Blu-ray Review: ‘Dredd’ – The Baddest Movie You Didn’t See In 2012

“Dredd 3D” is a nearly perfect action movie, stripped down and kicked bloody and growling into the world. I’m not sure how much sense that metaphor just made, but this second adaptation of the “2000 A.D.” character is lean, mean, and efficient in a way many recent action films fail to be.

Comparisons to Gareth Evans’ “The Raid” will persist and they’re fair: but whereas Evans delivers a knockout of technical martial arts prowess, director Pete Travis and “28 Days Later” screenwriter Alex Garland deliver a gun-crazy drugs and murder movie.

Our setting is the post-apocalyptic sprawl of Mega-City One, following nuclear catastrophe which traps the cramped populace within the walls of an urban sprawl extending down the United States’ east coast. It’s the first day of rookie officer Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) duty as a judge–the lawmen who dispense justice throughout this megapolis at the barrel of their genetically-locked guns. We’re told that Anderson just barely made it through the Academy, but she’s psychic and there’s a chance this young mutant might do enough good to justify throwing her into the city’s meat grinder for a day with our title character (Karl Urban).

For her first assignment, Anderson accompanies Dredd to the scene of a homicide at the 200-story high-rise Peachtree tenements, where their arrest of a dealer of the new drug Slo-Mo puts all three in the crosshairs of the prostitute-turned-gangster Ma-Ma (Lena Heady, who I could watch all day in this role).

I described “Dredd” as perfect, and I wasn’t just allowing this review to fall victim to hyperbole. Garland’s screenplay is deft at delivering information while Travis’ direction creates this sustained, grinding tension as our two Judges make their way through Peachtrees and up to Ma-Ma. From the very first time we see the scowling Dredd charging headlong through the streets of Mega-City One, to the way he deals with the first perp we see him pronounce judgement on, we know he’s a steely badass. That’s the easy part. The challenge is in showing the trajectory of Anderson from painfully green rookie (see the scene she and Dredd discuss her missing helmet) to a Judge in her own right. In fact, as much credit as Garland and Travis deserve for realizing the stripped down smog, grime, and concrete future of the film, Thirlby, Urban, and Headey completely sell it as the three pillars of the world’s sense of morality (I’d say they were Justice, Order, and Chaos).

From the gray, distressed production design (the technology looks like a blend of post-Soviet hardware and new touchscreen hotness) to the desaturated color palette, Travis visualizes the world of “Dredd” in a way that honors the source material without trying to duplicate it on the big screen. Any time we’ve seen “Judge Dredd” colored, it’s bright, garish, and a little mad, but Mark Digby’s production design gets to the core of what makes this world interesting–it’s worn down, claustrophobic, and very, very nasty. Even the 3D effectively serves the plot, used to the greatest effect during the four Slo-mo scenes which bring an injection of color and sharpness to the intentional graininess of the film. The 3D process here allows Travis to exploit some of the CG body demolishing violence once Dredd and Anderson hit Peachtrees, and it’s used deliberately and infrequently, thereby never overstaying its welcome.

If you’re wondering whether the satire of the comics is intact, it very much is, but in a way that doesn’t call attention to itself. Instead of making Dredd a cartoon as he was in the opening of Stallone’s 1995, Urban is simply an unrelenting force of justice. Sometimes he comes up against normal people caught in a bad situation and he can’t process that with any kind of empathy. Again, the movie doesn’t call excess attention to it, it’s either handled as a light joke (the homeless man outside of Peachtrees) or a moment to show a crack in Dredd’s formidable emotional armor (the two kids with guns). Anything in excess of that would have drawn attention away from the primary focus of “Dredd” which is getting our two heroes to their villain over a pile of dead bodies.

Special notice should be given to Paul Leonard-Morgan’s driving rock/electronic soundtrack which adds a layer of loping, angry heaviness to the proceedings. Having been listening to it at length over the last couple of days, I’m impressed with the way that it doesn’t deliver any particular rousing action movie tunes, but instead goes for something more aggressive, music that really doesn’t allow you to cheer for the action.

“Dredd” knows its characters and world in a way that many adaptations do not and it blends them together with a not-overly-complicated narrative to deliver one of the best jolt-to-the-brain action movies of the last year.

Special features and presentation

– “Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd” (14:27, HD) looks not only at the creation of the character as a post-punk anti-hero, but in part, the inception of “2000 A.D.” with creators Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner, with interviews by Brian Bolland and other “2000 A.D.” heavies.

– “Day of Chaos: The Digital Effects of Dredd” (15:21, HD) looks at some of the concept art and some of the digital vfx that went into realizing the near-future griminess of Mega-City One.

– “Dredd Featurette” (01:53, HD) is just long enough to serve as a glorified trailer, with talking head snippets from star Karl urban, co-creator John Wagner, and others.

– “Dredd’s Gear” (02:31, HD) is a quick look at the character’s costume in the film. Neatest part of this featurette: the rows of Judge helmets lined up for use in the film.

– “The 3rd Dimension” (02:00, HD) is a 2D look at the process of shooting “Dredd” in 3D.

– “Welcome to Peachtrees” (02:33, HD) is a look at the film’s setting and an overview of the Megablocks in the film.

– The “Dredd Motion Comic Prequel” (02:57, HD) provides a look at the origins of the film’s heavy Ma-Ma. This rushed and jagged line work feels sloppy for a multi-million dollar production, but at under three minutes, it’s not too offensive. The voice acting is alright as well–the typical over-doing-it-because-it’s-animated style we’ve come to associate with motion comics.

– “Theatrical Trailer” (02:30, HD) I completely forgot the Laroux track that starts off this effective trailer which more or less gives up Anderson’s arc during its running time.

“Dredd” is available on VOD, DVD and 2D/3D Blu-ray from Lionsgate films.

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