Friday, September 07, 2012


(Midnight Madness)
(United Kingdom/South Africa, 2012)
Cast: Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris
Written by: Alex Garland
Directed by:  Pete Travis

My second screening of TIFF 2012 was also in 3D--if this keeps up, I may have to opt for prescription polarized lenses.  Thankfully, the film' subject warranted the technique: who wouldn't embrace the chance to immerse oneself in the hell that is Mega-City One?

Well, maybe not a lot of us.  Truth is, I was never a devotee of the Dredd saga, a hyper-violent satire created by created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra which began publication in the UK comics anthology "2000 AD"  in 1977 and has run continuously since.  I came to it too late, well after dystopian yarns like the "Terminator" saga and "Robocop", and while Dredd was first, some of his thunder had already been stolen.

Then, of course, there was the ill-fated 1995 film adaptation, which cast Sly Stallone as the Judge sans helmet, with disturbing blue contact lenses, Rob Schneider as his sidekick, and enough (reported) on-set primadonna-ism to lay the blame for its utter failure on first time director Danny Cannon...

Any new "Dredd" film wouldn't have to work all that hard to be better--because,  really, what wouldn't be?--but the early hour and awkward glasses didn't obscure my enjoyment of what won me over as an infectious, gore-soaked, near-real-time pageant of carnage, property destruction, and pathological disregard for innocent human life, all in the service of a fairly rote siege melodrama.  In other words, don't miss it!
Our tale unfolds in Mega-City One,  one of the few surviving cities in The Cursed Earth (the former U.S.), houses 800 million citizens and more than 17,000 crimes occur daily.  Law is enforced by the armoured Judges, who act as judge, jury, and executioner , and are equipped with personalized weapons that respond to each Judge's voice command and unique DNA print.
In the slum tower Peach Trees, ruthless drug baroness Madeline Madrigal (Heady) deals the new street drug "Slo Mo", which expands and extends one high by a bazillion frames per second.   When she executes three rivals dealers, Judge Dredd (Urban) and new recruit, the psychic Anderson (Thirlby) are called in to investigate.

Raiding a lower-level drug den, they arrest Kay (Harris), who Anderson's probe reveals to be the executioner of the competition.  This prompts Ma-Ma's army to take control of the tower's security system, and they lock the building down before Dredd can take his prisoner in for questioning.  
Ma-Ma orders Dredd and Anderson killed, and the Judges have no choice but to navigate the 200-floor tower, floor by floor, with their prisoner in tow. On 76th floor, Ma-Ma and her thugs unleash a storm of artillery with powerful gattling guns that literally tear through the concrete walls, utterly devastating the apartments of innocent bystanders. But with the walls breached, Dredd and Anderson are able to contact headquarters and request backup.

The backup Judges respond to Dredd's call, but they are fooled into thinking it's all part of the complex's routine security test. Instead, Ma-Ma calls in her corrupt Judges on the force, but Dredd suspects them and blows their cover.  Dredd obtains the code to Ma-Ma's lair from her computer hacker, but when they arrive, they find that she's wired the top floor for detonation, the trigger just a click away on her wrist...
Budgeted at a relatively low $45 million, "Dredd 3D" was shot in Cape Town, South Africa, using RED MX 3D technology.  "Slo-Mo" drug trips were shot with the amazing Phantom Flex camera, which can capture movement at up to 500,000 frames per second ("normal" frame rate is 24 f.p.s.).

Urban, who admirably never removes his helmet, emotes (such as is required) laconically from beneath his visor like he's gargled with fresh buckshot, acknowledging latter-day Eastwood with a touch of Snake Plissken.  But the star performance goes to Headey as "Ma-Ma"--never has "wasted" seem so alluring and menacing, as she brandishes her facial scar like a fashion accessory...

The film's overall concept and structure can't help but remind one of Gareth Evans' Indonesian action epic "The Raid", but given the fact that "Dredd" was shot earlier and sat on the shelf, the subject seems moot...

"Dredd 3D", like Nolan's take on "Batman", will surely appeal to newcomers as well as long-time fans.

©Robert J. Lewis