Dredd was one of my biggest surprises last year. There’s a straightforward nature to the film that never lets up. The action is right in that sweet spot of new and familiar. However, the best part of the film is what separates it from its predecessor: a main character that doesn’t smack of cheesy popcorn films. Sylvester Stallone‘s variant had a goofy sidekick and lots of helmetless Dredd, which is an egregious change from the comics its based. This time there is no useless and goofy sidekick along for the ride and Dredd, played here by the excellently-cast Karl Urban, keeps his helmet on. Then there’s the 3D aspect that doesn’t play by normal conventions and some shocking violence that is made all the more beautiful by the slow-mo drug and third dimension. This feels like the film 2000 AD fans have been waiting for, and even as a newbie you can find a lot here to sink your teeth into. Hit the jump for my full review of the disc and why the special features leave you wanting more.
Karl Urban stars as Judge Dredd, who has been tasked with giving a rookie Judge a sink or swim test run in the wasteland known as Mega-City One. Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) has a special mutation that has given her psychic abilities, but she may not be ready for the life of a Judge. Dredd and Anderson respond to a seemingly ordinary triple homicide—that’s life in Mega-City One—and realize they aren’t going to be able to simply walk out after taking a suspect into custody. Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) essentially runs Peach Trees, the megablock that the Judges find themselves trapped in, and she sends her henchmen after them. There is no ability for flight, so the Judges have to fight…and that’s exactly what Dredd excels at.
The most striking thing about the 3D Blu-ray is that unlike so many other combo packs, this one has just a single disc. The 3D version and the standard Blu-ray are on one disc. In fact, even the Ultraviolet digital copy is on that lone disc as well. That should ring some warning bells, but for the most part there was little grain and no truly noticeable dip in sound or image quality that I could tell. There’s even a purportedly useful sound mix that is modified specifically for listening to late at night so you don’t wake your kids, spouse, or various other roommates. As for the 3D itself, it retains a lot of the awe that struck me in the theater when I saw it at Fantastic Fest in late September. Sure, the effect is noticeably different in your living room versus a huge projected image, but it remains impressive to look at at times. And the violence and special effects hold up very well.
Sound is replicated well. You can easily hear the various characters speaking and when it needs to get loud, it does so with aplomb. The chain gun sequence is particularly fun to listen to as is Urban’s growling voice when Dredd does sporadically speak up. The real fault here isn’t with the quality of the film or the transfer. Instead, it lies with the special features. There is no commentary track on the disc, something nearly every major home video release seems to have these days. As for the bonus features, there are a handful but they don’t even eclipse 45 minutes in total runtime. For a low-budget independent film with a rich science fiction universe, you would think they would have spent more time documenting what they were doing. Then again, considering writer/producer Alex Garland nearly laughed at me when I told him it was rumored the film was made for $45 million, maybe they didn’t have a lot of extra funds to spend on filming them film.
What is there, though, is intriguing. “Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd” runs for 14:27 and explores the character from his inception on Britain’s 2000 AD to the present. For those unfamiliar with the original weekly comic book, Dredd as a character was introduced in 1977. All the major players are interviewed in the reflective look back, including co-creator John Wagner who has been a major influence and continuous presence on the comic. Co-creator and original lead artist Carlos Ezquerra is also interviewed and talks at length about the look of Dredd, including the fascist and Nazi symbolism that is present in the costume. This is a fantastic introduction to Dredd and his rich history. The other major special feature is titled “Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd 3D.” This runs 15:21 and details major portions of production. Everything from the costumes, the locations, and the 3D are touched upon. One cool bit of information is that very early in pre-production, the visual effects team was working on the look and feel of the film. This was before a DOP or director was even hired. So, they had a huge jump start on making everything feel cohesive as a world, instead of coming in once a script and story was put together and trying to fit it all in.
There’s also some interesting points about how 3D obviously hurt the budget, but they went with it anyways because the slow-mo drug was such an integral portion of the story and that they needed to really showcase its effect. Additionally, the fact that the cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, had never shot in 3D before means he was a rebel. Conventions of 3D didn’t matter to him, so he broke a lot of rules and played with the effect to keep it from ever feeling gimmicky as well. Then there’s a handful of featurettes included: “Dredd” Featurette- 1:53; “Dredd’s Gear”- 2:31; “The 3rd Dimension”- 2:00; and “Welcome to Peach Trees”- 2:33. Save for the “Dredd” featurette, all of the others are pretty informative but are short, and in the case of the 3D one, recycles some footage seen in the longer special features. The last major feature is the “Dredd Motion Comic Prequel”- 2:57. This essentially sets up Ma-Ma and explains how slow-mo came to be. It’s narrated mainly by Urban, and we can definitely see the similarity in the art style.
Overall, it’s hard to fault a lean science fiction production for not wasting a lot of money on behind the scenes features, but I’m still going to take issue with it. With the film clocking in at 96 minutes, there’s a large replay factor. I’ve already shown it to multiple friends and family and every time I watch it I catch some interesting new subtleties. The 3D actually works, the action is fast-paced and fun, and Dredd’s humorless delivery is counterintuitively hilarious. Then there’s Lena Heady, who manages to shine in her limited screen time. Oh, and the science fiction aspect doesn’t bog the film down and writer Alex Garland actually sets up the rules well and plays by them. The shame is that more people didn’t get around to catching the film at theaters, but thankfully this Blu-ray release does a great job or replicating the full glory of the theatrical run.