Back in the mid-nineties when Blockbuster Video (RIP) was king of the home video rentals, they held a video game contest. A customer would select a certain game which was tailor made for the competition, then complete the challenges while an employee kept score. Over on the Super Nintendo side, they had Donkey Kong Country. Over on the Sega Genesis side they had Judge Dredd. While most kids my age favoured DKC, I leaned toward the game that starred a complete bad ass, wearing a cool helmet. This was my first taste of Judge Joseph Dredd.
After the competition, which I lost, Blockbuster left the demos out for the general public to play. I would go, day after day, to play the one minute level over and over again. I soon learned that Judge Dredd was a comic book character, and being the fan of comics that I am, I was dying to get my hands on some Dredd. Unfortunately, living in a small town and being 10 definitely put restrictions on my search. Then, in the summer, Judge Dredd the movie came out; the big-budget spectacle starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob (Derp) Schneider. Thanks to an AA rating (Ontarian’s know what that means) and an awesome mom, I got to go see Judge Dredd opening weekend and I loved it. It had a giant robot, Stallone in his prime and that guy from SNL! What wasn’t to like? Well, apparently everything.
I haven’t seen Judge Dredd since I owned it on VHS, and as time passed, he sort of fell to the wayside. Then years later, the suits in Hollywood dropped a bomb; Judge Dredd was coming back to the big screen. Not only that, but the film was going to be a hard R, Dredd wasn’t taking his helmet off and Karl Urban was going to don the badge. Set amp to stoke. As the release date for Dredd rolled closer and more and more trailers began to spread across the internet, myself and comic fans alike knew we were in for something special. Then the movie opened… in 6th place.
Dredd was an unmitigated box-office disaster. In its initial run it managed to gross only $35 million world-wide. Despite rave reviews and the support of the fan base, the general public turned its nose at it. In 1995, the Stallone vehicle managed to gross $113 million and was considered garbage. So here I am, again, staring at my new Dredd poster on the wall, posting in the Make a Dredd Sequel Facebook group wondering where it all went wrong. So I did what any good citizen would do. I sat down and re-watched both films to see if there was indeed something truly wrong with them.
So I started with Dredd because, and to be honest, I was afraid to see Stallone’s again. I also needed an outsider’s opinion, so, I sat my girlfriend down and asked her to watch Dredd with me. Guess what? She loved it. She, who watches America’s Next Top Model and HGTV not only sat through Dredd once, but has seen it 3 times now. And why not? The movie features a tight script, gorgeous visuals, and terrific performances. I knew this, hell, critics knew this. Yet when most people saw that helmet all they could think of was Stallone. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I had to go deeper.
I managed to procure a DVD copy of Stallone’s Judge Dredd from my local video shoppe and rushed home to inform my girl we had a new Dredd to watch. After I explained to her that this was in fact NOT the sequel to the one she liked, she politely bowed out of this viewing, which was for the best; the Daredevil debacle of December is still a sour note in our relationship. So I sat, and I watched and after 95 minutes (the same running time as Dredd FYI) I came to the conclusion that yes, it was terrible, but I still had fun. Maybe it was nostalgia, or my love for Stallone, but Judge Dredd really isn’t that bad. While (very) far from perfect, it certainly isn’t the worst movie ever. The special effects hold up surprisingly well, Stallone really seems to be giving it his all, and the scope of the script showed that, at one point anyway, someone really wanted to make a great movie. Having said that, the film couldn’t be further from the comic source, with Stallone essentially playing himself, the grittiness from the comic swapped for Hollywood franchise glamour (the Judges outfits were designed by Versace) and of course, Rob Schneider. Still, this isn’t enough to justify what happened to Dredd.
Despite being a staple of comic books for more than 30 years, Judge Dredd just can’t seem to win on the big screen. Despite two attempts, one made with honest-to-Grud love, it seems the general public just doesn’t get the appeal. But this doesn’t mean it’s over. Dredd on home video has currently made over $8 million thanks to the tremendous word of mouth from fans. Not only that, 2000AD, the publishing home of Judge Dredd, has teased an upcoming sequel (albeit in comic form). Also, as I mentioned before, there is a group on Facebook working round the clock trying to get a sequel made. Consider it bad timing, or simply bad luck, but we haven’t seen the last of Judge Joseph Dredd. Will we ever get a true sequel to Dredd? Probably not, but if Judge Dredd fans are anything like the man himself, then don’t expect them to give up anytime soon. Besides, isn’t the third time the charm?