Revisit the Cult Classic 'Dredd 3D' (2012)
Dredd 3D did a remarkable job of capturing its source material’s gritty spirit, fueled by bombastic violence and impressive special effects, rooted in self-satire and deadpan humor. Follow the wild ride from its comic book origins, its ill-received 1995 adaptation, its fan and critic-praised 2012 adaptation, and the potential future for the franchise.
The 90s were a great time for action stars and action films in general. They were over the top, bombastic, simple popcorn fair. Then, someone came up with the term ‘elevated’ and ruined it for everybody. Judge Dredd is a law enforcement and judicial officer in the dystopian future city of Mega-City One, which covers most of the east coast of North America. Dredd is a street judge, empowered to summarily arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals.
Created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Joseph Dredd first appeared in a British weekly. In 1990, Dredd got his own title, the Judge Dredd Megazine. Dredd also appears in several film and video game adaptations. In 2012, Dredd 3D was released by a bunch of British companies American viewers had never heard of but released to worldwide acclaim, premiering at the San Diego Comic-Con, according to an article on CBR.com titled “John Wagner Discusses 35 Years of Judge Dredd.”
Judge Dredd creator John Wagner, who had been critical of the 1995 adaptation, gave a positive review of Dredd. He said: “I liked the movie. It was, unlike the first film, a true representation of Judge Dredd. Karl Urban was a fine Dredd, and I’d be more than happy to see him in the follow-up. Olivia Thirlby excelled as Anderson. The character and storyline are pure Dredd.”
Mind explaining yourself, rookie?
Dredd 3D is the very definition of a cult classic, one part a captivating thrill ride, one part reverse Die-Hard where Anderson and Dredd work their way up Peach Trees tower, dispensing justice as they see fit with every floor they rise. Along the way, they encounter law-breakers, drug dealers, mercenaries, and rogue judges, who all want to take Dredd out.
Peach Trees is the manufacturing hub of a drug called Slo-Mo. When taken, this drug slows time to 1% of its normal rate. In practice, this means, stylistically, fights had a Matrix-like quality with a diegetic take on bullet-time or super slow-motion effect from popular movies like 300. This worked well with the 3D release, as bullets would whizz by the audience members in super slow motion. You effectively became Dredd, dodging bullets and returning fire from your seats.
To achieve this cinematic look, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle was hired to manage the shoot; it was the first time Mantle had worked with 3D. The filmmakers wanted Dredd to have a realistic, visceral look and drew inspiration from crime and gangster films.
Due to budget constraints, producers sought out locations for filming instead of building expensive sets. In Cape Town Film Studios, South Africa, they discovered an external high-rise, a three-walled structure that looked like an indoor atrium when filmed at night. A little set dressing, and they had a suitable base for the majority of the Peach Trees filming. As an added bonus, housing the crew in South Africa was far cheaper than either the UK or the USA, which also helped keep costs low.
A Box Office Disaster
Dredd 3D was a commercial flop. Part of the reason might be the long shadow cast by its 1995 predecessor Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone. Sadly, that film underperformed at the box office and with critics, oscillating between a violent action flick and a parody of one but failing to find the necessary balance of either.
First released at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012, the film premiered in the UK before making its way to American theatres in the fall of the same year. Neither a summer blockbuster nor a winter dud, this film found itself in a no-man land of releases, competing with back-to-school homecoming games and college freshmen inundated with invites to Greek mixers. Despite seemingly finding a balance between satire and action, critics weren’t wowed.
Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times called it “a clunk-headed action picture” that “simply becomes a monotonous series of bad-guy confrontations.” Frank Lovece of Newsday described it as a “soullessly gritty” film, which, apart from one believable scene involving Thirlby, is “all tough-guy talk and humorless cynicism.” Stephen Whitty of The Star-Ledger called it a “gray and ugly film.”
Urban’s acting was praised, bringing life to a seemingly lifeless character. Thirlby and his judge-in-training Anderson were also praised for bringing a sense of morality and conscience to an otherwise bleak world. But their best efforts weren’t enough to bring audiences into the theatre, and the film barely broke even, earning 45 million dollars against its 35 million dollar budget.
Negotiations Over. The Sentence is Death.
Almost twelve years since its release, is there any hope for a future installment in the Dredd franchise? The short answer is maybe. Shortly after the release of the film in 2012, a follow-up comic called Dredd: Underbelly was released, and it picks up where the critically acclaimed movie left off, with Judges Dredd and Anderson fighting the tsunami of crime on the mean streets of the dystopian Mega-City One. Written by 2000 AD veteran Arthur Wyatt and illustrated by the amazing Henry Flint, the strip is just part of a new push for a cinematic sequel to the Dredd movie.
Likewise, despite being a flop at the box office, to say the least, it was appreciated much more once it hit the small screen and gained a cult following. Fans demanded a sequel for many years until a Judge Dredd TV series titled Mega-City One was announced back in 2017. After three years in development, it looked like it was headed in the right direction. The rights to the franchise were, at that time, owned by Rebellion. The company’s CEO, Jason Kingsley, revealed during a July 2020 interview with maactioncinema.com that a script for the Judge Dredd series was officially completed. Then Covid happened, and presumably, all of that just went away.
None that of hurt Karl Urban, whose career has been on an upward trajectory for a solid decade, and Urban’s recent showing on The Boys (Amazon) proves Karl’s physique and dry wit have only gotten better with age. Alex Garland (writer of Dredd, as well as other new classics like Annihilation, Ex-Machina, and Devs) stated intended plans for two other sequels, and fans worldwide would be clamoring for any additional material, live-action or animated, in Mega-City One. So, a team-up is always possible. It’s fun to imagine a generational story with a slightly older Urban Dredd and the much older Dredd, Stallone, and Urban teaming up father and son style to fight a new gang.
You Look Ready
Now considered a cult classic, Dredd 3D is a love song to 90s action, with a stone-cold protagonist played to perfection by Karl Urban and a sign of the greatness to come in both his career and that of Alex Garland. For lovers of the genre, this is a must-see, and over time, that love has only grown, the film’s rating tracking higher with each year. The audience was out there, just not in the UK, where the film first broke ground. But despite doing justice to its source material and the best efforts of the cast and crew, Dredd 3D didn’t resonate with critics, a death sentence for any hope of a sequel.
Stream Dredd 3D now on Prime Video.
Dredd 3D (2012) Official Lionsgate Movies Trailer