Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd (1994)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Max Von Sydow, Jürgen Prochnov, Rob Schneider
Extras: Featurette

After a string of rather average movies, including stints in the comedy genre, Sylvester Stallone decided to get back to his roots in 1994 and do a full-blown action movie with the comic book adaptation of "Judge Dredd." This no-holds-barred, futuristic action adventure has now found its way to Blu-Ray Disc through Buena Vista Home Entertainment and since it has been a while since I last watched this film, I decided to give it a spin.

The movie's titular character is based on a comic book series about a dark future where anarchy very nearly reigns. In this world, the crime rates have skyrocketed and in response to the increasing violence, the government has replaced parts of their judicial system with the "judges." These officers embody the supreme judicial authority: They embody police force, judge, and executioner in a single person. Heavily armored, trained to perfection and equipped with highly efficient, customized weapons, the judges roam the streets of the dark metropolis Megacity on their mission to wipe out crime.

One of these judges has become legend. He is fearless, unforgiving and has been on the streets longer than any other. He is Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone). As you might expect, Dredd is a very controversial character. Idolized by many of the other judges, especially the young cadets at the academy, Dredd is also feared, considered dangerous and a menace by more conservative parts of society. News anchors have made it their business to snoop in his work and denounce every step he takes.

One day, a high-ranking officer is killed, and the incident is captured on video. The killer wears the uniform of a street judge and Dredd's badge. Dredd is immediately imprisoned and taken to court, where it is further uncovered that the bullet that killed the victim was clearly shot from Dredd's lawgiver gun – a handgun locked by a device that takes and verifies a DNA sample before it allows handling and firing of the weapon. Faced with such irrefutable evidence, Dredd is sent to prison for life. When the transportation shuttle is shot down by renegades in the desert, he escapes the flames and gets his chance to find the person who is framing him.

Director Danny Cannon created an atmospheric, tight film that is very well paced. Introducing us to the main characters, the film quickly breezes through the exposition and sets the main premise. From there on, the film becomes a non-stop thrill ride that takes us to exotic places and confronts us with a variety of fantastic events and characters. Characters so colorful and over the top that the movie never loses its comic book roots.

While the special effects appear a bit dated at this point in time, the film still manages to present us with a cluttered, neo-stylized Megacity, towering into the skies, where there is no room to escape or avoid the grip of violence.

As you would expect from an action movie like this, the film does not establish much background for the characters, simply giving them enough motivation to propel them through the story. "Judge Dredd" does a very good job with this, and with stars like Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Jürgen Prochnov and Max Von Sydow, the cast is very strong to start with.

"Judge Dredd" is a role tailored for Sylvester Stallone and clearly the right vehicle for the actor. He is witty and occasionally charming – when the hard outside shell is broken and we can see deep into his torn, soft soul through his contact-lens-blue eyes. Armand Assante, a highly underrated actor, in the role of a renegade judge whose plan it is to overthrow the government and eliminate the judges, presents us with a clean-cut bad guy who is almost sympathetic on the surface, yet who reveals himself to be dark, psychotic, and evil on the inside. Always emotional and rampaging like a furious animal, Assante's portrayal of Rico, nice contrasts with that of Jürgen Prochnov's as he plays the high ranking council member who uses Rico to attain powers for himself. Prochnov is so stoic and cold, making you wonder, which character is actually the more dangerous.

"Judge Dredd" comes to Blu-Ray on a wonderfully clean 1080p high definition transfer in the film's original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. It is a significant step up from the lame-o non-anamorphic DVD version of the film that has been released almost 15 years ago. Finally, you get to witness the full detail in the futuristic imagery of the film. You get to enjoy it without grain and with bold colors to boot. With incredible detail, it truly is a new way to experience the film and you will not be disappointed by this release.

The disc features a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is aggressive and active throughout. Split surrounds buzz through your living room on every corner and with a solid bass extension, the track will surely put you in the right frame of mind for this action flick.
Alan Silvestri's score also makes a great showing on this release, with fine texture and clarity that adds to the overall presentation. The score is both, futuristic and menacing, always somewhat heroic, nicely complementing the larger-than-life persona of Judge Dredd.

Sadly, the release is still a bit thin in terms of supplements and could have used a shot in the arm. You will find the featurette "Stallone's Law" on the disc, a making of featurette that gives you a look at the production of the film. Guided by Sylvester Stallone himself, he takes you on a tour to see how the character has been adapted from the comic book pages to a movie and how the film has been designed and put together.
Don't expect too much from a film like "Judge Dredd". It is a film based on a comic character and it's clearly designed to numb your senses. This is Hollywood big screen action cinema without inhibitions and it delivers the goods – fast, furious, and loud. It is a cool movie that brings the world of the comic to life in a spectacular fashion with great heroes and nasty bad guys… and the part of Judge Dredd is perfect for Sylvester Stallone.