When Judge Dredd’s past catches up with him and a former Judge reappears he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit and Mega City is thrown into chaos.
The first film adaptation based on the popular British comic book character Judge Dredd, director Danny Cannon (The Young Americans) delivers a visual treat complemented by Adrian Biddle’s cinematography. While some of the special effects, back projections etc. have aged, many elements, especially the sets, practical effects and makeup still hold up nicely. The costumes designed by Gianni Versace are a mixed bag and Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd is wise to discard the clunker unpractical 2000 A.D. costume pieces at every opportunity.
At times it feels choppy, especially in the last act. What’s seems evident as you watch Cannon’s offering is that it’s uneven, this apparently is due to studio interference, creative disputes and script changes. The other thing which takes the edge off the mix of Blade Runner and Bravestarr inspired aesthetics, aside from it feeling lighter than it’s comic source material is it’s similarities to Stallone’s Demolition Man (1993) which came out two years earlier. They’re both police films set in the future; feature comic relief Rob Schneider, the main character is framed, there’s corrupt officials – the list goes on and you can’t help feel a slight case of déjà vu.
Despite Dredd nontraditionally removing his helmet Stallone does a good job as the shamed Judge, John Spartan, er I mean Judge Joseph Dredd, sentenced to life imprisonment. Again Stallone’s Dredd works best when he’s playing it straight, training cadets, sentencing and offering emotion with his mentor Chief Justice Fargo played by the excellent Max von Sydow.
The comedy throughout is humorous – but it just doesn’t fit Dredd’s tone and would have been better placed in an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously like Demolition Man. Judge Dredd for some reason tries to be both a violent action and one-liner Schneider buddy movie. The cast are on form and the characters are fleshed out. Notable is Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. Jürgen Prochnow’s Judge Griffin the the rest of the cast are effective in their respective roles, right down to a small bit part by Ian Dury.
The mystery story is fleshed out and plays out quite well with reactivated projects, faked evidence and doctored photos. There’s some stand out scenes which include Dredd fighting psychotic Rico Dredd played wonderfully by Armand Assante as his clone Judges are awakened. With some great makeup there’s the Angel Gang, a family of cannibalistic scavengers. There’s Rico escaping from prison and reactivating a giant ABC Warrior robot. And a part where Schneider’s Fergee and Dredd must run through a tunnel in 30 seconds or be burnt alive.
With Alan Silvestri’s score adding weight, Cannon pacts in a lot of story threads which gives it scale. And to his credit Judge Dredd has plenty of visuals and some interesting darker sci-fi elements.
While its 2012 attempt fairs better, Judge Dredd ’95 remains a scifi action worth checking out.