Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Was it Really That Bad? Judge Dredd - by Kyle Johannessen

I started this series to see if movies that get a lot of internet hate are really as bad as everyone thinks. My admittedly wishful goal was that maybe one of these films were misunderstood in some way or maybe they just couldn’t meet our exceedingly high entertainment expectations. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was… Ok. Still not a great film but nowhere near as bad as the Internet flame machine has led us to believe.
And then I had to sit through two steaming piles of garbage that made me want to rip my own eyeballs out like Sam Neil in Event Horizon. That’s right, I’m looking at you, X3 and “Other Third Film That Shall Not be Named!” YOU SUCK!
Now I fear that I have fallen into a trend and you, dear readers, have become accustomed  to my suffering as I have been asked by the fine people who run this website (read MONSTERS) to continue subjecting myself to up to two hours of torture for your own sadistic entertainment.
You are all monsters. The things I do for you.

So today I climb into the way back machine and bring you the 1995 version of Judge Dredd, staring that dude from Rocky. I was watching the Karl Urban Dredd, rather enjoying myself and lamenting the fact that we may never get proper sequel to this film, and got to thinking “everyone hated Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd. I wonder if it was really that bad. If only I had a reason to drag that film out of obscurity and watch it again!" Oh wait, I forgot, THE MONSTERS!
So what’s the story with Judge Dredd? Well, I actually can’t find a whole ton of information on the history or “what went wrong” with the film, but my research did reveal some bits of information.  It seems that Danny Cannon and the writers, William Wisher, Jr. and Steven E. de Souza, were really interested in making a dark, gritty Judge Dredd film that really drew from the comic book source material. Then the studio cast Rambo and all that dark grit went right out the window. The studio, and Mr. Rambo himself, took over and tried to turn the thing into a buddy comedy in the vein of the later Lethal Weapon films.
Even in later interviews it’s clear that director and star were not on the same page. Stallone has gone on to say that the film should have been funnier, while director Danny Cannon has sworn off making a film with a big star in it ever again, and has expressed that the finished film was “nothing like the script.” Danny Cannon has gone on to find a very successful career in television and Stallone’s career has seen better days, but it’s certainly not in the gutter either.
First, let me talk about some of the really good things about this movie, cause there are some! Sylvester Stallone, despite everything that he did to derail the movie, is actually a pretty good casting choice. If he understood the material a little better and was willing to take a few risks he could have been a great Dredd. The production design, although very 90’s, it really quite spectacular, with a lot of detail and thought put into everything. It really makes you feel like the world has gone to shit and we are all packed into a giant space that is very overcrowded. This was a very expensive film at the time, and its clear where the money went. Even the special effects, after nearly 20 years, still hold up well enough.
So, is Judge Dredd really that bad? Well… kinda. It’s a work of art compared to fucking Spider-Man 3!

Judge Dredd in the comics never takes his helmet off and when he does, his face is obscured by shadow. Sylvester Stallone takes it off about ten minutes into the movie, and barely puts the damn thing back on. In fact, he really tries to avoid putting the thing on until the end of the movie. What was really interesting to me is that, despite all the other things wrong with this movie, this is the thing that gets all the internet hate these days when discussing the film. And, quite frankly, if that’s the one thing people remember and choose to complain about, then maybe the film really isn’t that bad? Maybe? Sorta?
On the one hand, getting a big name star like Sylvester Stallone sort of necessitates this move. You’re not going to pay the man whatever amount of millions you paid him and not going to show his face. No offense to Karl Urban, I love Karl Urban, but he’s not a big name like Sly was back in the day. Dredd could get away with putting Urban in the helmet and not taking it off because he’s just not as much of a big name star. I’m sure if Bradley Cooper or some other A or B lister was cast, Dredd in Dredd would have taken his helmet off every five seconds, if he wore the damn thing at all.
On the other hand, it shows quite a lack of respect to have Dredd out of the helmet for as long as he is, which is 95% of the movie. It’s a fairly huge sign of disrespect to go out of your way to change a very important aspect of the character. I mean, why make a Judge Dredd movie at all if you’re just going to take the title character and change everything about him? You had some pretty awesome sets and production designs, so you could have just made something else. I supposed the draw of the character (who isn’t that popular in the comic book world, by the way) was just too much to overlook. Speaking of things overlooked.

His casting in the movie is another big source of rage fuel on the internet. I, however, contend that there really isn’t anything wrong with him, per se. Now Rob Schneider isn’t some great thespian by any stretch of even the craziest imaginations, but he serves the purpose of being the comic relief in a film that is constantly struggling with its tone. Fergee (the character that Schneider plays) is a fairly good representation of that.
He’s also not given anything to do. They make him out to be some sort of awesome computer hacker, but what the hell does he hack in that movie? Dredd is literally dragging this character through the movie, and he is constantly screwing Dredd at every turn. None of this is Rob Schneider’s fault. He saw “big budget production” and said “College tuition for my kids!” You can’t blame him for crappy writing. If the character was a little more interesting, who’s to say that he couldn't have been a great source of comic relief?
Again, the problem with the film is tone. Stallone didn’t understand and had the authority to countermand and change things that he didn’t like on a whim. One could even say that “he was the law” on set! Hahahaha! Yeah, I know, I’m funny.  Anyway, Schneider’s character is a pretty great symbol of this differing of ideas between Stallone and Cannon and it’s really unfair to blame him as an actor for that. If you want to blame him for something, blame him for The Animal or… well… Just about the rest of his filmography really. My god it’s bad. Speaking of BAD...

You are rarely going to hear me complaining about plot holes in these articles, mainly because even the best films have them. We, as an audience, have to be willing to dismiss them in the name of entertainment, or what the hell is the point of going to the movies? We have to suspend our disbelief all the time in cinema and letting go of a few plot holes here and there, I feel, comes with the territory. However, the sheer number of them in Judge Dredd is baffling.
There’s inconsistencies on how “Judging” works (Dredd is arrested and put on trial, even though there is precedent of Judges being Judged by other Judges on the spot specifically stated in the movie), explosions go the wrong way, characters behave in contradictory ways and there is a seeming lack of logic throughout the film. I’m not even going to get into the whole Brother storyline and Janus (which they pronounce with a J sound but is actually pronounced with a Y sound, if I’m not mistaken.) Holographic advertisements are suddenly made up of solid matter when its convenient for a chase scene but we witness characters falling straight through them during other parts of the film. I could go on and on and on and on, these are just off the top of my head.
Now, can I give them a pass because, as it turns out, they were re-writing the script on the poor director as the movie was being shot? Nope, I refuse to do that, and I refuse to blame either De Souza or Cannon. I mentioned earlier that Stallone wasn’t a bad casting decision, but if he basically takes over the production and is the source of so many problems, then was he really? I really wish he just put the helmet on and did his job, because this could have been a really enjoyable film otherwise.
So that’s it ladies and gents, the breakdown of the 1995 Judge Dredd. Again, there are some redeeming qualities to this film and it’s a shame the filmmakers couldn’t make the movie they wanted, due to interference from the studio and its main star. But without this movie, would we have gotten the often brilliant remake Dredd? Probably not. So there is a silver lining in there somewhere.
I take another step into the way back machine next time, re-reviewing a childhood favorite in the Super Mario Bros. movie. It couldn’t possibly be worse than Spider-Man 3, could it?

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