Just in time for the new reboot Dredd 3D, the 1995 adaptation of the British sci-fi comic book series, Judge Dredd, hits Blu-ray for the first time. Judge Dredd stars Sylvester Stallone in the title role and Armand Assante as his arch nemesis, Rico. The film suffers from cheap looking sets and costumes, as well as lazy storytelling. One of its only saving graces is a funny performance by Rob Schneider as an ex-con who quickly gets into more trouble. The rest of the film is a mess of sci-fi and comic book movie cliches that have been done to death (and much better) in tons of other films.
There’s no doubt Stallone has made some real turkeys in his career. Judge Dredd may not be his worst, but I find it one of his most puzzling. Simply put, he does not fit the role at all. One thing about the character of Judge Dredd is that he is supposed to be unemotional. He only knows the law, and that is the only thing he follows. Stallone was not able to turn off the emotion in his voice, in his eyes (which are never seen in the print version), or in his overall demeanor for this film. So when another character asks him if he feels anything, it’s hard to believe him when he says no. Still, it might have all worked better if the film was not so cheesy.
Perhaps Stallone was bitten by the sci-fi bug, having appeared in the far superior Demolition Man two years earlier. The plots of the two films even have some similarities. In both, Stallone plays a cop wrongly convicted of a crime who is forced to take on an escaped con whose goal is controlling the city. Unlike Demolition Man’s peaceful San Angeles, Judge Dredd’s Megacity is a violent, overcrowded cesspool. It is so overcrowded that there is no time for lengthy trials of the many criminals that plague the city. The “judges” have the power to arrest, try, and convict someone on the spot. It’s an environment Judge Dredd thrives in. He wants nothing more in life than to uphold the law.
Dredd’s attitude changes after he’s framed for the murders of a prominent reporter and his wife. Dredd finds himself on the other side of the law, fighting for his innocence. Everyone turns against him except his partner Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) and Chief Justice Fargo (Max Von Sydow). Fargo stands up for Dredd, but is forced to retire in exchange for sparing Dredd’s life. For reasons that are not fully explained in the film, Fargo is cast out of society for his “long walk” to the Cursed Earth, a barren and inhospitable land. Dredd finds himself being transported to prison with a group of violent criminals and Fergee (Schneider), a petty criminal Dredd had just sentenced to five years in prison.
Had Judge Dredd exploited the buddy aspect of the film between Stallone and Schneider, it might have been a better movie. The unlikely duo works well together (Schneider was also in Demolition Man, but with far more limited screen time). Schneider’s main purpose in the film seems to be for comic relief (he certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the actual plot), but he is a welcome presence. His imitations of Dredd and commentary on their circumstances are pretty funny. However, the film focuses more on a lame plot that has to do with corruption, genetic manipulation, and cloning. It’s not very interesting, and I found myself not caring about the outcome. Armand Assante (whose first starring role was in Stallone’s 1978 Paradise Alley) gives an over-the-top performance as the villain Rico that comes across as more annoying than entertaining. It’s not his fault. It’s more that he is trying hard to do something with very thin material.
If there’s anything easy to recommend about Judge Dredd, it’s the Blu-ray presentation. The standard DVD release was a non-anamorphic disaster. Now the 17-year-old film looks awesome, with a 1080p transfer that truly adds depth and clarity. Having seen the old DVD several times, I was pleasantly surprised by the great level of detail, especially in the actors’ faces, now visible. Black levels are deep but crush is never an issue. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is just as impressive. The action scenes make good use of the surround channels, with gunfire zipping all around. The dialogue is always clear as a bell above the ruckus. Alan Silvestri’s score (one of the film’s best elements) is also well balanced between the front and surround channels.