Dredd on Blu-ray disc
By Jim Bray
Okay, I'll say right up front that I'm obviously not the target audience for this horrible travesty of cinema – and you can undoubtedly gauge where this review is going from its opening sentence.
If you're a Dredd fan, you might as well stop reading now. If you like action, sci-fi, cop films, even very violent ones, you may want to continue reading, to learn why I found Dredd so repellent and thereby perhaps save yourself an unpleasant hour and a half in the home theater.
I was so upset with this Pete Travis-directed "Travisty" that I went online immediately after watching it to see what the prevailing opinion was. And it turned out that Dredd fans and most critics I read loved it! For fans, it was just what they were looking for!
Silly me. I thought this was one of the worst cinema experiences I've ever sat through, a nasty and unrelenting assault on the sensibilities that drowns in slow motion gore, splattering blood joyously making the kind of ultraviolence one expects from filmmakers such as Paul Verhoeven look as if they were Disney.
Such is the level of the senseless graphic nature of this film that I very nearly considered turning it off. And I'm no prude! My all time favorite (as in "scariest") horror flick is the original "Night of the Living Dead," I thought the original Total Recall – while over the top in its violence – was a fantastic movie and I had a ball offing folk in whichever version of Grand Theft Auto I played a few years back. In short, I don't mind violence if it has a point. And I've seen a lot of crappy movies, some of which turned out to be guilty pleasures over time.
But this? Sorry. Maybe I missed the point and if so, well, either I'm stupid or the filmmakers weren't talking to me or the entrails weren't aligned properly. Too bad. But I hated Dredd and have no wish to see it again.
Dredd, a.k.a. Judge Dredd (at least that's how he's addressed in this movie and it was the title of the earlier Sylvester Stallone flick based on the same source) is one bad-butted dude, a law enforcement agent in a future time when the lunatics and criminals are running the asylum – the asylum being Mega-City One. The Judges are the law enforcers, jurists and executioners all in one but it looks as if there aren't enough of them – or at least enough incorruptible ones of them – to get the job done.
What this leads to is an "Escape from New York-type" society which isn't exactly a prison but which keeps honest regular citizens heads' down as the criminal gangs run things around them. As we learn when Dredd goes on a mission to solve the trio of particularly gruesome murders that are basically the starting point for this pointless exercise in buying fake blood (okay, it's probably digital) in bulk, the criminal powers that be can lock down an entire megabuilding, trapping thousands of people inside (unless you're a judge and can somehow miraculously find your way out while no one else can get in or out).
Oh yeah, the plot holes. This "getting out of Dodge" (well, "getting out of Peach Trees") incident left me scratching my head. Perhaps I looked away for a moment, but I never figured out how Dredd (Karl Urban) and his little apprentice Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) got out of the building. And there are other disturbing continuity things like that, such as the time Dredd and Anderson are trapped between two restraining walls, then suddenly have the whole rest of the building's level in which to wander around.
Anyway, Dredd and the rookie he's mentoring are sent to this murder scene, which they deduce immediately is a message killing – a particularly brutal set of murders of criminals by those who they supposedly failed, designed not only to punish the perps but to let other know what they can expect if they fall afoul of "Ma-Ma," the big villain of the flick.
Speaking of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), about the only positive thing I found in Dredd was that the villain wasn't your usual evil male. In this case, it's an evil non-male, and she's just as nasty, violent and disgusting as any of her male counterparts in other stories. Strike a blow for women's lib!
The rest of the film basically deals with Dredd/Anderson's hunt for Ma-Ma, up through the 200 or so levels of the residential building that's her domain. The good guys off plenty of bad guys – with the blood flying right off the screen, I assume, and into the faces of the audience.
That's violent enough, but at least it's the good guys defeating bad guys. But as she hunts down Dredd/Anderson in order to defend her regime, Ma-Ma and her little fiends kill what appears to be literally hundreds of innocent citizens, seemingly each of whom we get to see die redly in slow motion.
This is not a fun time in the home theater!
The really vile stuff is presented in very slow motion, perhaps in case we'd miss it otherwise. Or perhaps it's all mean to remind us of the narcotic Slo-Mo that Ma-Ma's organization is manufacturing and distributing. It's a mind altering substance that stretches the user's time sense, so that seconds seem like minutes (kind of like watching Dredd, actually!).
But enough about this horrible movie. Let's talk about the Blu-ray, which is actually not a bad example of the species as long as you don't watch it.
We tried the 3D version but, as with Tim Burton's Frankenweenie recently, we had severe handshaking problems with our equipment – thanks, Hollywood, for your copy protection schemes – and so watched the movie in 2D.
The 1080p/24 frame video is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and sometimes the picture is excellent. At other times it gets arty, with a very grainy look that doesn't let the high definition image soar. But when it's good, it's very good, with rich colors (which comes in handy if you like blood), excellent detail and good contrast.
The audio is presented in 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio and it's loud and in your face. And around your head. I ran the film with my audio system set about five points below its usual setting and it still rocked the room. All channels are in use nearly all the time, it seems, including surround tracks that are used for pounding music as much as for the usual effects, and which ended up being overly obtrusive. But the fidelity is good.
Compliments to the disc makers for giving us a seamless 2D/3D changeover. You choose the format when you first select "play" from the menu and if you change your mind, the movie picks up from the point at which you left off. A nice touch.
I usually talk about the extras on a disc at this point, but I must apologize because I just couldn't bring myself to watch them. Once the movie was finished, I took it out of the Blu-ray player and put it back into its package, never to be removed again.
But you do get extras, including an overview of the Judge Dredd comic (which perhaps would have put the carnage more into perspective for me), the movie's visual effects, some promo material, a look at stuff like the costumes, the natively 3D aspect of the production, the slow motion cameras, the production design (which, to be fair, is pretty neat), and some trailers.
You also get a digital copy, so you can gross out people in your row when you watch it on your tablet the next time you fly.
If you love your children, protect them from this movie. It has some intriguing ideas, but the execution made me want to watch the Stallone version again and, even though I don't remember a lot about it (I do remember it being pretty bad, though), it was less of an ordeal than this version.
Consider yourself warned.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.