Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Dredd - How to Correctly Adapt a Comic Book Character


       Watched Dredd the other night – the whole time I was thinking now this is how to properly adapt a comic book into a film!
       Here are my thoughts…

       Don't change what's essential to ‘Judge Dredd’ – Ok, this one is kind of obvious and needs to be addressed since 1995’s Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone botched it horribly. In the long running British comic series 2000AD, you never see Dredd take off his helmet. He was supposed to be a faceless bastard – that was kind of the whole point. In this film, true to the comics, he keeps his helmet on the entire time. Mad props to Karl Urban for acting without showing his eyes at all in his film. He also managed to keep the trademark Dredd grimace throughout. If there was an Oscar available for best chin acting…. Just sayin’…
       Similarly, the portrayal of Dredd’s character in this film is also spot on. He’s a hard, ruthless, efficient S.O.B who upholds the law to the letter. There’s no character arc, no revealing of a secret inner soft spot, no origin story, nothing – just like in the comics! Once again this was somewhat compromised in the Stallone version. In Dredd, it’s really up to the character of Anderson to act as a counterpoint to “’Old Stony Face”, and it is her character arc that the audience follows. Dredd may be the main character, but it’s her journey that completes the story (which may also explain why they chose a younger, ’rookie’ portrayal of Anderson in this film, in order to allow for her character growth).
       Finally, Judge Dredd in the comics is notoriously violent and harsh on criminals. This film certainly doesn't shy away from that – an 18 certificate is definitely called for and justified here. Again, the 1995 version was watered down to appeal to a wider audience and it turn loses the grim and uncompromising stance of the judges when it comes to dispensing justice, often consisting of on-the-spot sentencing and executions.

       There is also plenty of fan service with numerous references to the comics including those that play a big part: Anderson’s psychic abilities, the voice activated Lawgiver that fires different types of bullets, the existence of corrupt judges, mega blocks… but also more subtle ones such as references to ‘Iso Cubes’, ‘Meat Wagons’, ‘Recyc’, a jacket with “Drokk” sprayed on it, etc…
       So yeah – pretty faithful so far, right? But also there were some things that just wouldn't translate as well to the big screen, which leads us on to…

       Change what needs to be changed – A prime example of this is the slight tonal shift of the world of Dredd and Mega City One to a more real and gritty portrayal. The comics are known to be very stylized in their depictions of their futuristic world and in truth, transposing this as is from the page to the screen would result in something that would look a bit too cartoony and ridiculous.
       This was also a smart move due to budgetary constraints ($45m is modest for a film of this type – the Stallone version was $70m and that was 17 years ago!). This way they could CG augment vistas of Johannesburg to bring Mega City One to life rather than attempting to build a futuristic city from the ground up. The budget also made sense for the filmmakers to constrict the majority of the film to one location – also leading to the added bonus of making the film feel episodic in nature (much like how the Judge Dredd stories were often presented in 2000AD). It’s unfortunate that the film The Raid featured a very similar set-up (they were actually only a few months apart in production), which kind of detracts from the freshness of Dredd if you had seen The Raid first.
       Another change they made was how they (quite rightly) adapted the Judge’s uniform to one that resembles a more practical riot gear look rather than the huge golden shoulder pads and chains of the comic (again, compare this to the 1995 version which frankly looks a bit tacky). In Dredd it works because it looks real, believable, practical for the job and yet still instantly recognizable as being Judge Dredd.

       Another point that some fans brought up was the lack of 'custom' swear words used in 2000AD such as 'drokk', 'Grud' and 'stomm' in the film - the usual f-bombs and female-dog-name-calling being featured instead. Personally, I didn't see this as a problem as I felt it lends more to the gritty and real-world portrayal of Dredd and the inclusion of them in this film would have perhaps felt a bit forced. Battlestar Galactica can get away with using 'frakk' as it had many many episodes for you to get immersed into their world and way of speaking - and besides the whole reason 2000AD used it in the first place was because they weren't allowed to publish swear words, but still wanted to stand out as a 'mature' comic.

       I guess that's the most important thing then – staying true to the source material without slavishly trying to recreate all the superfluous details that don't really matter but end up looking (or sounding) kind of silly on the big screen – something that the 1995 Judge Dredd did wrong both ways. Dredd isn’t a perfect movie by any means, nor a perfect adaptation of the comic (personally, I felt their rendition of the Lawmaster bikes did look a little crappy) but it does its job pretty damn well.

       And Rob Schneider as comic relief is nowhere to be seen…

       Any fans of 2000AD need to go see this now!

12 Sept 2012

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