Odeon Glasgow Quay, 18.09.12
Just when you thought you were about to read another diatribe against the use of 3D, let me start by making one claim in the gimmicky, pointless, annoying formats favour. In Dredd, a film-maker has finally found a use for 3D that actually impresses. That’s right, I said impresses. When the inhabitants of Mega City One inhale the powerful narcotic ‘slo-mo’ their perception of the world slows to 1% of real-time. To represent this director Pete Travis provides lingering, balletic images, whether it be water splashing from a bath, smoke particles wafting from mouths or plummeting falls rendered with elegant, floating grace, there is no doubt this is the finest 3D work I have ever witnessed (including the woeful Avatar). But, and you knew there would be a but, the beauty of these shots only serves to highlight the inherent flaws in the 3D format further – when the action is full paced the 3D becomes at best anonymous and irrelevant, at worse obtrusive and destructive; the shots, as beautiful as they are, are consciously computer generated, like watching a nice screen saver or an advert for a new car; and its use to represent the hallucinogenic effects of slo-mo lead to troubling questions of perception and perceiver, which we will come on to later. That aside, I can safely say that 3D has safely cornered the hallucinogenic drug filled slo-mo genre of films.
Dredd is a film thin on plot and back story, which is both a blessing and a curse. Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby) are sent to mega block Peach Trees to investigate a triple murder and become trapped inside by drug lord and gang leader Mo-mo (Lena Headey). Heavily outnumbered the judges have no option but to fight back and ascend to the top-level of the superstructure and destroy Mo-mo and her army of lieutenants. Violence and mass murder ensue in visceral, brutal and spectacular fashion.
On the plus side this simple context allows Dredd a certain freshness absent from most morally hamstrung, origin story focused comic book adaptations (see any Marvel based film – did we really need another film telling us how Peter Parker became The Amazing Spider-man?). Instead Dredd launches the viewer straight into the action and never looks back to explain much of anything. Just as Dredd’s morals and laws are simple, black and white, so the films morals follows this outlook – drug dealers bad, law enforcers good, let battle commence. If you step back and analyse some of Dredd’s actions – which involve mass slaughter both directly by him and indirectly caused by his actions – you can begin to question who exactly are the heroes and who are the villains in the dystopian future, but the film never seeks to question any of these troubling morals. Dredd is the law, and that is final. The lack of exposition and back story while refreshing, is also an Achilles heel. It’s difficult to care much about any of the main characters. We have no idea about Dredd’s motivations, or how he came to be such a brutal or feared enforcer. Similarly, there is no explanation for what the world has become. Why has society broken down and become ruled by violence and criminals? When Anderson, a psychic mutant, meets Dredd for the first time, she reads his mind to discover feelings of anger, frustration and ‘something else’, but before she can reveal what that ‘something else’ is, she is cut off and the incident is never referred to again. The film deliberately tells the viewer that we will never see inside Dredd’s mind. His figurative as well as literal uniform helmet will stay in place for the entire film.
Dredd is a film of surfaces not depth. Of spectacle over meaning. When Dredd and Anderson emerge at the end of their battle, having killed countless baddies, the whole enterprise is futile. It has changed nothing and Mega City One will carry on with its corrupt, violent mega structure slums. It looks great, except when the 3D barrier renders the high-octane action unintelligible, and Travis handles the action sequences well. It’s unfortunate that the central plot premise, structure and even key scenes are shared with this year’s earlier skyscraper actioner The Raid. For although the films were in production at the same time and both are keen to point out that no one copied anyone else, Dredd feels like something you’ve seen before. This isn’t helped by the clichéd plot and elements that feel very familiar – the rookie paired with the experienced loner, the drug lord ex-prostitute, corrupt judges to name a few – and the seriousness and lack of irony that the film presents them with (Judge Dredd doesn’t do intentional humour). The lack of story and over abundance of cliché is somewhat of a surprise given the rich mine of source material and a script writer of Alex Garland’s renown.
For all that the slo-mo effect looks spectacular it seems to exist in a world outside the laws of traditional film-making. Travis seems so beholden to how good it looks that he wants to use the ‘slo-mo’ effect whenever possible. For example, as Mo-mo sits in a bath splashing water, or plummets towards the ground, we view her in slow motion, as though the camera has been intoxicated by the fumes of the narcotic. Logically, only the things that Mo-mo sees, from her point of view, should be rendered in slow motion, not her herself. It feels very much like style over logic, and in a sense this epitomises the film in general. It looks great, the action is spectacular, but in the end it lacks any meaning or point.
Enjoyable, brutal, stylish, entertaining but ultimately empty. And as for the producers and distributors forcing the public to pay the extra to see it in 3D with very few 2D alternative screenings (one per day, in all of the Glasgow area that I could find), that is simply unforgivable. Dredd 3D? Yes I do.
Film Rating: 3.5 out of 5.