A visit to the cinema to see the new ‘Dredd’ movie has got me back to type with the robonobo blog. This post is going to take a look at the background and inspirations behind this movie. The first place to start has to be J.G. Ballard’s seminal novel, ‘High Rise’, which is as akin to Dredd as ‘Day Of The Triffids’ was to ’28 Days Later’. As per usual, PLOT SPOILERS occur in this post, so don’t be getting crabby with me if you have not yet seen ‘Dredd’, ‘Judge Dredd’, ‘The Raid’, or read ‘High Rise’, should you find out a key event that would ruin your future enjoyment of said asset.
High Rise – J.G. Ballard (1975).
J.G. Ballard’s classic novel focuses on a monstrous luxury apartment block built to provide a complete living solution for thousands of people. Designed by the sinister architect, Anthony Royal, the building features schools, swimming pools and retail units as well as accommodation for it’s swelling population. But the novel is not written to show off the exciting urban possibilities of our developing world, as the imperfections and corruptions of society transform this tower into a dystopian hell hole. We experience the chaos through the eyes of Dr Robert Laing, who amusingly attempts to maintain the masquerade of a normal lifestyle as he commutes to and from the tower to his job as a senior lecturer at a medical school. He is ultimately dragged into the feral brutality of life within the tower. Royal resides in the upper levels, where his status makes him king of the tower. He is a law to himself as far as he can be within such a violent and anarchic system. ‘High Rise’ is clearly a statement about the modern world. What we see as progress, where infrastructure is created for the greater good of society, also comes with a dark side, as ultimately the destructive, selfish gene is always there to foil these attempts to enrich society. It says something about the class system, and perhaps about how the suffering under-classes have nothing to gain from the grandiose masterplans that wealthy Western governments engage in. And maybe it’s the angst and frustration that results from this experiential ostracization that results in the uprisings we see in modern times, such as the Arab Spring risings or the London riots. The London riots in particular came so soon after the pomp and ceremony of a Royal Wedding that was supposed to show that Britain’s people were united in celebration, despite experiencing an age of austerity. The riots showed that this was not the full story, and that the underclasses were indeed angered and frustrated by their diminishing position.
‘High Rise’ represents science fiction at it’s best, and it speaks a truth from which many parallels can be drawn. The failed construction project of North Korea’s 105-storey Ryugyong ‘Hotel of Doom’ quickly springs to mind. A vanity project for the North Korean government gone horribly wrong.
Dredd vs Dredd
The new Dredd film was going to be a tricky one to produce. After 1994’s big budget attempt to bring 2000AD’s flagship character to the big screen ended in a helmet-removing Stallone-flavoured failure, expectations were low, and possibly so was the excitement surrounding the film’s release. Karl Urban, who had previously been cast as Dr McCoy in the Star Trek reboot, made a terrific fist of filling those famous Megacity boots. Whereas the first movie had attempted to bring Dredd to the mainstream by toning down the violence and camping up the atmosphere, the new movie keeps a gritty sinister edge and is completely unapologetic in it’s visceral employment of violence to tell the story.
The 90’s design and the new design for the Dredd uniform are interestingly different. The old design features quite a faithful depiction of the Dredd uniform, as seen in the comics, but the look of the uniform is clean, slick and shiny. The redesigned uniform for the new movie features quite a departure from the comic uniform, with an emphasis on functional body armour, as opposed to the more elaborate comic design. What is quite noticeable about the new design is that even though the uniform is different, the design team totally nailed the aesthetic of the Dredd helmet, making the 90’s Dredd helmet seem rather cheap in comparison.
|Movie||Judge Dredd (1994)||Dredd (2012)|
|Actor||Sylvester Stallone||Karl Urban|
|Levels Of Violence||★★★||★★★★|
The main flow of the story brings us back to the concept high-rise dystopias. Dredd is assigned to accompany the fledging Judge Anderson as part of an assessment of her abilities as a Judge. Her choice of assignment sees her take Dredd to investigate a trio of murders, attributed to the use of a designer drug know as ‘slow-mo’, whose effect on an individual is to slow down their perception of time to around 10% of normal time perceived. The investigation takes the judges to the charmingly titled Peach Trees city block. Their arrival to the block triggers a response from the drug gang that runs the block, which sees the judges incarcerated within the locked down extents of the block. They choose to ascend their way through the huge tower, as their investigation becomes a manhunt for the vindictive clan-leader, Ma-Ma who runs the block and is also behind the manufacture and distribution of ‘slow-mo’. The sense of entrapment as they navigate through the decaying and frazzled floors of the city block were highly reminiscent of the atmospheres cooked up within Ballard’s ‘High Rise’. The film is a magnificent success in bringing Judge Dredd to life and to the big screen, giving Dredd a believable character, whilst remaining true to the original comic vision.
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Many parallels have been drawn between ‘Dredd’ and the Indonesian action thriller, ‘The Raid’. The two films do share many key elements. A police unit is sent to tackle crime in a tower-block. The tower is controlled by a crime-boss, responsible for narcotics operations, and notorious for brutality. The unit quickly find themselves overwhelmed with the task ahead, as they become trapped within the tower, to face wave after wave of hostile opponent. A further common theme of police corruption also occurs, pointing out the idea that integrity is neither present in the authority, nor in the dissidents. While many opinions (such as that of film critic Mark Kermode) favour ‘The Raid’ over ‘Dredd’, personally, I thought that the artistic touches, the cinematography, art design and soundtrack combined to create a much more stylish film in ‘Dredd’. ‘The Raid’, directed by Welshman, Gareth Evans, did have many great touches, but ultimately, I felt that the relentless violence started to become tiresome as the movie progressed. In particular, there is a scene towards the end where a character is suspended from the ceiling and beaten to near-death by one of the movie’s most vicious bad-guys. Within minutes, that character is bandying around performing balletic round-house kicks and showing off his flying fist of Judah technique with aplomb. Seemed a bit silly to me, but martial arts movies are often reliant on the suspension of disbelief.
The primary source for the Dredd movie, in my opinion, was Ballard’s ‘High Rise’. Dredd was by no means a bad movie, but the plot was more on the popcorn side than the cerebral side. Although ‘High Rise’ was actually mooted for development as a movie project as far back as the late 1970’s, it has as yet never emerged. The current production possibility lies in the hands of Vincenzo Natali as writer and director, but since the film’s subject matter and plot structure seemed to have been gazumped by ‘Dredd’ and ‘The Raid’, it seems unlikely that it will happen.
‘Dredd’ does very well as a movie because it is a knowing film that is well-crafted and is clearly constructed by a writing team who have done a lot of work to understand the dystopian genre. The various ‘slow-mo’ scenes, visceral moments of future violence and superb soundtrack make for a film that I hope will lay the foundations for a sequel. Bringing comic book characters to life on the big screen is an operation that usually ends in underwhelming failure (cue countless terrible superhero movies), but this film, in common with a few other worthy mentions (Sin City, Watchmen, V For Vendetta) succeeds in that task very confidently. In the context of the countless big budget franchises that the Hollywood dollar machine chooses milk money from, one can only hope that this film gets taken forward to the next level.