The future America is an irradiated wasteland — a vast, ultraviolent world where criminals control the mean city streets. Ultimate law enforcers like Dredd (Karl Urban) and his new partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), are Judges — the only force battling for justice. Dispatched by the central authority, the Judges' target is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) a ruthless boss bent on expanding her criminal empire through sales of Slo-Mo, a dangerous reality-altering drug. With Dredd calling the shots, the two Judges declare full-scale war on crime in this unrelenting and brutal, three-dimensional thrill ride.
Many people don't know this, but there's more to the world of comic books than superheroes. In fact, many of the brightest names in American comics started writing in other countries, especially Britain, which has a distinct comic book industry that in many ways takes more chances than Marvel, DC, Image, or Dark Horse. Take 2000 AD as an example. This sci-fi anthology magazine debuted in the mid-70's, and in the second issue it featured a strip called Judge Dredd. The title character of the strip was a stern, no-nonsense cop living in an absolute police state. The property proved so popular that the strip has run non-stop in every issue of 2000 AD ever since. Even more surprising, the comic takes place in real time, meaning that one year of our lives is one year in the world of Judge Dredd. The comic is incredibly ambitious, with many storylines taking place over the course of six months or more.
Judge Dredd is so popular in his native Britain that his name is used as a byword for the threat of a police state. Sadly, in America, most people's only exposure to the character is the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle. While that movie has some fun elements, it did a terrible job of translating the comic to the screen. It's also tainted the franchise in American eyes so thoroughly that the character is considered something of a joke by anyone who hasn't read the brilliant comic books. As a result, another attempt at adapting the property to film hasn't happened for almost twenty years. But finally Alex Garland, author of The Beach and screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go, managed to get the funds together to make a low budget film, this one titled simply Dredd.
Dredd stars Karl Urban in the title role. The film follows a day in the life of a Judge of Mega-City One, as Dredd assesses the telepathic Judge candidate Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). They investigate a trio of homicides in the Peach Trees megablock (a city contained within a massive skyscraper that dwarfs the Empire State Building). In doing so, they get on the wrong side of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug lord determined to maintain her empire at any cost. Locking down the megablock, Dredd and Anderson have nowhere to go but up to find Ma-Ma in the penthouse…and judge her.
Dredd develops a strong visual style, immediately distancing itself from the Stallone version. Dredd is dirty, grimy, and feels incredibly real. The film was shot in South Africa, with Cape Town and Johannesburg standing in for the east coast of the United States in a post-apocalyptic Mega-City. I was very impressed with the production design of Dredd. It feels like a place that could exist under the right circumstances, instead of the Blade Runner gone mad look that defined the 1995 film. Even more arresting are the "Slo-Mo" sequences. Slo-Mo is a drug that slows down time for the person high on it, and the filmmakers take great care to show these trips, turning gunfights into slow-motion ballets of death. Dredd takes this even further than films like Hard Boiled or The Matrix, using newly developed cameras that shoot at 3,000 frames per second, for an unparalleled sense of slow motion. The results are stunning.
Most pleasingly, the film is one of the most faithful comic book adaptations I've ever seen. True to the source material, we never see Judge Dredd's face. There is one shot where we see the back of his head at the beginning, but once he suits up, his helmet stays right on his head where it should be. Garland perfectly understands the world writer John Wagner created in the comic strip, and managed to bring that world intact to the silver screen. There is a sly sense of humor that runs through the picture, whether it be a homeless man with a sign that says "Homeless junkie: Will debase self for credits" or the way that automated machines clean up dead bodies after a food court massacre. There are wink and you'll miss 'em nods to the comic series, such as the appearance of Judges Volt and Guthrie, Judges Hershey's and Griffen's names on a computer terminal, Chopper's smiley face and "Kenny Who?" graffiti, and even a Judge Death figurine hanging in the van that Judge Dredd chases in the film's opening. The filmmakers are clearly fans of the comic, and it shows.
Karl Urban, perhaps the most underrated genre actor working today (having appeared in The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, The Chronicles of Riddick, Priest, and many others) anchors the movie as the titular Judge Dredd, and he knocks it out of the park. Perpetually wearing Dredd's trademark scowl on his face, Urban plays Dredd as the no-nonsense Judge that he is. He doesn't get happy or even particularly mad. He just enforces the law the best way he knows how: Through the barrel of a gun. Urban spares us the melodrama that Stallone stuck us with, and the result is a wholly accurate portrayal of an iconic character.
Olivia Thirlby anchors the audience as Judge Anderson. Anderson is psychic, and her powers come to play a major role in the film. Despite this, she's a neophyte and we experience the world through her eyes. Thirlby is very solid, providing us with the sole character arc in the film, as she goes from scared trainee to battle-hardened Judge. If your only experience with Lena Headey is from Game of Thrones, then you might not even recognize her here as the brutal and sadistic Ma-Ma. Warped and scarred, Headey is a potent villain who proves to be quite the match for Dredd.
The movie is as no-nonsense as its central character. There's no needless romance between Dredd and Anderson shoehorned in. We never learn anything about Dredd's childhood, what he does in his time off, or indeed what he feels at all. We only see him do his job. In other movies, the lack of such development might be a detriment, but here it works. The film is lean and mean and takes no prisoners. Sadly, it bombed even harder than the Stallone flick, despite far better critical response. 'Dredd' is primed to become a cult classic, a title that was unjustly ignored in theaters. If enough people buy it on home video, perhaps we can get a little more out of this version of Dredd's world. And let's hope we do, because Garland and company have this property down pat.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Dredd comes with a dual-layered UHD66 Disc and a Region A locked Blu-ray Disc. There is an insert for a Digital HD copy as well. The discs are housed in a hard, black plastic case with a cardboard sleeve too.
