(Marching Law) Minutia Madness – Dredd Edition

Minutia Madness: Dredd
By Bret Dorman

(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)

dreddEveryone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.

But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!

Written by Alex Garland; Directed by Pete Travis

Fan Poster 1

Fan Poster 1

Dredd is a standout when it comes to modern action movies. When you really look at it, pound for pound, bullet for bullet, there’s really not *that* much “action” per action scene. Every action scene is short and sweet, yet they are compounded by the immediacy of the situation and its short time frame. The biggest set piece appears about halfway in the movie and it is extremely one-sided. But then Dredd appears out of the dust to dispense Justice, emphasizing what this movie is really all about: Attitude.

Another way the movie stands out is by opening on an action scene, which is a dying art. After a brief sci-fi world establishing montage-ologue, this action scene not only provides a visceral and badass opening to the movie, it provides a thesis for the character.

Some might think that negotiating with the “hot shot” shows how Dredd is unwilling to bargain and follows the rules no matter what. This is true. However, by the end his character does change. At first he declines Anderson’s special status saying a fail is a fail. But throughout the film we see him bend the rules, treat each situation differently. He gives a bum a second chance. He desperately switches to stun when taking on some punk kids just seconds after stating he doesn’t mind putting them in body bags. And ultimately he accepts Anderson’s using the system to dispense a more “admirable” form of ‘difference-making’ sentencing, that is truly more fair than what Dredd himself may have done given the information he had.

So then in this opening scene, what is the theme that remains constant? The drive of the character? It is shown in just 7 seconds that echoes through the entire movie. Take a look:

Right there. At 2:38. Dredd gets off his Lawmaster Motorcycle and walks to the van. He takes his gun out of his holster. And he charges his way over at a distinctly assured pace. In this moment the camera shows you everything you need: Dredd’s calm and commanding composure under pressure, his willingness to act with violence in response to violence (especially when innocent people are at risk), and how Dredd as a character is always moving forward.

Fan Poster 3

Fan Poster 3

I’m not a “Dredd head.” I’ve never read the comics. So for me the whole helmet this was never really a *huge* deal. In addition to never showing his face, the movie really highlights its main character’s lack of movie star face time in other ways. By remaining behind the character and below the waist, Dredd here is more of a Force for Justice than a singular entity. And there are plenty of times where he must rely on his public persona to intimidate and out maneuver his enemies.

Dredd is a character whose stature matters. After being attacked with 3 huge Gatling guns he must run and even crawl to safety. His response? To toss Ma-Ma’s right hand man off a high ledge. He doesn’t celebrate. He doesn’t taunt. He doesn’t wait for any response. He marches back into the rubble, ready to press onward.

They threw their best at him and he pushed back harder. The situation never gets the better of him. As he calls for back up he never stresses the urgency. The Judges are always outnumbered and overwhelmed. And even at the end when talking to The Chief he simply states it was a “drug bust.” This incredible circumstance is even treated as a training assessment for a rookie. For Dredd, this is all day. Everyday.

Dredd’s approach to the van is his same approach to every crime. He remains calm. He draws his gun. And presses forward. The character may change in how he sees dispensing judgement by adding more grey area, but not in how he approaches the situation itself, always ready.

So what do you think? Have I approached this situation and judged it accurately? Or am I just crazy for focusing on his minute detail?

Early teaser poster. 'Darker' in tone than the '95 version.

Early teaser poster. ‘Darker’ in tone than the ’95 version.

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27 responses to “(Marching Law) Minutia Madness – Dredd Edition

  1. For the record, I am a “Dredd head”. And I adored this movie.

    One very brief scene which struck me was when Dredd and Anderson are riding down the elevator at the end. It’s Dredd, the man of violence, who is quietly and efficiently attending to her gunshot wound. It’s like at the beginning of the film where Anderson can tell there’s anger and control, yes, but something else too.

  2. You nailed it, Bret. This is exactly why I love this movie. The action presents close-quarters firefights and room clearing for what it is: fast, violent and lethal. Drop the target and move on.
    It manages to say so much about its central character without saying much at all. Rather than being told that Dredd is an uncompromising instrument of justice, we see it in his efficient, machine-like dispensing of sentences and bullets. A prime example of the “show, don’t tell” technique at work.

  3. To respond to both you you @Patrick and @Nick at the same time, I think Dredd’s constant scowl just further shows how miserable he is doing his job. Sure he’s extremely good at it, but he doesn’t *like* it. He takes no pleasure in it.

    After he saves the girl from “Hot Shot” there’s no reaction from him. No time to celebrate one life when so many are dead, including his perps.

    I love movies with miserable characters doing miserable things out of a sense of duty or justice. And by the end you feel that Dredd has been given a small shimmery glimmering beam of hope seeing Anderson stick to her “admirable” ideals while kicking some ass.

