Monday, January 14, 2013

Ask Erik: Episode 2

It's time for another rousing rendition of "Ask Erik!"

So I put the call out there for questions, and sure enough I received responses.  However, don't let this discourage you from sending in your own!  I'll take the time to read each and every question, and each one will be given the same level of consideration.  Some will get a full column to answer, others, if short enough, I might cluster into lightning rounds!

And after all, if you don't ask, how will you ever get me to rate my ten favorite Leverage episodes, or why I'm such a huge fan of Booster Gold, or who I'd pick in a smack down Survivor-style wrestling match between Sex Bob-omb and Jem and the Holograms?

(...actually, that last one would be pretty cool to write about)

Anyway, away we go!

To Erik: Which Judge Dredd movie is better and why?

Newest one, it didn't have Rob Schneider.  HA!  LIGHTNING ROUND OVER!


So I guess I have some space to fill.  Okay, um, here goes.

If I was to try to summarize the Bay City Rollers, I would describe their music as a mix of-

...okay, fine, I'll review the movies.  God.

Now, in order to do this, I'm going to have to break it down into parts.  After all, I seriously doubt anybody wants "Ask Erik: Episode 2: Part 4 - Dredd Review Minutes 45-95."  Then I'd have to summarize it, and trust me, for what I'm about to watch, that's way too much work.

So instead, I'm going to break it down this way: I'm going to compare and contrast different aspects of both to see which one comes out on top.  These five categories are going to be: Best Dredd, Best Villain, Best Side Cast, Best Setting, and Best Story.  So let's find out if Sylvester Stallone's 1995 film can hold up to 2012 standards!

Okay, first thing first. I have to actually watch the movies.  Having flipped a coin, it appears the Stallone version is up first.  All right, I need to get in the right mindset for a 1995 movie.  All right, I've got my music play list (Real McCoy's Another Night, Montell Jordan's This Is How We Do It, and Ini Kamoze's Here Comes The Hotstepper leading the pack), I got my pack of Winterfresh gum and a Snapple, and I'm wearing my rollerblades!  Let's do this!

This is my cheap way of indicating time passing.

...right, then.  Okay.  Now for the new se- ...wait a second, is this a reboot, a sequel, or what?

Not connected?  Okay, fine.  Here goes.

A slightly more interesting way of showing time passing.

Okay!  Now that THAT is over with, let's get to comparing!

Test One: Best Dredd

One is the kind of cosplay you'd see at ComicCon, the other is the cosplay you'd get at PortCon.  Which is which?

You can't have a movie about Dredd without someone playing Judge Dredd.  So, who did it better, Sylvester Stallone or Karl Urban?  Well, in my humble opinion, Sylvester Stallone managed to embody the absolutely perfect Dredd.  In that first part of his film, when he first arrives on the scene of the riot and strides forward, that is perfection.  The costume, the bike, the gun, the giant chin, it just screams "This is Judge Dredd."

And then he opens his mouth and ruins it for the rest of the film.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Karl Urban as Dredd, but his performance wasn't perfect either.  His Dredd was tightly controlled, and even in a scene where multiple rounds of heavy weapons ammo are shattering walls around him like it was made of packing peanuts, he seems like he's not really in danger.  But he never really unleashes any of that anger that boils just below the surface of the character.  In the end of the movie, when he disposes of Ma-Ma and Anderson was shot, I really was hoping to see him become brutal, yelling instead of just talking loudly like it was just one more thing to deal with before he could have a cup of coffee.

I also had no idea what to make of his soft-spoken "Yeah!"after the building didn't blow up.  It was he was trying to be one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim mixed with Fluttershy from My Little Pony.

I mean, unless that something else Anderson sensed when she was reading Dredd was "is bored out of his skull" it would be nice to have something that gives some personality to the character.  We know he has a soft spot for Anderson at the end, but without anything to let us think there's any hope of a sequel, all we can do is look back for 95 minutes at a man who treats a homeless man with the same tone as multiple homicides and just seems annoyed that the law, the most precious thing he has and what he shaped his entire life around, would be traded away by other Judges.

