and the grey area the current system has. This is an overpopulated city where all authorities (judicial, fiscal, governing) are exercised by a council that worship the Law in a very black and white manner.

We could've seen so much more about this system, its ups and downs. We could've seen how the Judges are condemned to an ultimately unhedonic existence of pure servitude to a system and a society they aren't really part of.  The Long Walk is an awesome idea, in a very bleak way, but we are only TOLD about it. 

There is also so much Dredd himself, who is the most black-and-white of them all, could play at. Is he right to operate like that? Is he wrong? Does this complete lack of empathy make him dangerous (lack of empathy is a prime characteristic of psychopathy). There is so much there left untapped! Dredd doesn't even go through an arc. For all we know, once the film ends and he is reinstated, he is back to thinking the Law doesn't make mistakes. He never changes, he just fights to clear his name.

Instead, we throw all that out to make space for Rob Schneider's unfunny shtick. Schneider in this movie is what was wrong with the '90s. He's entirely unneeded in the plot and for the most part he just gets in Dredd's way. He seems as a shoe-horned comedic relief. You can make the case that he helped Dredd mellow out and finally show some emotion and I guess you're right to a degree. I'd also show plenty of emotion if my sidekick was Rob Schneider. Specifically, the kind of emotion that would brutally murder the asshole and then make soup out of his entrails; original Scorched Earth recipe.

And don't even get me started on Hershey, a disposable love-interest who shares a page of dialogue with Dredd in the movie, has zero chemistry with him (but good god is Diane Lane gorgeous) and really, her affection is kind of forced. Much like the comedic relief character, Hershey also feels like a studio mandate. Cut out this entire romance sub-plot and nothing changes. If you wanted sexual tension, look up "flirting". It's fun and doesn't have to lead to anything.

But, you know what? All of the above, every single one of those problems the movie has, is what gives it value and transforms it into a cult-classic. Because "Judge Dredd" is very representative of what pop sci-fi was in the '90s; post-apocalypse, authoritative regimes, grey morality, cartoonish characters and lots and lots of toys.

It was after we saw the worst of humanity infecting our future as a species, but unlike the '80s where we touched the philosophical aspect of it all, we saw the fun in it and made cool stuff to go along. Much of it has to do with the fact that the United States (where these creations originated) were seeing some of its most financially successful and stable periods (which unfortunately would move to produce the pseudo-intellectual fucktards of today).

It wasn't good; it was what you'd get by privileged people as armchair philosophers. in the luxury of their big apartments, while watching their three big-screen TVs, playing Super Nintendo and possibly smoking some joints.

It was vacuous, pretentious and ultimately of little consequence but, damn it, it was fun.

This type of sci-fi has little relevancy to the world today, but it's hard to think of the '90s and not remember films like this one. In some twisted way,  this is a more deserving movie to be remembered than, say, Braveheart (which won Best Picture).

And, if I'm being entirely honest, it totally holds up. It has a shitload of problems, but it's a fun film to watch. I like it and I've made my feelings toward this type of film clear!

So if before or after you've seen the new (likely better) adaptation of the character you ponder whether or not you should have a look back at this one, do so without fear. Fun is guaranteed.

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