Revisiting Stallone's Mega-City One: 5 Thoughts on 'Judge Dredd' (1995)

The face-smashingly good "Dredd 3D" is out this week (read a review on MTV Splashpage) with a new actor under the helmet of Mega-City One's toughest cop. And a lot of coverage will compare the earlier onscreen incarnation unfavorably to Hollywood's latest take on on Judge Joe Dredd. That film was at the time received poorly at both the box office and by fans of the character at large.

And okay, the movie is kind of rough in (large) parts, but for all that, it's not as bad as we've all made out over the last nearly 20 years. In fact, there are a few things to really like about the mid-90's vehicle for Sylvester Stallone's muscles, along with a couple of curious decisions on the part of the filmmakers.

So as you gear up to see "Dredd" this week, let's take a look back at 1995's take on block-by-block violence.

5. Stallone's not a bad Dredd

For the kind of light action satire they were going for (a less smart "Robocop"), Stallone was the perfect choice to fill the boots of Judge Joe Dredd. Around this time, with all of the bulk on, Stallone looked like he was carved out of stone, giving the character the sort of brawny, utterly square appearance necessary for this particular take. And whether by design or by accident, Stallone plays Dredd as something of a meathead, a tow-the-line stooge for the state, which was, again, appropriate to this take on the character, absolute law in what we find out is a corrupt system.

In fact, I think that the production overall is well-cast, from veterans like Max Von Sydow and Jürgen Prochnow to Diane Lane who does her best to stand next to Stallone's Dredd and try to make him seem human. Rob Schneider's not even as bad as he's been made out to be here--besides supplying the odious comic relief, his role actually has a genuine purpose in terms of giving a face to the average citizen betrayed by the absolute system of law.

4. Mr. Dredd's fashion by Versace

I'm of two minds about the Judge's costumes in "Judge Dredd" '95. They were designed in part by fashion legend Gianni Versace with credit to regular Bond movie costumer Emma Porteus. The judges' uniforms create a perfect match to the silhouettes from the comics although the colors are a little more stark. Plus, it feels like it might have been a mistake to make the main part of the costumes those slick bodystockings.

But for all that, the movie's costumes have a terrific look to them, solid without looking garish or particularly silly.

3. There's some pretty great industrial design and practical FX work here

As much as I appreciated the costume work, some of the mechanical and environmental design (the weapons, the Lawgiver bikes, etc.) have a great level of detail, making the world look lived-in and practical. In particular, I really dug the verticality of the crammed-together Mega-City One.

Sure, the ABC mech that Rico uses moves like molasses, but the overall design is cool and more importantly, it looks dangerous (at a distance, while still). Similarly, Chris Adamson's Mean Machine (pictured) was one of the standouts in terms of the film's makeup work, all man parts ruined by mechanical parts.

2. Wait, why did they remake "Demolition Man"?

This was a weird one to notice after having not seen either movie in years: both involve top cops being accused of crimes they didn't commit, facing off against their equal and opposite nemeses, partnered with perky, idealistic brunettes, and also Rob Schneider did some stuff.

No real observation here other than to say that "Demolition Man" was the bomb and it was weird that two years later, Stallone read the script for "Judge Dredd" and thought to himself: "sure, let's do that again."

1. Strip away the words "Judge Dredd" and it's a fun, fast-moving sci-fi/action movie

Which leads to this thought: "Judge Dredd" is neither satire nor straight up blood and guts action movie, but it's still terribly fun. The problem (well, one of the problems) with the film is that it tries to redeem the character by the end of its running time, changing Dredd into something he's really not which is to say a rounded, decent person.

But pull all of the trappings of the franchise away, and you've got a very competent, well-designed action movie with some clever moments. What I'm saying is that "Judge Dredd" '95 isn't the terrible movie we've all made it out to be, it's just not an especially effective "Judge Dredd" movie.