Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Dredd Reckoning

As if anyone doubted it, Iron Man 2 had a blast-off opening this past weekend on its way to a very healthy global box office, and that just means studios will continue looking to comic books for R&D.  You know things have really come full circle for the comic movie gravy train when a big budget redux of one of my longtime faves, the legendary Brit anti-hero Judge Dredd, has distribs excited after the character's unfortunate previous movie experience fifteen years ago.  

Created in 1977 by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Dredd is part of a police force of heavily-armed jurists dispensing justice in post-apocalyptic New York.  While he enjoys Batman-like icon status in the UK, he's largely unknown stateside, with his greatest notoriety coming probably from the last time Hollywood took a go at the property.  1995's Judge Dredd starred Sylvester Stallone (bellowing "I am the law!" with such conviction, bless him), and was probably my earliest experience with what I now call Phantom Menace syndrome, where all the signs point to something not-so-good, but you try really hard to convince yourself otherwise.

Even now, I think of the previous Dredd movie as more flawed and mediocre than outright bad.  It got everything so right about the character's world, with first-rate production design and makeup effects, but nothing at all right about the character himself. The cruel, fascistic, authoritarian Dredd (who still headlines the weekly 2000 AD comic mag in England) was pushed through the Hollywood meat grinder and came out as, well, Sly Stallone.  The producers also lost the strip's trademark black humor and, even more unforgivably, removed the character's helmet (a capital offense in Dredd land).

After Dredd '95 fizzled out in theaters, I thought that was that for the Hollywood Dredd, but I guess a decade-and-a-half is a long enough layover to go back to the well.  Yesterday Deadline broke the exclusive that screenwriter Alex Garland (scenarist for the terrific 28 Days Later) and director Pete Travis (helmer of the just-okay Vantage Point) are locked behind-the-scenes for a new (3D, natch) Judge Dredd epic.  Unfortunately, the character is a hard-enough sell as it is, and I don't think the Stallone version did much to endear him to the American public, so I wonder if they'll be any more successful this time.

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