The UHD release of Dredd is presented in 4K Ultra HD with an HEVC H.265 encode in 2160p and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Dredd was shot digitally (and in 3D) and up-converted to 4K UHD with an impressive HDR10 / WCG grading. There is no 3D available here, though. It's no doubt that this remake is highly stylized with a mix of the old comic book feel along with a ton of CGI effects to make this futuristic dystopia look bleak yet colorful.
The previous Blu-ray release certainly had some problems in the video department, but it looks like this 4K UHD release is a big upgrade for fans of the film, visually speaking. It comes at a cost though, due to the heavy CGI effects, where you can easily and instantly distinguish practical from CGI effect at every turn. This happens quite a bit with older CG films that have been up converted to 4K, where it's very easy to tell when actors or props are in front of a green screen. It doesn't take away from the viewing experience, but it's definitely noticeable.
Detail is sharper and more vivid in certain scenes. When Dredd is riding his motorbike, you'll be able to see the dust, dirt, and grime on his bike with ease. His helmet shows the same scuff marks and scratch lines nicely as well. His leather jacket shows all of the imperfections and wear and tear as well. The wider shots show the rough and dirty walls of the housing complex with every broken piece of structure and dirt showing up nicely and easily. Closeups also reveal facial stubble, wounds, and wrinkles very well. The HDR/WCG is the shining aspect oofs video presentation, for sure -- specifically the color red. The red on the motorbike or with Dredd's helmet completely pops in every lighting condition.
The grimy greens look exquisite as well and all of the neon signs and gun blasts shine brightly as if it were indeed 3D. The colors look phenomenal, to say the least. Black levels are still deep and inky with zero crush and the skin tones are always natural. There was no evidence of any major issues with the video quality, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
Make no mistake -- this Dredd 4K UHD English Dolby Atmos mix is the epitome of what an action movie should sound like.
If you have a new audio system with Dolby Atmos and you want show how insanely loud it can be, put this disc in and let the eyes widen and smiles begin. Yes, it's that good. This audio track is a full and intense workout for your audio system on every level. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the neighbors came hollering to see if everything was alright.
Every noise is well-balanced, turned to 11, and placed directly where the sound should come from, leaving the surrounds and height speakers pouring out sound consistently. When the judges enter the big housing tower, you'll be able to hear different conversations in the background on all speakers, while people are checking out at the local stores, or wheeling carts. It can all be heard clearly and distinctly, providing a very immersive experience, as if you were there yourself.
The height speakers ooze the voices of people above you here too, giving you a sense that you are in this tall building. When the chaotic action kicks in, the low end of bass really rocks into high gear without crossing into rough territory. The gun blasts pack a powerful punch at each turn with great directionality as well as the shell casings falling from above you. People's screams and footsteps can also be heard with great joy. The big turret guns will rattle the walls and your bones for sure as the bass really kicks in here.
Explosions are loud and robust too with every piece of debris hitting walls with distinct sounds. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills too. No one sound aspect overlaps the other, making this Dolby Atmos audio presentation a masterpiece for action films.
Dredd keeps all the bonus material from the original Blu-ray release, all of which are found on the Blu-ray in this multi-disc set.
Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of 'Judge Dredd' (HD, 14 min) – An overview of the Judge Dredd comic, featuring interviews with series creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, as well as other artists and writers involved with the series over the years, including Mark Millar of Kick-Ass fame. It's tough to encapsulate thirty-five years of comic book history into a fourteen-minute segment, but this serves as a good introduction to the character.
Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd (HD, 15 min) – The most substantial extra on the set, this featurette looks at the designs of Mega-City One and the involvement of the effects team. Interviews are mixed with pre-production photographs that are then compared with the final product. This feature could easily have been twice as long.
Dredd Featurette (HD, 2 min) – As you can probably tell from the generic title and short runtime, this is total studio promotional fluff, with more footage from the movie than anything else.
Dredd's Gear (HD, 3 min) – A very quick glance at the design of Dredd's costume, the Lawmaker, and his motorcycle. I really would have liked to see more of this, especially as it looks like they managed to make the Lawgiver a working gun.
The 3rd Dimension (HD, 2 min) – Dredd was shot in 3D, and this featurette talks about that process. We also get a look at the slow-motion cameras used for the Slo-Mo sequences and get to see a lot of the camera tests they ran to get the blood to look the way they wanted.
Welcome to Peach Trees (SD, 1 min) – Another very quick look at the design and dressing of the Peach Trees building.
Dredd Motion Comic Prequel (HD, 3 min) – A motion comic that gives us a little backstory on Ma-Ma. Does not feature the voices of any of the actors from the film.
Trailers - The same trailers and ads that play before the disc menu, as well as a trailer for Dredd.
Dredd is an excellent and fun-as-hell pulp film full of crazy stunts, non-stop action, violence, blood, and crazy visual effects. It's far enough removed from the Stallone film that it stands on its own with its own unique style. It's quite a lot of fun and has a great fanbase for many good reasons. I just hope there is a sequel to this at some point.
This 4K UHD is a good upgrade in the video department for sure, and all the previous extras have been included too, but it's the KILLER Dolby Atmos track that makes this the best version of the movie to own. Highly Recommended for Dredd fans and audiophiles alike!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.