Case for the Prosecution : Your Honour, my fellow learned colleagues, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, on trial today is the Law itself. In 1995 a certain movie star declared “I am the Law,” as Cinergy Pictures tried to take the iconic 2000AD comic character Judge Dredd and make him a big screen sensation. They failed.
Judge : “Ah am… Dur lawh!”
Case For The Defence : Your Honour, please, that sort of outburst is just not welcome. I realise I’ve been given a huge task here but this sort of behaviour is just not acceptable.
Prosecution : Admitting defeat already?
Defence : Not at all.
Prosecution : And yet His Honour’s words cut right to the heart of this film’s problem.
Defence : Sylvester Stallone?
Prosecution : Yes. Sylvester Stallone. He isn’t the only problem, far from it, but he is probably the biggest and seems to be responsible for a lot of the others. Firstly he’s completely wrong for the role. And if rumour is to be believed it went beyond being wrong for just the role; director Danny Cannon was so disheartened because of constant creative disputes with Stallone that he swore he wouldn’t work with any big name actor again. Cannon also claimed that the final film was totally different from the original written script, all due to the changes Stallone demanded. So it seems Stallone was wrong in front of the camera and wrong behind it too.
Defence : I can’t argue the fact that there did seem to be a lot of problems behind the scenes. Danny Cannon, a young director, was probably a little out of his depths taking such a well know character and making it work on the big screen.
Prosecution : Be it Cannon’s fault or not, they got a lot wrong. Dredd is not Dredd. For a start he takes his helmet off… A rich and intelligent character with tons of compelling history was reduced to nothing but a vehicle for Stallone. And even Stallone admits they got it wrong…
Defence : Well, yes but…
Prosecution : No. Judge Dredd is supposed to be faceless; he is the embodiment of the Law. The helmet stays on. Having an actor who was not willing to respect that one aspect of the character just opened the film up to the rest of the problems it has.
Judge : “Ah am… Dur lawh!”
Defence : Your Honour. Please. You must cease these outbursts. You could be prejudicing the case.
Defence : Yeah. I can’t really argue about the codpiece. But apart from the codpiece the uniform isn’t all bad.
Prosecution : If you can tear your eyes away from Stallone’s crotch! As I said, the uniform doesn’t last long. And the minute Stallone ditches the uniform the film just becomes a generic sci-fi romp. And add to that the fact that Dredd kisses his co-star, has a comedy sidekick and kills more Judges than the bad guys did, the film moves further and further away from Dredd and everything he represents.
Defence : Okay, so Stallone was maybe a bad choice. And the uniform has… Some problems… And they got Dredd himself wrong. And Rob Schneider as Fergie the comedy sidekick was pretty awful. But what about what the films does get right? Mega City One looks amazing.
Prosecution : The city does indeed look fantastic.
Defence : And The Angel gang, especially Mean Machine Angel, look like they were taken straight out of the comic. What about Hammerstein? He was brilliantly realised.
Prosecution : Yes, he was. But Hammerstein’s from another story altogether…You’re just highlighting the fact that so many disparate themes and characters have been jammed together with no real cohesion. Look at what they tried to fit in. An introduction to Mega City One and the world of Dredd, the Rico storyline, the Angel Gang, Dredd as a lawbreaker and Judge Griffin making a power play, Fargo taking the Long Walk… and none of it is given enough room to work. And what about the totally damp squib of the clone threat? Nothing comes of it.(opens in new tab)
Defence : Erm… The gun is cool…
Prosecution : Double whammy!
Defence : Somebody says “Drokk!”
Prosecution : One good “Drokk” a good Dredd film does not make.
Defence : Fine. Okay… What about the cast? Apart from Stallone they had some real heavy hitters in there… Max Von Sydow, Armande Assante, Jurgen Prochnow. Even Diane Lane makes a good Hershey.
Prosecution : But she isn’t Hershey. None of them are the character they’re supposed to be. It’s like they just used the names. Mega City One, Dredd, Hershey, Rico, Fargo, Lawgiver, Griffin, et al. They took characters and storylines and mashed them all together and hoped it would stick together. And it didn’t. They had all the ingredients but didn’t actually understand any of the context.
Defence : John Wagner and Alan Grant were invited to write a treatment for the script but they were offered no money for doing so and they declined.
Prosecution : Can you blame them? They’re professional writers. Of course they should be paid for the work they do. So it was written by people who didn’t understand Dredd.
Defence : Lots of films are written by people who aren’t tied to the original source. And it’s understandable, and even expected, to see changes in a character taken from one format to another. What may work on the page might not work as well on TV or in a film. Adaptations are just that. They adapt.
Prosecution : Adapt? The film barely pays lip service to the source material, and after the first 15 minutes – after they’ve said all the names and shown all the locations – they then just go off on a tangent.
Defence : The new Dredd film is taking similar liberties.(opens in new tab)
Prosecution : Oh, come on! Your Honour, I do hope my colleague isn’t trying to defend the ’95 film by judging another remake on nothing but a couple of pictures and one trailer… I’m sure this court of Law wouldn’t judge something on so little evidence…
Judge : “Ah am… Dur lawh!”
Defence : Your honour, please! You must stop this! And you can stop laughing Mr Prosecutor.
Prosecution : Yes, I’m sorry… Ahem. As I was saying; if the new film turns out to be crap then I’m sure we’ll be back here to prosecute it. It seems to be going down very well in preview screenings… But let’s wait until it’s officially released before we damn it.
Defence : Fine. I shall concede that point. Getting back to the case on hand; I believe the main problem with Judge Dredd is that it’s called Judge Dredd. Take away the name and all the baggage it brings and you have a pretty decent action packed roller coaster ride set in a dystopian future world.
Prosecution : Oh, come on. It failed the fans by corrupting pretty much everything that was iconic about the title character and it failed in the mainstream because it took too many parts from the source material and jammed them together into an incomprehensible mess. It wasn’t just a bad Judge Dredd film, it was a bad film.
Defence : There are people out there who haven’t read a page of Dredd who consider the film pretty good. It’s understandable that fans closer to the comic character might have enjoyed the cinema version less but the film is still considered a great cheesy sci-fi romp by many.
Prosecution : Not enough people. The box office numbers say it all. I have the figures here… People’s exhibit No 3 your Honour. The film cost $90 dollars and made just $34 in the US. And only $113 in total.
Defence : Okay, it didn’t do well financially, but you can’t judge a film by money alone. And it does have problems. Like I said, it’s main one being called Judge Dredd. A character as long lived and iconic as Dredd was never an easy sell. And the comic book Dredd is very difficult to distil down into an hour and a half movie.(opens in new tab)
Prosecution : Well, movies have been made about all sorts of other comic book character without too much trouble.
Defence : Oh, please. There are plenty of other duff comic book adaptations out there. And the ones that do work, work because most the characters have had various incarnations on TV or film before. And many have had reboots within their original comic book environment. Dredd was untouched. He hadn’t been diluted or rebooted or retconned. Anything new and different was going to be a little jarring and considering the directions the film took…
*Suddenly the doors to the court are smashed open*
Judge Dredd : Nobody move! This is an illegal gathering!
Defence : Judge Dredd? My God! What…
Judge Dredd : Stow it loudmouth! Topics subversive to the Laws of Mega City One… You creeps are all doing time. And as for you your Honour; impersonating a Judge is a serious offence. You’re not the law, I’m the law. 10 years creep! And get that stupid wig off!