Saturday 17 November 2012

Their Law: A review of the "Judge Minty" fan film ... and why it's better than "Dredd"

My name is Paul L Mathews, and I’m a Judge Dredd fan … and a fan film has finally done justice to the character I love.

I’ve been reading 2000AD for the best part of three decades now, and, naturally, Judge Dredd is amongst my favourite characters in the comic. Imagine, therefore, my excitement when I saw this trailer for something called the Judge Minty Fan Film:-

I mean, c’mon, that things got it all right? Judges, Lawmasters and the coolest rendition of Mega-city One you’re ever going to see on screen, fact. Hell, there’s even a reference to Rowdy Yates Block, for Grud’s sake. Surely, I thought, this is in with a shot of being the best rendition of the Dredd universe committed to screen. And now, some four months on, having finally seen Judge Minty, I have my answer. My suspicions are confirmed, and judgement is served…

… But first a short interlude. Between seeing the trailer for Judge Minty and the film proper, I saw its big-screen cousin Dredd … and I hated it.

(Fair warning: if you like Dredd, or don't want to read any SPOILERS, you might want to look away now ‘cos it’s about to get ugly).

I had initial misgivings when I first saw the poster, publicity shots and trailer, and the film only confirmed my initial fear: Dredd is not a Judge Dredd film. Yes, it features a man called Dredd, who acts like Dredd, and who dispenses justice like Dredd … but, well, it just isn’t the Judge Dredd I grew up with.

For a start, that sure as hell doesn’t look like him. From the bulky body-armour to the supersized helmet, the Judges’ uniforms in Dredd are just as generic as the movie’s vision of Mega-City One. Looking for the soaring towers, sked-ways and flying traffic captured by the likes of Ezquera, Bolland and McMahon. Tough. Dredd’s vision of Mega-City One looks like nothing more than Johannesburg with a few CGI blocks imposed on it. Have a fondness for the the ‘Drokks’ and ‘Stomms’ used by the characters in the source material? Unlucky, ‘cos they’ve been dropped for liberal doses of ‘hard-hitting’ expletives like ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’. And as for the violence… Well, I know a lot of people—and people whose opinion I genuinely respect—say Dredd perfectly encapsulates the mood and feel of the titular hero and his unique city, but I disagree. Dredd was nothing more than an average dystopian sci-fi with Joe and Cassandra crammed into it, and which tried to distract its audience from its lack of authenticity—and, indeed, excitement—with oodles of bloodshed and needless gore more suited to the pages of Action comic than 2000AD. How can this possible be mistaken for the genuine article? Where is John Wagner’s wry humour or sly commentary on contemporary culture? Or McMahon and Ezquerra’s visual creativity and flare? Maybe they left it on the cutting room floor, ‘cos I couldn’t see it. It was also completely devoid of any tension. Not once did I get the impression Joe or Cassandra were in any kind of trouble, and that had a lot to do with a piss-poor choice of villain. I mean, c’mon, Ma-ma? With all the classic villains Joe’s faced, they seriously couldn’t do better than a drug dealer with a few bent coppers on her payroll? It’s barely credible. Hell, even the derided Stallone effort made a good fist of the Angel Gang, for Jovis’ sake!

Suffice to say, I left the cinema with a bitter taste in my mouth, and that taste—not to mention some trepidation—was still there when I sat down this week to watch Judge Minty. Could this, a short film with a tiny budget, really capture the unique essence of the comic? Could it do justice not only to Joe and his city, but also to the anticipation created by its trailer?

Yes, it could. And then some.

Let me be blunt about this; Judge Minty rocks, and it doesn’t just rock as a Judge Dredd film; it's a prime example of short, punchy and economical film-making. In a week I also saw the overlong and cumbersome Skyfall—which took a full 143 minutes to leave me feeling bored and unsatisfied—Judge Minty took only 25 to intrigue, amaze and exhilarate me. Yes, the plot is simplistic and, yes, it covers ground—and themes—already familiar to any Judge Dredd reader, but it’s no worse for it. And what it gives away in this department it more than makes up for in all others, from direction and camera to props and wardrobe. How a film with this budget has achieved such results is astonishing, and speaks volumes for the obvious devotion to the subject matter felt by all those involved. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the costume and prop designs of Daniel Carey-George, with the Lawmasters and Judges’ outfits deserving particular praise. Not only is the design of Judges’ uniform true to the source material, but it allows the actors to move about with speed and fluidity. Better still, they just look right.

Furthermore, Judge Minty’s excellence revolves around one thing, without which all this eye-candy could easily have been crusty make-up on a Sump-ugly tart; and that one thing is actor Edmund Dehn.

Dehn—cast in the titular role of the aging Judge Minty—perfectly captures a man struggling against the physicality of his advancing years, and hitherto liberal notions of appeasement and understanding. Contrast this with Dredd, where Karl Urban conveys little more than a man struggling against a flimsy script and an overly large helmet. And whilst Dredd lacks any hint of tension or emotional gravitas (yes, Joe gets shot blah blah blah, but, as with all heroes in a franchise, we know he’s going to survive, right? And Anderson—no matter how hard both the script and actress may try—can’t take up the slack either. Who really didn’t anticipate she’d survive and earn her full shield?) I spent the entirety of Judge Minty, however, expecting the hero to die, and the resulting tension as he fights his age, his environment and his delightfully visualised adversaries is augmented by a blended performance from Dehn which mixes determination, fear and a suprising melancholia which I felt gave Minty a subtle vulnerability. I truly haven’t felt that level of anxiety for a central character in any of this year’s blockbusters, and that includes the vaunted The Dark Knight Rises.

In conclusion, Judge Minty is the quintessential Judge Dredd film. It perfectly encapsulates the mood and feel of Wagner and Ezquerra’s unique creation, and the equally unique Mega-City One and its surrounding Cursed Earth. It is also a wonderful, bite-sized piece of sci-fi drama which will exhilarate, engross and surprise, and I feel both grateful for the cast and crew for creating it, but also thankful I’m one of the few who—to date—has seen it. I only hope more 2000AD fans are allowed the opportunity to see it, and they too enjoy it as much as I did.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation to my preferred charity, the Myasthenia Gravis Association. Thank you.


The Blog said...

"I had initial misgivings when I first saw the poster, publicity shots and trailer, and the film only confirmed my initial fear: Dredd is not a Judge Dredd film. Yes, it features a man called Dredd, who acts like Dredd, and who dispenses justice like Dredd … but, well, it just isn’t the Judge Dredd I grew up with."

I agree 100 percent. The look of the film was all wrong (too low-tech and grubby) and the plot was too limited in scale and ambition. The best thing about Dredd 3D was Karl Urban - his performance was great, but much of the rest was a half-assed approach to the source material (accepting the fact the budget was very small). The gun battle in the middle of the film was pretty cool, though. :)

Unknown said...

dredd 3D had some great visuals , music was kinda there . but sadly it wasnt my BIG MEG its a shame they have there own interpretation of the source material .. this is where they went badly wrong.
with judge minty they have done EVERYTHING out of respect to original material this is why minty blew me away and is so good id love to see more from the minty crew they deserve a call from rebellion to get paid work