    • There is a line in one of the comics in which he looks out over the city and says … ‘”Mega-City 1 … 800 million people and every one of them a potential criminal. The most violent, evil city on Earth … But, God help me, I love it!”

      So whilst I concur he is a miserable looking and sounding ‘stoneyface’ who appears to dislike everything around him, the writers of the character convey that deep down he loves the city and all the action that comes with the badge. The fact he always turns down higher positions and hates being stuck in meetings at the hall of justice shows that along with having a huge sense of duty, he does also get a massive kick from being a street judge.

      • It is interesting that Dredd sees everyone as a potential criminal, that anyone could turn at any moment given that specific future dystopia.

        I definitely don’t think Dredd sees the good he’s doing on an individual level, he’s too hard for that. But ultimately he sees it on the grander scale, even if the Judges have the deck stacked against them. He’s a man of action for sure, so it makes sense he wants to stick to what he’s best at.

        In a sequel I would love to see Dredd tackle more grey area, although in his world on his level I think he mostly deals with extremes.

        I know a bunch of fans are calling for a Judge Death story? But I don’t know how that would fit in to the world. Would it just be cool for the sake of cool? Because I like that Dredd has substance in its action.

        Maybe I’ll pick up some of the comics…

  4. What made the movie for me; was the level of detail in the surroundings. Just look at all the posters; the signage inside of Peach Trees.

    There are references to the various artists on the cityblock buildings; but it goes deeper, look inside Peach Trees and you see the “Chopper Smiley” and posters for a film “Mark of Krysler” (a reference to the Judge Child saga); there’s Umpty Candy and Otto Sump shops.

    Then of course there is Karl Urban. Right at the start you seem him about to put on the helmet and you’re thinking “oh no .. not the face”. But its shadowed.

    Dredd 2.

    • There was also at the beginning a sign for a “hot dog” place which I personally took as a nod to Dirty Harry, who chomps on a dog as he approaches a bad guy in his opening attitude driven scene.

      Great details all throughout!

      • Yeah I love how layered Dredd is, those Dirty Harry nods even extend to some of Paul Leonard Morgan’s fantastic score for the film!

  5. bdorman, exactly. He even (spoilers) gets offered the role of Chief Judge, over and over, but won’t take it because he is “needed” on the streets, not in an office. He doesn’t do it because it’s fun. He does it because it needs to be done.

  6. @bdorman01 I don’t think misery has anything to do with Dredds demeanour, the point about Dredd is, he’s a machine, or as close to a machine as it is possible to get for a human, there are no delusions of morality, he doesn’t feel pity, there is only right and wrong. What is interesting is how there are moments of humour within the character, moments when the Dredd machine drops his guard, for just a second, e.g. suggesting a bullet might interfere more with Andersons Telepathy than a helmet. As a reader of the comic books Urban nails Dredd perfectly and I hope we see more of the jackbooted stormtrooper.

    • The only problem with the “right and wrong” machine like approach to the character is Dredd does show flexibility. He gives the bum a second chance and stuns the kids.

      As another mentioned, Anderson states “there is something more” beneath Dredd than just a tough guy exterior.

      I love how Dredd says 99% isn’t enough to execute a perp but when Ma-Ma decimates an entire floor he has enough “evidence” in front of him to make the judgement that Kay does know something about Ma-Ma and takes the interrogation into his own hands. In this moment he shows a human reaction to seeing people murdered (to get at him) and when Anderson says she can get the info through her psychic means Dredd actually steps into the background (great use of 3D) and catches his composure.

  7. Dredd is a modern classic in my opinion and it’s great to hear that appreciation for this fantastic movie is constantly growing! 🙂

  8. Is Dredd miserable all the time? I personally found him to be enigmatic to the point of being almost completely unreadable.

    What do we make of the scene where Dredd sets up the gang members (by placing a decoy in the phone box) and showers them in white phosphorus from the floor above? His view lingers on the burning perps for just long enough to be uncomfortable.

    And what of Anderson’s ‘softer’ approach? She stops Dredd from physically torturing Kay only to horrifically torture him anyway, albeit in a way that leaves no physical scars (an enhanced interrogation technique?). Then in her grand gesture towards the end of the movie she lets the hacker away, on the premise that he has been forced into a life of crime against his will. Well the film shows us that the same thing could be said of every other perp they’ve gunned down up until that point. Ma Ma herself being one of the most obvious examples of victim turned criminal in the movie.

    Rather than truly showing a new way of doing things, Anderson simply provides a way to make the horror of the system more palatable. Where Dredd stands as a completely honest and brutal representation of the Justice Department, Anderson is representative of a more liberal approach that only serves to make us feel better about what is happening while continuing the horror.

