The first trailer for Dredd.
For the uninitiated, Dredd is an adaptation of the famous British comics property created by John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra (and serialized in 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine) about a police state in a post-apocalyptic world. In this world, the varied actors/stakeholders in the criminal justice system have been reduced to a heavily armed ‘judge’ who acts as law enforcement, prosecutor, judge and fact-finder.
I first got hooked on the Dredd books through the Eagle Comics reprint series (titled Judge Dredd) and story collections picked up at comics conventions. I’ve always viewed Dredd series of stories as a high satire of the Reagan/Thatcher era, specifically that strain of neo-conservatism that produced the so-called “broken windows” theory and the modern carceral state, but it also works as a celebration of that period. Although citizens of Mega City One don’t have many of the civil liberties that we hold dear, Wagner and Grant depict a world crippled by the kind of urban decay that could have only existed in Rudy Giuliani’s worst nightmares. In this world, the idea that the proper role of law enforcement is not to solve crime, but maintain order must be incredibly seductive. Mike Konczal explained the logic behind this ideology with the following :
There’s an important rhetorical trick that the Broken Window ideology brought to the table, one that caught progressives off-guard and brought in liberals hook-line-and-sinker. As Bernard Harcourt has noted , it transforms the idea of offensive acts into harmful acts. Public drinking and loitering aren’t harms, but they are offensive to some. Broken Windows allowed people to believe the notion that offensive behavior created (by creating the potentials for and inevitability of) legal harms. It also became backwards compatible, with people being able to think that harmful acts were obviously preceded by an offensive act; criminalize and ruthless prosecute the offensive acts, and you can prevent the real harms from taking place.
The more you read Judge Dredd stories, the more attractive his worldview becomes, especially if you alternate between the longer arcs (Apocalypse War, Block Mania, the Judge Child storyline) and the shorter stories which frequently featured Dredd punishing a citizen for some quality of life crime. Dredd faces more traditional villains in many of the longer stories, which makes it easier for the reader to start thinking of him as a heroic super cop. By the end of these stories, Dredd’s saved the lives of millions, and one would almost forget that this is the same guy who punishes people for ridiculous things. At it’s best, the series made me hate Dredd (and the system he represented) and want him to succeed. I felt drawn into a queasy complicity with a eerily familiar police state.
As a reader of long-form serialized superhero comics, the serial’s unique blend of worldbuilding, long-term plotting and (close to) real-time storytelling within the confines of a procedural also present an interesting alternative model to the Marvel/DC approach. You can have a popular quasi-superhero procedural where the characters age and the series progresses in real time.
This is the second attempt to adapt Judge Dredd as a feature film. The first (released in 1995) tried to toe the line between satire and action, but ultimately failed because the scope of the story was just too large . In the film, Dredd has to combat an existential threat to the status quo while attempting to clear his name of false murder charges. It’s an interesting premise, but the audience didn’t get enough of an opportunity to experience the status quo. Director Danny Cannon sets incredibly high stakes, but I had no investment in the outcome (other than the generalized non-specific support for the ‘good guys’). We needed to see more of Judge Dredd being Judge Dredd, not ex-Judge Dredd. It looks like Pete Travis is going to try to avoid this problem in Dredd by keeping it simple. Dredd and a rookie (Judge Anderson) take on a drug-dealing gang that’s occupied a city block. Contra Alyssa Rosenberg , I think Dredd stories are most effective when the character just does his job. If the filmmakers give the audience a look into the lives of the ordinary citizens of Mega City One, I think they’ll question the nature of the system in a more organic way.
I love that the trailer starts with the criminal (played by Lena Headey , who is an excellent ‘villain’ in the Game of Thrones series). The high stakes are set immediately. It’s a dark, post-apocalyptic world. One city. Many criminals. A strange (and illegal) reality altering drug. We need Dredd.
The trailer looks like it’s heavily influenced by Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption, which was one of my favorite action movies of the last couple of years. There’s something incredibly compelling about watching someone face impossible odds.
I haven’t read the script, but I hope that the film will also prod the audience to examine their feelings about the criminal justice system, state sanctioned violence and the increasingly blurry line between counterinsurgency doctrine and domestic law enforcement. We all want to see Dredd kicking ass and taking names, but a great Dredd movie would make us question that impulse.
One other thing that I forgot to mention: although Judge Dredd stories are very dark (particularly if you have a strong commitment to civil liberties), they are frequently hilarious. I hope that the film captures some of that black humor as well.
If you’re not familiar with the Judge Dredd comic, I suggest the following:
- Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05, by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art from Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon. This collects Judge Death Lives, Block Mania and the Apocalypse War.
- Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 02, by John Wagner and Pat Mills, with art from Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and Mike McMahon. This one features Cursed Earth and The Day the Law Died.
- Judge Dredd: The Complete America, by John Wagner with art from Colin MacNeil. The first part of this story is far stronger than the second and third, but it’s a classic Dredd story.
- Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 14, by John Wagner, with art by Carlos Ezquerra and Will Simpson. This one features the brilliant Necropolis.
- 2000 AD #460 (“Letter From A Democrat”), 531-33 (“Revolution”) and 661 (“A Letter to Judge Dredd”). Letter From A Democrat and Revolution were written by Wagner and Grant, with art from John Higgins. A Letter to Judge Dredd was written by Wagner with art from Simpson. You can find these issues in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 09, 11 and 13.
I’d also strongly recommend reading Douglas Wolk’s Dredd Reviews blog project, where he reviews every Dredd book in chronological order. It’s a fun read and features appearances from Alyssa Rosenberg, Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, David Wolkin, Graeme McMillan and FBB4L compatriot David Brothers, among others. If you’re completely new to Dredd, or if (like me) you’re not familiar with the modern Dredd books, Wolk provides an excellent guide (along with some great commentary – the discussion with McCulloch about Ennis is fantastic stuff).