So the trailer is finally here. Comic fans got pretty excited seventeen years ago when Sly Stallone starred in Judge Dredd (1995) but that excitement sadly turned to bitter disappointment in slightly less time than it took to actually watch the film. Over the years the disappointment has gradually changed to outright depression at the lost opportunity of a film that completely missed the point of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s darkly satirical creation. He even took to his helmet off. It still hurts today. No, really. It does.
So the news that Dredd was returning in a movie that promised to embrace the spirit of one of comic’s great anti-heroes has led to a fair bit of anticipation that has bordered on nervosa. Never has the news that a man will been keeping his helmet firmly on been greeted with such relief.
So what can we tell from the Dredd (2012) trailer? Well the Big Meg isn’t quite the futuristic metropolis of the comic. The term “near future” would seem more appropriate with a look not a million miles from Manchester on a dirty night. But it is at least gritty so no real problems there. The Judges, too, are less comic book than we might have expected with surprisingly sensible uniforms. The role of Dredd himself is not one that is ever going to require an actor’s full range (although that’s not to say you’d let Keanu Reeves anywhere near it) but Karl Urban seems to be doing a pretty good job at being stony-faced and scary even if the Oscars are unlikely to be beckoning for a role like this. Not sure about Anderson though; simply not enough in the trailer to tell if Olivia Thirlby has got the handle on what is actually quite a complex character. Anderson’s blend of humanity in an inhumane job is not going to be that easy to pull off. It looks like there will be a fair bit of violence but it wouldn’t be Dredd without that and it wouldn’t be a twenty-first century action movie without the inevitable slowmo gunplay.
What is worrying is that it just doesn’t look terribly exciting; where is the “trailer moment”? Bearing in mind that compressing an entire movie into two minutes means that we only get to see the best 0.5% or so, any movie can look exciting in the trailer. Failure to do so can be an indicator of a turkey of Godzilla-like proportions. But this isn’t going to be getting anybody’s blood pressure up to dangerous levels. All those stories “creative differences” with writer Alex Garland taking over the editing role from director Pete Travis might just be looking a little more ominous again.
There is also something missing. Where is the humour? Black humour has always been essential ingredient to Judge Dredd and even the 1995 debacle grasped this simple requirement to a point. The plot involves some kind of drug and pretty normal looking villain as the drug baron. Is this really a story set in a city where sugar is illegal and the Uncle Ump’s Umpty Candy provided the most memorable tale of addiction? And Dredd villains are supposed to be outlandish grotesques, not moody looking women in high-rise blocks. It must also be said that the block we see does no justice to the hellish grandeur of the Big Meg’s City Blocks that are an essential part of so many of Dredd’s outings on the printed page. But there is one attempt at humour (possibly): Dredd says “negotiations over” at one point. Alright, perhaps it isn’t supposed to be funny but one can’t help but compare it to Bruce Willis saying “Anybody else want to negotiate?” so memorably in The Fifth Element (1997) trailer all those years ago. Now that was a trailer moment. Let’s hope Dredd is saving all its best moments for the film itself. But it must be said that things do not currently bode well on that front.