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Judge Dredd (Brutal Beta cut)

It continues to be a slow time for film releases that I care enough to bother watching and reviewing. In light of that, I thought I’d try something entirely new: A fan edit!

This one came to me from my good friend Joseph Sheldahl at Brutal Beta. He put together a fan edit of Judge Dredd and very politely asked for me to give it the Movie Curiosities treatment. This despite the fact that my only prior exposure to the film was a review by the Nostalgia Critic. Hell, everything I know about the character came from that review and the Karl Urban reboot.

Try as I may, I can’t judge this fan edit in the context of the actual film or in the context of an adaptation. But I’m pretty sure I can judge it in the context of 1995.

In retrospect, the ’90s were a really bad time for blockbuster cinema. From 1993 (with the release of Jurassic Park) until 2000 or so (with the releases of X-Men and Spider-Man), Hollywood was absolutely CGI-crazy. Hollywood studios and execs didn’t even bother with trifles like characters or plotlines — the effects were the stars. No matter how shitty the film was, or even how shitty the CGI was, visual effects were all it took to sell tickets. Guaranteed.

Of course, I know that summer blockbusters are still oversaturated with CGI, but not like it used to be. There’s a reason why Godzilla of last year made some attempt at being an allegory for man’s place in nature, and it’s the same reason why Godzilla of ’98 would never have gotten made today. Moreover, think about The Avengers. Was it the CGI that made that film an industry-changing hit? Of course not. It was the whip-smart writing, the brilliantly staged action, the magnetic characters, and the uproarious comedy (though four years’ worth of movies and hype to lay the foundation certainly didn’t hurt). The CGI merely served as a crutch for the story. In the ’90s, it was the other way around.

And yes, there were some good ’90s blockbusters, but they were the exceptions that proved the rule. I can all but guarantee you that Titanic and The Matrix wouldn’t have been such culture-defining smash hits if they weren’t surrounded by dreck like Space JamBatman and Robin, the works of Roland Emmerich, and all of Emmerich’s many wannabes.

Then we have the superhero factor. The early ’90s were flooded with half-baked superhero adaptations, all made in a desperate attempt to ride the coattails of the 1989 Batman success. This resulted in such varying degrees of mediocrity as Dick TracyThe Shadow, Steel, and The Phantom. Hell, even the relatively good The Rocketeer had some glaring flaws.

Last but not least, this film was an early directorial effort from Danny Cannon. This is the same guy who just directed the pilot and season finale of “Gotham” while also serving as exec producer on that show. As someone who forced himself to sit through the first season of that show, I can testify that it was a superhero adaptation with tons of potential that got flushed right down the crapper. Which apparently is not without precedent in Cannon’s career.

Given all of this context, it’s understandable how Judge Dredd would get its reputation as a brainless and cheesy over-the-top action film with more effects than sense. And then there’s the fan edit, done by this particular fan.

Joe and I have talked about all manner of geeky subjects over the years. I can personally attest to his undying love for all things ’80s and ’90s, and he’s as big a fan of over-the-top action films as anyone I could ever hope to meet. I was positively aching to see what he could do to whip this film into shape.

Right from the outset, he did not disappoint. The vast majority of the opening credits sequence was excised, dismantled for parts to use in an opening montage that takes the place of the opening text crawl. What’s more, James Earl Jones’ opening narration now takes us directly into the first action scene of the movie, kicking off the film and introducing the Judges with aplomb.

Even better, so many of the more glaringly painful moments that I saw in the Nostalgia Critic review were nowhere to be seen in this edit. A lot of mugging from Sly Stallone and Rob Schneider (though sadly not all of it) hit the cutting room floor, which assuredly made the end result easier to sit through. Even better, it makes for a very tight film that puts the emphasis on the action. The movie also has a few ruminations about police brutality and the more ambiguous aspects of law enforcement. And of course, we have the issues of cloning and genetic manipulation, both very timely subjects for science fiction as in vitro fertilization became more commonplace and the Human Genome Project was just getting underway. It’s so much easier to take those themes seriously when the action has more punch and there’s less annoying comedy to weigh everything down.

