I Never Broke The Law, I Am The Law!: Judge Dredd (1995)

In the wake of what appears to be an endless amount of remakes, or what may be called rehashings, I have come to realize their is a considerable list of sci-fi classics, or at the very least well-regarded films for their time, that I have failed to see, one such being Judge Dredd, which has recently found a new version in the midst of the current 3D craze, while I am told that it is not necessarily a remake, the name Dredd made me realize that while I have no desire to see this new version, what memories I do have of the original are very vague and relate more to the video game I played inspired by the film and comic, as opposed to the movie.  As such, I felt it necessary to revisit this work, not expecting to enjoy it per se, but to reconsider a relationship to what I found cool at hip as somebody of seven years age, as opposed to now being twenty four.  Popping in Judge Dredd did begin with an initial degree of excitement because thematically it falls into the distopian film genre, a personal favorite of mine and manages to adhere to this context quite brilliantly.  Furthermore, for about the first forty five minutes to an hour I was blown away by how well executed and realized the film was and found myself contemplating why it had not been more well regarded as years had passed, however, as the movie wrapped up it dove into a world of grandioseness and absurdism that completely ruined its great philosophical underpinnings in the name of terrible counter one-liners and explosions.  Of course, these factors were not off putting, as they might have been in something like a Michael Bay movie and would not have seemed obnoxious were they incorporated evenly throughout the film, tragically, it goes from a great pace to frantic by the films close causing viewers to be rather disconnected as the climax builds to early and points of resolve seem secondary.  Suffice to say, Judge Dredd gets close to being a damn good movie only to throw caution to the wind without realizing that it cannot afford such frivolous actions.  All criticism aside the film deserves a fair amount of credit for some cool special effects and some great cinematic references and I am glad to see that Danny Cannon has gone on to have heavy control in the CSI franchise.  Judge Dredd is very much a product of the 90's and like so many things from the era, excluding the music, revisiting the piece rarely proves to aid in the nostalgia.

It is the future, everything really sucks and the earth is a desolate and inhabitable wasteland, an occurrence we can only assume is directly tied to nuclear warfare.  While most of the world is occupied by pirate like bands of deformed humans, a few cities have popped up, mostly existing within the former United States, one such city is Mega City 1, which is presided over by a set of persons known as Judges, persons whose sole purpose is to dispense justice to an unruly people, often doing so in very forceful and violent manners.  We are shown one such Judge, Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) using his heavy hand to arrest a recently released criminal named Herman Ferguson (Rob Schneider) for computer hacking.  Along with the help of Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) Dredd incarcerates Ferguson and returns to work, only to be told that he needs to take a break from working the streets to reflect on teaching ethics, as many in the academy find Dredd's swift hand of justice a bit to eager.  Meanwhile it is revealed that an ex-Judge named Rico (Armand Assante) has broken free from a maximum security penal colony and is out and about on killing sprees in Mega City 1, much to everyone's concern.  Dredd is then implicated in the murder of an activist oriented reporter, despite having no recollection of the events, leading to his being sent to the prison, despite various pleas of innocence.  While on his way to the prison, Dredd encounter Ferguson once again, who cannot help but note the irony in the situation.  Meanwhile it is revealed that Dredd, as well as Rico were part of a government project to create a genetically perfect police force, Dredd being a positive result and Rico being prove of its negative implications.  Recruiting the aid of Ferguson, Dredd manages to escape the prison and return to Mega City to face Rico in an attempt to save Mega City 1.  After a successful destruction of Rico and his evolving clones, Dredd is able to once again take up his role as a procurer of justice, although we are led to believe that he does so with a slightly different frame of reference, one that now considers the possibilities of innocence.

The concepts of law and ethics and who has the right to dispense justice are more than apparently the concept of Judge Dredd, as if the title of the film alone were not enough of a clue.  However, while some of the film certainly exist to reflect on how the individual code of ethics is contested and accommodated by a larger set of guidelines, I would argue that Judge Dredd is far more concerned with considering what role symbols of power play into dispensing authority and a vague notion of justice.  It is no coincidence that the uniforms donned by the various judges cause them to be somewhat hard to identify beyond clear gender and racial signifiers, giving a certain faceless nature to police power, suggesting it larger or more abstract that human nature.  It is also no coincidence that the uniforms reflect a very totalitarian imagery, almost reminiscent of Fascist era Europe, also suggesting that justice as a means of symbolic power is tied to a state force, something that is further heightened by the large robed figure that is created when shown the architectural nature of the Judge's Academy in Mega City 1.  The film does go on to consider what problems arise when one creates a replica of the symbols of justice, as occurs when Rico passes as Dredd.  Does one then completely dismiss these power images altogether, or does it require a reconsideration and reconstruction of the images from the ground up.  In one of the films better scenes, Dredd comments on the presence of the female depiction of justice as "the blind lady," yet this film suggest that justice is anything but blind and, in fact, depends quite heavily on images and symbols as a means of visual enforcement.

Key Scene:  The hovercraft chase scene, while a bit dated still has a great degree of suspense and enjoyability.

This is a solid rental movie through and through and only if you truly love Sylvester Stallone should you buy this film.

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