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Dredd, Judges, and Dystopia

Updated on January 3, 2014

His Honor

His Honor.
His Honor. | Source

Dredd Then and Now

In between Judge Dredd (1995) and Dredd (2012), something must have happened. It might only have been a new formula of sorts: how to better adapt graphic novels to the screen and thereby maximize ready-made audiences. Underacting also plays a factor, especially in the steady use of deadpan delivery. In the 2nd or more modern version, both the good guy and the bad guy (or gal, as in the case at hand) are portrayed by means of extreme minimalism. I remember having liked the character, Dredd, in '95. I understand he has been around quite awhile. About a year or so ago, I read a hub review of the newer Dredd, starring Karl Urban. I made a mental note to see it. Finally, I did.

Our very own Verily Prime wrote about the film as an example of the burgeoning post-apocalyptic genre, having recently become more and more popular at the box office, as well as in home theaters. This made me want to add my own voice into the critics' seething cauldron. He also wrote about Judges in the Old Testament as a relevant antecedent. In particular, he evoked the image of Samson's mass slaughter of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. I had not thought about this passage on my own. But upon reflection, I think it is a valid connection.

But then, there really is nothing new under the sun. So, a re-tooled story involving the punishment of the wicked is unlikely to ever go completely out of style. It is just that the film is pretty much in overdrive all the way from the very beginning. It is, as such, over-the-top and highly imaginative. According to the script, "America is an irradiated wasteland." No problem. But Dredd is so fanciful that it is always in danger of losing its moorings. A tenuous relationship to reality is consistently undermined, if not severed at almost every opportunity.

But not altogether. And that is the saving grace. There is a drug called "slo-mo," for instance. It enables time to be experienced as though it were moving at approximately 1% of its normal speed. Got it? And that is close enough to what I'm complaining about. This is ridiculous, right? Then again, the stuff is in demand to such an extent that its primary distributor, Ma-Ma (Lena Heady), is positioned to take over Mega City One -- huge! Ma is bad! She remains throughout the film till nearly the end in control of Peach Trees, a block suffering 96% unemployment. More exclamation points. . . .

In The End Time, Will There Be No Malls?

Ordinarily, I would disapprove of so obvious a stringing together of one exaggeration after another, each more reckless and unbelievable than the one before. But there is no arguing with success. Some are priceless, like the gun that fails to identify its shooter. Others are instantly forgettable. Somehow it works. And to do so, it does not have to work all the time. There is plenty of inventiveness that simply has to be tolerated. But more is always on the way. Dredd, for instance, is always either talking to a Dick Tracy-like wrist-worn device, linked to headquarters, or his gun, inputting voice commands on how to fire upon a perp. You either like this or not. It might actually have been more annoying, except that Dredd also converses with Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant with psychic abilities. Two people talking, face to face, within hearing range -- still normal after all this time.

Verily Prime talks about the Terminator as a key predecessor. This is true. Dredd evolved; he did not come from a vacuum. His character is derivative. What I like most is Dredd's contribution to science fiction. SF is a worthy tradition. In this context, moreover, nothing that transpires on screen is at all out of line. I can really see a vast metropolis stretching from Boston to D.C. or so, with countless skyscrapers and tons of concrete, a hellish home to hundreds of millions, and so dangerous that due process is too much of a luxury. No food courts either. Judges dole out sentences that they themselves pronounce and perform on the spot -- usually either to send perps to the "cubes" or execute them without a moment's thought to the contrary. Dredd is loads of fun. Viewer discretion is advisable. The paucity of off-screen or outside-of-frame violence serves only to underscore the fact that as imaginative as the film is, it leaves almost nothing to the imagination.

All hail the consumer!

You're the final judge in the world of entertainment.
You're the final judge in the world of entertainment. | Source

Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged.

From Matthew 7:1 comes wise advise. Unfortunately, judges and judgements are more the name of the game. And instant and irreversible judgement is actually not a new idea. It takes into account biblical literature that deals with a sweeping, cross-the-board accounting for sins. It is inescapable, so goes the logic, and will involve resurrection, rapture, and who knows what else. Thus, the reference to Judges, in particular Samson. Owing to his superhuman strength, it is by no means irrelevant to the plasticity of the comic book world. The Philistines keep trying to deal with the force sent against them, consisting almost wholly of Samson, rather than take inventory of what might have caused them to be singled out for punishment. They fight Samson effectively only intermittently. Why didn't they do what is so often depicted in ancient writing? Look within for a fault not readily apparent on the surface?