Alas, some flaws are unavoidable. Stallone is still a terrible choice to play the part, and some of the lamer jokes and line deliveries were sadly positioned in such a way that they couldn’t be cut. And of course, Stallone still takes his helmet off way too many times. This goes in direct contrast with Dredd of the comics, who quite notably is never seen without his helmet. It continues to be a huge sticking point for fans of the character, which is why it was such a huge deal when Karl Urban went through an entire film portraying the character while keeping his face hidden.

Perhaps more importantly, the performances in this film are all over-the-top. Though Stallone and Schneider are the most predictable and frequent offenders, Jurgen Prochnow and Armand Assante both turn in work that’s unintentionally hilarious. Lucky we have Max von Sydow and Diane Lane, both of whom balance things out with relatively understated performances that both bring an air of authority.

(Side note: I was pleased and amazed to discover that the uncredited voice of the Central computer was none other than Adrienne Barbeau. The name should sound familiar, since she’s an accomplished voice actress and character actor with well over 100 credits to her name. She’s easily most famous, however, for a starring role in The Fog and a prominent supporting role in Escape from New York. Though personally, I prefer to remember her as the voice of Catwoman in the legendary animated Batman series of the ’90s.)

The production design also deserves mention. Though the Judges’ uniforms are unforgivably garish, all the other costumes look just fine and the set design is gleaming with polish. Additionally, though some of the visual effects look dated (particularly during the vehicular chase sequence), the practical effects still hold up surprisingly well. Of course, it helps that most of the practical effects revolve around a robot who’s supposed to look and act like an old rusted relic, so there’s that. It also bears mentioning that even though production design may look solid, it still looks more than a touch derivative. To paraphrase the Nostalgia Critic, it really does look like someone tried to copy the look of Blade Runner with the budget of Super Mario Bros. (The Fifth Element didn’t come out until two years later, so that doesn’t count as a reference).

And of course, there are all the plot holes. It’s still absolutely ludicrous that a giant killer death-bot should be considered “inactive” and sold legally when it could easily be reactivated just by plugging a couple of wires together. But what REALLY gets stuck in my craw is that pivotal moment when Dredd is put on trial for murder. And nobody — out of all the trained professionals with encyclopedic knowledge of the law who’ve spent years serving as judge, jury, and executioner — NOBODY ever thinks to ask a very simple and basic question: “Where were you on the night of the murder?” It’s the first question that anybody would have asked after seeing a single episode of any crime procedural. And it’s not like Dredd wouldn’t have an answer: the guy is so notoriously conspicuous that there would have to be at least a dozen people who could testify to exactly where he was at the time of the crime. And the filmmakers couldn’t even bother to come up with some bullshit excuse around that. Shameful.

Still, the film does get a few things right. Dredd is still portrayed (in this cut, anyway) as someone who’s pledged his entire mind, body, and soul to the law, with no time or inclination toward anything else. Even on those rare and awkward moments when the film tries to position Diane Lane’s character as a love interest, Dredd is quite clearly having none of it (though again, that’s just in this cut).

Moreover, it’s an R-rated film. And even if this movie never pushes that rating very hard, it still absolutely had to be rated R. I’ve seen way too many pictures with gory and mature premises get neutered by a studio-mandated PG-13 rating. This isn’t one of those movies — even though it very easily could have been — and I’m thankful for that.

Judge Dredd is a movie that thoroughly earns its reputation as an over-the-top brainless action film. It’s stupid and loaded with plot holes, but this fan edit did a lot to show me why the film remains such a guilty pleasure. Some of the cuts may look a little awkward, and the movie has way too many flaws that couldn’t possibly be excised, but Joe still did a fantastic job of reshaping the film into something lean and entertaining. Aside from a few campy line deliveries, there’s nothing to distract from the fascinating sci-fi concepts or the action on display.

Anyone interested in seeing the Brutal Beta cut of Judge Dredd can request a download link, either the blog or the Facebook page.

3 Comments

  1. Comment by Anonymous:

    This film was released as pg 13

  2. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    Well, my hat’s off to Joe for making it look like a plausible R rating in his cut.

  3. Comment by Joseph Sheldahl:

    This movie was not released as a PG-13, I don’t know where the hell Anon got that from.
    I’ve had this movie on VHS, DVD, and now Blu Ray, and I can assure you- every single cut of the movie was absolutely rated R just as it was in theaters.

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