They call him Judge, his last name is Dredd,
So break the law, and you may wind up dead.
Truth and justice are what he’s fighting for,
Judge Dredd the man, he is the law.
– Anthrax, "I am the Law"
Like the musical narrative whittled in times past by Anthrax, the year nineteen hundred and ninety-five brought into existence cinema’s own take on 2000 AD’s most famous creation. The time was of buzzing anticipation: the sheen of helmet visors threatened to furrow into the social edifice like a knife lacerating cake, throwing into disarray convention and morbid inertia alike, fucking a decelerating conception of artistic expression into motion.
A pioneering force was to be unleashed, let loose into the labyrinthine mines of the human psyche. The rising tide of orgasmic exhilaration reached crescendo heights upon the birth pangs of the film’s release, stabbings puncturing the accepted distinction between the myriad stages of production and the time spent straddling the irate hornet disposition of the box office.
Then it was splashed out into the world, soaked in amniotic bullets of ultra-violence, umbilical blows to the crotch in abundance. The masses cowered, unable to form the correct mien with which to address the rich numinosity of Judge Dredd. To acquiesce to the comic gyrations or to turn away in disgust, that was the question. Shot through the filament of the beating heart strings running transnationally across space, the film was subject to opal eyes and pale pregnant minds, sundering tedium parasitic on the social conscience. Never before had intact follies been redeemed with such gusto. Judge Dredd stole nobility from the arbitrary, redistributing to the meritorious deserved rewards.
How an inventory majestic in colour such as thus could have been perpetrated by a mere assemblage of images laced with sound is the beautiful centrepiece of this story. For imprisoned in the vulgarity of celluloid reproduction is a vivid set of pronouncements palatial in form, oozing their yield through a singular source, the fecund presence of Sylvester Stallone.
Shouldering Judge Dredd’s humming weight of disdain, Stallone is the fulcrum to this rocking web of explosions and titanic shouting. He is cast into the riotous crackles of Mega City One, a grim collective of wretched lawbreakers that makes Mos Eisley look like a port of saints. His job: uphold juridical integrity and punish those who would dare deface the rule of law. Felons are subject to judging on the spot, verdicts conjured by whichever Judge they are unlucky to be caught by. Of these civil enforcers, the most notorious and rigid of temperament is Judge Dredd. Whereas lesser Judges may grant lenience on occasion, overlooking minor misdeeds in a bout of discretion, Judge Dredd’s obligation to the profession pierces any and all merciful cries.
But duty is soon rescinded when a base conspiracy framing Dredd for the murder of innocents leads to him condemned to life imprisonment. With the system fissuring under corruption, it’s up to our eponymous hero to rip apart the shackles of the sentence dealt him and rescue Mega City One from the clutches of vile Rico and his lust for domination.
Unlike sumptuous twosomes unique in nature such as Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben’s paean to love and friendship in I Come in Peace, Stallone is fortunate enough to be an ingredient in at least two of these dyads. Popping up with little regard to good taste is Rob Schneider. He wanders the narrative as the (explicit) comic relief, rubbed into the skin of Stallone like a particularly greasy and annoying moisturiser that delivers bad lines of dialogue at inopportune moments. In a skid mark of poetic justice, the wrongly convicted Dredd is united with Schneider’s sniveling fool, a petty stain he had unfairly convicted earlier on. Schneider becomes the personification of injustice, and a suitably odorous splotch at that. He also makes for a fine container of all that ails Judge Dredd.
Certainly little can be spoken in the negative about Judge Hershey, Dredd’s confidant and the object of his repressed lust. The bristling fabric of Dredd’s chin, ignited by entry of Hershey into the locale, belies his intention of late night masturbatory sessions lit only by a candle feeding light onto a picture of Hershey stolen from her locker.
Completing the order of known names attached to the film is Max von Sydow, often to be unseen off-camera calling to beg Bergman to make a sequel to the Seventh Seal, and Armand Assante, vying for the title of world’s biggest neck alongside Stallone and Henry Rollins. In fact Assante’s biggest contribution to excellence is relocating Josie Packard from Twin Peaks to Mega City One. Alas her sole gift to the unfolding drama is to be vandalised by Judge Hershey in the token ‘cat fight’.
No doubt, Judge Dredd is Stallone’s show. Even when cloaked in plastic headpiece his dirty upturned smirk clouds the entire mise-en-scene, turning invisible whole sections of Mega City One’s N64-spawned urban skyline. The codpiece protecting his swollen balls of virility also has such effects, cancelling out murmurs of dialogue, judging them superfluous and detrimental to close-up glimpses of Stallone’s simmering outrage. And who needs them when an endless barrage of “I am the law” explodes from Stallone’s lips with diarrheic regularity.
Never wildly conceding defeat to Assante and his jamboree of freakish clones, Stallone stoically drums up honour from dishonour, with the denouement dredging up a welter of runtime leaving only the finest crystals of Stallone’s fist smashing a villain’s face remaining. Impacts originating from the leathered knuckles of Stallone and a stream of bellowed invective cement Judge Dredd’s position in the arts, bestowing aesthetic gloss onto a film that regurgitates glee into the popular imagination.