That is to say, the Philistines, like the "clan" in Dredd, do not look to the interior, the soul maybe, to establish the true first cause -- loosely akin to the First Mover in Thomas Acquinas' argument designed to prove the existence of God. How did their own actions motivate the heavens to send Samson against them? I know how offbeat this sounds, but it really isn't. They do this all the time in Western societies dating back in terms of the historical record to at least ancient Greece. Whenever there is a famine or terrible war -- as seen in various plays or fragments -- the chorus or plot development reveals someone's personal folly to have been responsible. Of course, it cannot be just anyone. It has to be the mistakes of a King, such as Oedipus, or possibly those of another big-shot, like Creon, Mayor of Thebes, who incurred the wrath of an offended god.

Well, to be perfectly honest, I am straining to comply, myself, with a sense of morality that I invoke pretty much for the sake of an article. Afterwards, I will likely as not quickly file it away out-of-sight-out-of-mind. I am not comfortable with "other world" thinking. But the fact of the matter is, there already exists a relationship between these post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian novels and movies. It is undeniable. But its exact nature remains murky. Theoretically, almost anything might or might not happen. Either way. The 21st Century could conceivably settle down into a discouraging but utterly survivable rut. It might consist of the occasional hijacking, explosion, skirmish, and/or provocative verbal assault. The end result would be sanctions or a military action involving so-called precision bombing. Or, the 20-hundreds might instead feed into a cataclysmic event, which is the starting point for the popular films and books addressed in this hub. Apocalypse Now (1979) dealt with Vietnam, partly in sync to a song about "the end" by the Doors. World War Z (2013) deals, in addition to other places, Israel (the location of Armageddon in Revelation 16:16).

The Villainess

The Villainess
The Villainess | Source

Dystopia: Almost There!

I got the idea for this hub from fellow scribes. There are quite a few writers here who can suggest great books and movies, depending, of course, on one's own predilections. A good source of food for thought, now and well into the foreseeable future, comes from "electronician". His hub, Technological Dystopia -- 10 Reasons to Fear Technology, is exceptional. I learned a lot from reading it, in addition to other hubs on similar themes. Most of the leading books and movies, such as The Road, The Matrix, or The Book of Eli, assume a traumatic catastrophe, scheduled to take place in our future, but to have already taken place prior to the setting of the particular work of fiction. From a certain perspective, these films and books are simply good yarns. But to delve possibly a level deeper, there are concrete reasons why something might transpire that will change forever the face of the earth and the ways of life that have managed to hold up -- up till now.

Electronician's cartoon-figure debate between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley turns out to be a series of moot points. No information or too much information, banned books or nobody reading, and control by means of pain or pleasure -- it makes no difference. The result is the same: a privileged elite together with but really separate from all the rest. In Dredd, the good guys and bad guys are pretty much at a stand-off. But there is a great deal to fear (dread) from any oligarchy, nation, or international organization that rises to a position of prominence beyond any credible opposition. We constantly hear talk of a One World Order. But how will it come about? We (me, the middle class, and the masses) don't know. But genetic engineering, substances, climate changes, signals, radiation, secret pacts, and bias -- which patient gets treatment, which not -- are probably significant. To my mind, we must already be on the doorstep or at least in the vicinity of a dystopia that will actually come about, not just be represented on screen.

In 3 Penny Opera (1931), it turns out that leaders need their followers much more than the other way around. It is just that they do not know it. Now, it might be different.There are nearly seven billion people in the world. Very probably six or close to that number are either completely helpless or extremely dependent upon leadership and the technology it presides over. Electronician raises the question, what if our governments decided to withdraw the varied protections they bestow on their populations? What if all of a sudden we were exposed to rampant crime with no recourse whatsoever? Finito, right? Let's take it a step further. Is it all right for governments to ignore whole portions of their own citizenships? The answer is, it had better be. It is already the norm. Maybe not necessarily here. But in a global environment, what exactly does that mean? And for how much longer?

8 Million? There are 800 million stories in this Naked City!

Daniel 5:27 (King James Version)

"Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." These are not the kind of words to be found on Dredd's lips. He is more apt to say 3 to 5, death, or life without parole. He does not negotiate. In a hyper-judgmental milieu such as ours, can peace long endure? Few I know seem to think so. Depending upon who I talk to, practically no one envisions a bright future that will not be at the very least interrupted by a negative conflagration. Beginning possibly with disaster scenarios forecast mostly in books and movies, or on talk shows, almost all of which have already fizzled, there are any number of new horror stories out there just begging, it seems, to come true. For sure, the meek will not inherit this earth, not the way it is at present. They are too busy getting stepped on and crushed out of existence. So, who will be the last man standing? What nations will perish? Which will survive? Among the latter, what changes will have to be made? The answers can only be speculated upon. Finding them out is best done, as is being done today, by writing books and making movies, drawing graphic novels, and hashing and re-hashing these visionary nightmares on television.

The Big One

First Blood = Last Blood
First Blood = Last Blood

You Tell Me

Will there be life eternal?

See results

Dredd Again

One of last year's end of world scenarios.


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