However, he keeps the helmet on (major points) and carries himself better than Stallone does.  Where Urban underplayed the character, Stallone went over the top, and people know I prefer subtlety to hamming to the camera.  Stallone...he plays Stallone in his movie.  The actual Dredd in the comics is a complete fascist with little to no emotional depth (depending on the writer, granted), but keep in mind this is a character who arrested Santa Claus once.  Not a mall Santa, but the actual Santa.  He has no pity.

So when Stallone starts pouring his heart out to Hershey late in the film, the whole thing just stops being Judge Dredd right then and there and we have Demolition Man 2 or something.

Point goes to Dredd.

Score:  Judge Dredd - 0, Dredd 1.

Test Two: Best Villain

So, to figure out which villains Dredd faced were best, we have to look again to the source material.  Judge Dredd, through his lengthy comic book run, has faced villains ranging from Orlok the soviet assassin to Sabbat, a necromancer whose zombie army lead to five Megacities being nuked off the face of the earth and causing the deaths of two billion people, to a group of supernatural Dark Judges from another dimension who believe life is the ultimate crime and cannot be killed. So what I'm saying is that your typical Judge Dredd story can get pretty insane.

In Judge Dredd, we not only get villainous appearances by the Angel Gang and Hammerstein, but we get an evil clone and twisted Council Judge who want to take over the law in Mega City One and replace all of the active Judges with clones to RULE THE WORL- er, city.  And I'll admit it, I love Armand Assante as a twisted clone of Judge Dredd.  The guy chews scenery with no apology, and while his plan is absolutely ridiculous, he does manage to seem like a credible threat, both in planning and physically against Dredd.

In the movie Dredd, we get Ma-Ma and her army of video game side-scrolling fighter goons to face off against Dredd and Anderson, and I'm not kidding when I make that comparison.  It really did feel like Dredd and Anderson accidentally wandered into some twisted version of the Die Hard arcade game, with multiple moments to have a quicktime event be "press X to dodge heavy gun fire."  We also had several Judges who sold their services for money, but they didn't really do much either except act stupid when they had the edge on Dredd.

Ma-Ma herself made absolutely no sense to me.  I had no reason to understand why anybody followed her (Did she develop the Slo-Mo drug?  Did she actually have charisma somewhere that she manipulated the gang with?  Was everybody terrified of her "final fail safe" and the movie just never felt like telling us?), and considering the most threatening thing she did the whole movie was threaten to gut a computer geek if he didn't stall some other Judges outside, it was just...lackluster.  Not really up to a Dredd-level threat. 

Point goes to Judge Dredd, for at least giving us a villain who had a bigger goal than "get everybody stoned."

Score: Judge Dredd: 1, Dredd 1

Test Three: Supporting Characters

Okay, yeah, we all know how this is going to end up.  To be fair, Rob Schneider in this film is like Jim Carrey in Batman Forever.  It wasn't his project, he was paid by the studio to be that character, and he delivered what was expected by the filmmaker.  Who knows if either one could have brought some real depth to the character if they were allowed to stretch their acting muscles and- no, probably not.  Carrey, maybe, but not Schneider.

We have to look at them anyway, though, so here goes.  Judge Dredd has the advantage of a larger supporting cast, with Diane Lane as Judge Hershey and Max Von Sydow as Chief Judge Fargo (donchaknow).  Both of these characters actually do pretty well with the material they're given.  Hershey is a capable Judge in her own right (who can apparently also double as a lawyer if the movie is to be believed), and doesn't become just a helpless damsel in distress for Dredd to rescue (watch the fight scene she's in at the end, those are real punches, not just hair pulling).  The romance between here and Dredd comes out of absolutely nowhere (especially since I thought she had hooked up with that cadet who was helping her all the time)

Max von, he deserved better than this film, but the guy is a professional.  He took the role and he played it solidly.  Character-wise, he has a few rather large plot holes that need to be filled in (such as, if he knew there was a genetic double of Dredd in prison, you'd think he would've checked to see if the guy was still there when Dredd was accused of some serious crimes), but it was still a solid performance.