    • Incendiary Scene: to me all these baddies are just faceless perps who are very much willingly trying to kill a Judge. Dredd’s linger is more of a reaction to them taking Anderson. Ma-Ma took something from him that really mattered, a fellow Judge, so he has to hit back even harder, and watches her men burn. If not for the corrupt four Judges that would have basically been Ma-Ma’s last big play.

      Anderson’s Kay Torture: Kay pushes Anderson hard using violent and sexual imagery so she, using Dredd as a teacher, must push back even harder.

      I like the take that Anderson is just a more liberal way to approach the horror and make us feel better. That’s interesting.

      But both Dredd and Ma-Ma make reference to their partners that they may be better off dead (Dredd -> Anderson “you might not want to get taken alive” and Ma-Ma -> Kay “you should have killed the Judges or been killed yourself”). Anderson doesn’t NEED to read Caleb’s mind cuz he’s willing to give out the info. It’s only cuz she does she sees his predicament.

      Ma-Ma however is beyond help. That’s why I think Dredd is so miserable. He can’t help her. He can only stop her.

    • I don’t agree with characterizing Anderson’s approach a dishonest or designed to make anyone feel better. She simply has access to more information than Dredd. Yes, any of the goons or Ma Ma herself can be considered victims as well as perps, but they were all guilty of, at least, attempted murder of a judge. We all know the sentence for that.

      It was clear that the hacker was basically a prisoner, under constant threat to ensure his obedience. Anderson had the unique ability to recognize that and dispensed justice as she considered appropriate to the situation. We don’t know what Dredd would have done, given access to the same information, but he gave Anderson a pass, didn’t he?

      • Good point. It is hard to say what he would do in that situation but I do believe his questioning of Anderson is more trying to understand her as opposed to giving her a hard set rule. He’s not one to take it easy on a newbie (because the creeps won’t take it easy on her either) and that language innately seeps out as he asks why she let Caleb go.

      • I would contend that there is no distinction to be made between the hacker and the rest of the gang members. Each and every one of them has been forced into their criminal lifestyle. It is precisely in trying to make this distinction that the dishonestly lies.

        The residents of Peach Trees are gang members because it is the only employment option available in a system that has no use for them. The film explicitly shows us this when we see Anderson gun down the gang member who is pleading for his life, only to subsequently stumble into his completely mundane and ordinary family home complete with the concerned wife, young child and loving family photographs.

        It is not meant to be an anomaly that his life otherwise seems perfectly ordinary. The point is that the gang members are ordinary citizens. This is also made clear when the ‘meat grinder’ nature of MC1 is spelled out for us by Judge Lex. And this dehumanising aspect of the city is also reflected in the slow motion sequences, where the gang members appear more as abstract bags of flesh and blood rather than as people.

  9. The frown could also be due to his boots

    There’s a Running Gag about how Dredd is always wearing the wrong sized boots. This dates back to early in the long-running “Democracy” story arc when Dredd first started having doubts about his duty as a Judge; his mentor, Judge Morphy, recommended to Dredd that he wear boots two sizes too small, remarking, “You’ll be so busy cussin’ those damned boots you won’t have time to worry about anything else.”

    • Hahaha. I knew the comics were a bit “goofier” at times but this is really funny. I should just cave and buy one of the volumes/collections…

      • Heller’s Last Stand reveals that this was advice Morphy gave to everybody. As he’s dying, Heller asks Dredd one last favour: to remove his boots.

        You wont regret getting one of the collections, the outstanding artwork aside, The storys are also a satirical comentary

  10. The series is part Dystopian Sci-Fi adventure, part satirical Black Comedy. Mega City One embodies the social problems, urban decay and political issues of British and Western society since the 1970s turned Up to Eleven, with Dredd and the Judges a satire of the worst excesses of police and government authority, though some people seem to think his methods are a jolly good idea.

    The series is also notable for its moral complexity. By his very nature and purpose, Anti-Hero Dredd is firmly committed to his organization’s authoritarian, brutal, and ruthless methods of law enforcement, but it’s established that Mega City One would collapse without him and his fellow Judges, and more than once has.

    Though Dredd is impeccably honest and honorable, despises corruption, does not discriminate, goes out of his way to save innocents, has had some Pet the Dog moments throughout the years, and has been given cause to question his purpose more than once, he is an unapologetic authoritarian. In this setting, democracy within his society has been shown to be simply unworkable.

    For those who like their classical philosophy texts, Dredd’s world has a distinct air of Plato’s Republic about it…

    • I did watch Judge Minty after Make A Dredd Sequel posted it!

      Honestly at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I really enjoyed it. Solid short!!!

  11. Me too, but i couldnt help but like it.
    Given i still have my original JD story from prog 2 of 2000AD.
    I even have the biotronic sticker set that came as a free gift with this issue

    I also downloaded the complete 2000AD via a torrents feed recently, id link to the site but its not there anymore. but you can still find torrents of 2000AD out there. you need a reader like comical to read them, but ive really enjoyed reliving my childhood again via these

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