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What Stallone's 'Judge Dredd' got right -- and 'Dredd' got wrong

A planned Judge Dredd TV show needs to learn from Sylvester Stallone's reviled 1995 adaptation as much as from the 2012 fan fave movie.

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Richard Davis, Getty Images

Most fans would rather forget Sylvester Stallone's 1995 movie "Judge Dredd". But if the proposed new TV show based on the iconic comic book character is going to be judged a success, it needs to remember what that hated movie got right.

Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra in 1977, unbending future cop Judge Joe Dredd is the flagship character in long-running British sci-fi comic "2000AD". Mega City One's top cop has appeared on the big screen twice: in 1995, long before comic book characters became the dominant cinematic force they are today, Stallone headlined a cartoonish attempt to turn Dredd into a summer blockbuster. Fans and critics hated it.

In 2012, Karl Urban donned the helmet for "Dredd", a much more gritty and grown-up version of the unsmiling lawman. Fans loved it, and have been calling for a sequel ever since. That movie certainly nails the lead character of Dredd himself, but for me -- a fan who's been reading "2000AD" since I was a teenager -- it misses the mark everywhere else. To see those things done properly, we have to look to the 1995 movie, which got more right than you might remember.

Now, I'm not saying the '95 "Judge Dredd" is a good movie. It could have been a perfectly enjoyable '90s sci-fi action romp in the vein of "Demolition Man" or anything with Christopher Lambert in. But it's fatally undermined by ripe dialogue, forced attempts at comedy and horribly misjudged casting.

However, if you look beyond the cast, the '95 movie got a lot right.

It had enough cash to realise the visuals properly, and absolutely nailed the look of Mega City One. The sets, costumes and vehicles were fantastic. And the opening scene, in which returning citizens descend from a soaring sci-fi megalopolis to teeming, war-torn streets, was as succinct an introduction to Dredd's turf as you'll ever see.

The costumes, sets and vehicles in 1995's "Judge Dredd" look fantastic (except maybe the codpiece).

Richard Davis/Getty Images

But it's not just about budget. The '95 movie drew more more shrewdly on the comic's abundant history than the 2012 version. From undead dark judges to mutated gorilla gangsters, from Soviet assassin Orlok to face-changing serial killer PJ Maybe, the comic has been stuffed with some of the most colourful, imaginative and complex villains seen in comics. What did the 2012 movie give us? A tower block full of scruffy junkies.

The villainous Mean Machine Angel is a triumph of pre-CGI physical makeup.

Getty Images/Richard Davis

Frankly, the 2012 movie has nothing on the '95 movie's looming ABC warrior and grotesque Angel Gang, both triumphs of pre-CGI physical effects.

Fortunately, the format of a TV series has the scope to really explore the breadth and depth of Mega City One's diverse denizens across multiple episodes.

The ABC warrior robot, built for real on set, is genuinely scary.

Getty Images/Richard Davis

The other thing the 2012 movie lacks is humour. Stallone clashed with the '95 film's director Danny Cannon over the comedy elements of the film, and it was horribly cartoonish. But looking at the humourless 2012 model, with its effing-and-blinding and grimly lingering close-ups of exit wounds fountaining blood and bone, Sly might have had a point.

2000AD #818, the first issue I ever bought.


Now, I enjoy a bit of the old ultraviolence as much as the next man. My life changed the moment I saw the cover of my first ever issue of "2000AD", which shows Dredd holding up a severed nose. But also on that cover is the strapline "Loser by a nose" -- and it's that combination of pitch-black humour seasoning the extreme violence that makes Judge Dredd (and "2000AD") what it is. Joe Dredd himself may never crack a smile, but his straight man act anchors a city and a future that get ever more ludicrous.

Speaking of ludicrousness: The '95 movie had Ian Dury in it, the costumes were by Gianni Versace, and The Cure did the theme song. Those are the kind of bonkers choices that made "The Fifth Element" so gloriously memorable two years later, and it's the kind of absurdity that the 2012 Dredd movie sorely lacks.

Ultimately, the 2012 movie gets Dredd himself right, and Mega City One wrong. The '95 movie got Dredd wrong, and everything else right. The new TV show needs to draw on both if it's going to be a law unto itself.

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