Meanwhile, over in Dredd we have Anderson, who I also thought was a solid performance.  The rookie naivety wore away to reveal a capable officer through the film, and at times I really thought I was watching Dredd: The Anderson Story, Guest-Starring Judge Dredd.  Again, it wasn't perfect and there were some really confusing bits (wearing a helmet blocks her psychic powers, but she can read Dredd just fine through a wall and his own helmet?), but as far as spunky sidekicks go, a movie could go much worse.

Still not as stupid as "The Animal."  Or "The Hot Chick."

Much, much worse.  So yeah, Rob Schneider.  The character is a complete and total idiot.  His jokes aren't funny, he stabs Dredd in the back every moment he gets, he doesn't know how to pilot a vehicle but can reprogram a robot by plunging his hand into it, and he doesn't have the decency to die when shot in the stomach.  Seriously.

Point for Dredd.  For every plus provided by Sydow and Lane, Schneider's character sucks the points away.  Unfortunately, I can't give negative points for having him, so I have to just give Dredd one single point.  Let's hope it's enough.

Score: Judge Dredd: 1, Dredd: 2

Test Four: Setting

Image by Gary Erskine.  Look him up, it's good stuff.
Mega City One is a very rich setting.  It's like if you took the planet of Coruscant from Star Wars, punched it full of holes, and then dipped it like a sponge into Blade Runner to soak up all the flavor.

Only darker and more prone to nukes.

I'm going to put this out there right now, Judge Dredd did the best job we'll probably ever see at getting this city right.  The movie lays out the history of the world (by James Earl Jones, no less!), and not only shows us large environments from a distance, it sends us there.  Want to see where the slums are?  Poof, we're visiting the slums.  Want to see what the wastelands are like?  Boom, part of the story takes place there.  Want to visit a biolab to grow clones based out of the statue of liberty?  ...okay, I guess, we'll go there.  Why not?

And the flavor is pure Dredd.  The technology level, the fact that there were robot soldiers at one point, the cameos or mentions of other characters in that universe...if you're a huge Judge Dredd fan, well, you'd still hate the movie, but NOBODY can deny that they didn't make a world that deserved to have several sequels (with different actors, of course) take more looks at.  Honestly, I'm surprised nukes or undead other-dimensional Judges didn't show up, they seemed to cram everything else they could into this movie.

In Dredd, we also get a history lesson regarding the world, and I'll admit it, the desert outside Mega City One and the skyline are more "realistic" than the cityscape in Judge Dredd.  There's just one problem: the first bit of story involves a car chase, and the rest of the story takes place in a giant apartment complex.  I realize the filmmakers were probably on a budget and had to reuse the same spaces of hallway repeatedly, but the world Dredd lives in is so vast (and, in fact, isn't limited to just one world) that it's pretty disappointing we don't get to see more of it.  What we do see inside the building does show a rather focused attention to detail.  The slums look properly slum-like, and the sense of destitution and squalor that the citizens of this one complex find themselves in helps us realize why so many must turn to crime.  Heck, the fact that there's a skateboarding ramp outside the building that many floors up does carry a certain Jetsons vibe to it, but also shows the total disregard for the lives of the citizens inside.

One big thing did bother me, though.  The comic book version of Judge Dredd is a satire.  Judge Dredd is Dirty Harry taken to the extreme to the point of being almost ridiculous.  A great indication of that was the "recycled food" robot at the start of the Stallone version, or the fact that a pawn shop would have a Judge's gun (?) behind the shelf because "only a Judge can fire it, so now it's just a collectible."  A great example was when Judge Dredd blows up a car as punishment for illegal parking.  There was little to no satire in Dredd, and it played itself completely straight the whole time.

