Disney // 1995 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 17th, 2012
In the future, one man is The Law.
Apparently, around 1995 -- six years after the release of Tim Burton's Batman, which kickstarted the comic book adaptation craze -- Hollywood decided to take lesser known graphic novels and turn them into big budget extravaganzas. How else can you explain someone deciding that Sylvester Stallone should play Judge Joseph Dredd? Coming on the heels of the lukewarmly anticipated 2012 remake/reboot/re-whatever Dredd 3D, Stallone's Judge Dredd arrives on Blu-ray for the first time care of Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
In the future, the world exhibits a very different landscape. Millions crowd into areas known as "Mega Cities," while the rest of the planet has become nearly uninhabitable ("The Cursed Earth", as its known). This new order has created mass chaos, and out of those ashes has risen a new law: The Judges, each given the right to be judge, jury and -- if the need is required -- executioner to those who would break the law.
One of the most respected and feared is Judge Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallone, The Expendables), whose exceptional work does not go unnoticed by his friend and mentor, Chief Justice Fargo (Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), or his sexy young partner, Judge Hershey (Diane Lane, Indian Summer). However, Dredd's loyalty is called into question, when a news reporter uncovering a government secret is viciously gunned down and video of the shooter emerges implicating Dredd as the suspect. Dredd is arrested, tried, and convicted, but soon escapes his handlers with a nosey ex-con named Fergie (Rob Schneider, The Benchwarmers). Dredd will stop at nothing to clear his name and take down a mysterious madman named Rico (Armand Assante, The Mambo Kings) before he throws Mega City One into chaos!
Judge Dredd is a movie seemingly only discussed behind closed doors and in hushed tones, as comic book fans loathe it with the passion of a thousand suns. Upon its initial release, the film was considered a flop; not pleasing action fans, Stallone fans, or Judge Dredd fans. Director Danny Cannon could have gone onto a career making bigger budgeted films, but because this one took a nosedive, he's been relegated to television. Apparently, no one walk away from Judge Dredd very happy, least of all movie-goers.
It's a shame the film is considered so terrible, because viewed through today's eyes it's actually pretty good. For some reason, I have an affinity for movies the court of public opinion seems to despise. Escape from L.A., Deep Rising, Spider-Man 3...all are movies that audiences have given a collective groan to, and yet I embrace them with unconditional love. There's something about a big budget flop that makes me want to try and understand what the writer and director were trying to accomplish.
With Judge Dredd, what director Danny Cannon and Sylvester Stallone were trying to accomplish was to make a fun, action-packed popcorn flick -- nothing more and nothing less -- and I truly believe they achieved their goal. There are some really fun moments that set the film apart from other comic book adaptations. First, casting Stallone as Judge Dredd already says this isn't going to be a movie that takes itself very seriously. Giving Dredd a sidekick in the form of Rob Schneider only reinforces that theory. True, the post-apocalyptic setting has been used to death by this point -- all these Blade Runner-esque dystopian environments looking the same -- but at least this one tries to lighten the load by injecting humor into the equation.
It's as if Stallone knew how ludicrously funny it was to have him be Dredd, so Sly amps up his Stallone persona just for kicks. He plays Judge Dredd about as well as Stallone is going to play any character. Certain actors can disappear into a role; Sylvester Stallone is not one of them. His slurring, droopy-eyed schtick is so much bigger than life that when you see him as Dredd you see Stallone first and the character second. The talented supporting cast tend to take a backseat to the action. Schneider is actually tolerable as Fergie, a sidekick who's clearly around for comedic relief and little else. The one true standout here is the beefy Armand Assante as the villainous Rico, chewing the scenery so harshly you'd swear he was a Tasmanian Devil.
Judge Dredd was released during Hollywood's mid-'90s transition from practical to computer effects. While I'm sure there are some CGI shots here, my eyes mostly noticed the green screen and miniature work, which I greatly prefer to CGI. It's not that I'm against computer effects, it's just that effects work present on the set allows the actors to react more realistically. Mean Machine of the cannibalistic Angel family is a good example; made today, this character would have been a slick hulking computer effect, instead of one made from metal, plastic, and latex.
Is Judge Dredd a perfect movie? Not by a long shot. The core storyline -- a secret cloning program, clandestine assassinations, and a family squabble -- aren't nearly as interesting as the writers had planned. The film's finale deals with the physical clones with such indifference it feels as if a good ten minutes of footage was excised from the final cut. A lot of the effects work, while very good by 1995 standards, looks dated today. And yet the film's charms -- fireballs, explosions, mutated monsters, and flying motorcycles -- cannot be denied. Call me crazy, but I'll take Judge Dredd over Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger any day.
Presented in nice looking 2.33:1/1080p high definition widescreen, it's already a huge leap beyond he bare bones non-anamorphic DVD release from a decade ago. It's been a long road to getting here, but fans can finally rejoice that the film looks very, very good, if not great. The image is exceptionally clear, sports little to no edge enhancement or DNR, colors pop, and black levels are solidly dark. If you like your audio mixes to be bombastic and sonically aggressive, this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is for you. The front, rear, and side speakers are all given a heavy workout, while the subwoofer will shake the paint off of your walls; the perfect mix for a heavy duty action movie. Also included are alternate language tracks -- Dolby 5.1 French and Dolby 2.0 Spanish -- as well as English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
In line with Buena Vista's history of catalog releases, Judge Dredd doesn't offer much in the way of bonus materials. All we get is the theatrical trailer and a 1995 featurette ("Stallone's Law: The Making of Judge Dredd") that ends up being nothing more than a fluff promo piece.
Judge Dredd is not great art, but it is a well oiled mid-'90s action flick with the one and only Italian Stallion. While I look forward to seeing Karl Urban (Star Trek) as the new Judge Dredd, I'll always have a soft spot for the original.
Not Guilty! But only because Stallone will hunt me down, tear off my limbs one by one, and force me to watch Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! if I say otherwise.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Vintage Featurette