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‘a great night out for unfastidious, unsqueamish loners’: Dredd 3D

After careful thought I rejected Anna Karenina in favour of Judge Dredd last night, despite the rather snooty Guardian review quoted in the title – less angst, higher body count, and some nifty 3D effects.

I’m often not quite sure where sf and dystopian films are coming from, politically.  Is Starship Troopers, for example, ironizing or celebrating the military culture it depicts?

Although I’ve glanced at Judge Dredd comics in the past, I didn’t really have preconceptions about what to expect from the film.  One thing which did strike me was its comparative ideological elusiveness – it avoided numerous opportunities to drive home a moral or a message.

It also, rather curiously, avoided opportunities for humour and irony.  In other roughly comparable films – Robocop or Running Man for example – a future world provides an opportunity to satirise the excesses of consumer culture.  But this was a grimmer future – more Escape from New York, or Soylent Green.

I think I was expecting the judges either to be harshly attacked or presented as fantasy role models to identify with.  But the film didn’t seem to be trying to pull us in either direction.  They had a job to do.  Given the brutality of the system they seemed not unconscientious.

I was struck by something one of the corrupt cops said to Judge Dredd. He seemed to be mocking JD’s sense that there was an important difference between them, saying that society was like a meat grinder and the Judges (even the better ones) were busy turning the handle.

This was an interestingly cynical observation, which rather dampened one’s interest in who ‘won’ – anything Judge Dredd and his rookie sidekick Cassandra Anderson might achieve was just tinkering round the edges of the problem.  This world has been blighted by radiation – but (like so many dystopias) it’s not wholly different from our own world, implying a problem relating to the means of production, not just the environment.

Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail is not impressed:

Bereft of characterisation and stripped of the comic books’ social satire, the film is an ugly, monotonous glorification of extreme violence. It will find an enthusiastic audience, and I imagine Norwegian mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik would admire its philosophy. Beneath the stylish flippancy, it’s a fascistic bore.

I agree that there is an avoidance of satire, and found the relentless insistence on the ugly monotonousness of extreme violence very telling – but I interpreted these elements in the film in a different, more subversive, way.