The Judges seem to also have been reduced in what they look like.  Say what you will about how outrageous it looks, the costumes in the Stallone version (designed by Gianni Versace, no kidding) actually look like the costumes from the comic.  They also build a lawbringer that looked like it fell out the comic, and whereas the bike in Dredd looked pretty unremarkable.  Also, in a comic book world where hovering surfboards/skateboards are used in a growing sport, seeing kids on skateboards made me wonder if I wasn't mistaken, and that this movie wasn't supposed to take place in the 90s.

It could make friends with the Double Dragon movie, then.

I really hate to say this, but based on how the Judge Dredd version is at least willing to move outside a single building and try to build a world around the character (one filled with references from the comics, to boot!), I'm awarding this one to Judge Dredd.

Score: Judge Dredd: 2, Dredd: 2

Oh man, a tie.  So I guess it comes down to which movie had the better story!

Test Five: Plot

This one's going to be a lot harder than it looks.  Don't get me wrong, Dredd had the superior overall story.  The problem is that it wasn't a Judge Dredd story.  Well, not one that's really movie-worthy, anyway.  It seemed to be a direct lifting of the movie The Raid: Redemption, only in a bigger building whose floors you're able to skip because of an elevator that only works if you go higher than floor 78 (then how does it get to the floor Dredd is on?)  What would make a good Dredd movie plot?  Well, again, look at the comics.

  • Dredd once had to lead a group of Judges into a Russian mega city to attack it from within with missiles during a war between city states.
  • Dredd once had to locate a child prophesied to "rule in Mega City One's darkest hour," which involved chasing the child's kidnappers (the Angel gang) off-world and across multiple planets
  • Dredd fought zombies and nuked five Mega Cities off the planet to keep more zombies from being made.
  • Dredd met Batman.  FIVE TIMES.
 Like I said, Judge Dredd books can get pretty insane.  Having him lead a rookie on her evaluation is fine, I could get behind that kind of story...but having them fight an over-glorified drug lord with a building full of goons?  That's a John McClane story arc, and not the unstoppable supercop John McClane from every movie after the third one, but the original one who gets tired and has to bandage up his feet.

Judge Dredd, on the other hand, does have a Dredd-worthy plot, but it completely screws it up.  Clones, robots, betrayal, mutants, yeah, those are all part of the Dredd-verse, but it's so full of all of it that it never takes the time to get a plot that makes any sense.  It has more plot holes than I could list in one blog post, and the story relies on "tricks" that make no practical sense, such as restoring the "original" background of a photograph, cause apparently digital photos are like oil paintings, and you can just bring back the stuff that was painted over before.  And I'm not even sure why several Master Chiefs were sent out to arrest Dredd for trial, I thought they'd just send another Judge to shoot him in the face.  GUILTY!

So, what's better, an okay action movie that doesn't really live up to what the character does in his stories, or a movie that has a plot that could be in a Judge Dredd comic, but completely fails on almost every level?

I'm....going to have to give the point to Dredd here, but with severe reservations.  I could see Judge Dredd having to deal with being locked in a giant building as something he'd do on a slow day, and the plot of Judge Dredd makes so little sense it just seems to fly off into its own bizarre pocket of space.  So congratulations, Dredd, but next time let someone have a machine gun arm, or a guy hopped up on super-steroids, or a robot or something.  And hire Jeremy Irons or Christopher Walken next time, they'll ham up any movie for a dollar.

Final Score: Judge Dredd: 2, Dredd 3

So that's it!  Dredd is the superior movie, but by a smaller margin than I initially expected.  It really did win on having a tighter story and a better cast, but when I picture the Judge Dredd setting, I really do envision what they put into the original film, and the villain in Dredd just did not live up to the hype at all.  Judge Dredd deserves a better class of villain than a woman famous for "feminizing" men with her teeth.

...which would also be a terrible, terrible thing to have in any video game adaptations.  "Press X to not get your codpiece chewed through."

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