BLOG Who Killed Judge Dredd?

Dredd 3D is out on DVD and blu-ray this week (read the SFX review here). For those of you who haven’t seen it, and many of you may not have, it’s great. A cheerfully brutal, hard-nosed and at times blackly funny journey into the Mega City 1 of the comics. It’s tight, nasty, assured, hard-18 certificate movie making of a sort that hasn’t really been around for close to a decade. Over here, it did okay. In the US, it sank like a stone and the chances of anything further coming from Dredd in particular and the 2000AD stable in general are all but dead.

Why? How could a film made on a low budget with a respected scriptwriter with a clear grasp of the material and not one, but three of the best character actors working today in the three main roles take so little money? Why did it fail? Who killed Judge Dredd? Let’s look at the evidence:

The Studio

Dredd 3D was rolled out to 28 screens in the UK in 2D. Just 28. The vast majority of the movie’s prints were in 3D over here and that’s like stealing two pieces of the pie at once for a lot of people. Firstly, six million people in this country can’t see 3D movies without feeling physically sick. Sufferers of conditions like amblyopia, stabismus, diplopia, astigmatism and hyperopia all have severe difficulty with 3D movies.
Secondly, for a technology that’s been in use for years, I can still count the amount of movies that have used it subtly or well on the fingers of one hand and still have room to give you a thumbs up. 3D’s critical reputation is dirt. It’s commercial reputation, because every 3D ticket sold brings in more than every 2D says different. The decision to push the 3D release far more than the 2D aggressively hurt the movie, because so many of the target audience were so sick of having 3D force fed to them they stayed away.

The Cinemas

Dredd 3D didn’t make it to some parts of the country at all and was on ridiculous times in others. The end result was that an audience that was already reduced because it was being force fed 3D, was broken down further by simple attrition. If you can’t get to the movie in time, you don’t see the movie, the movie doesn’t get your money and it gets moved to a smaller screen and a worse time because no one’s seeing it. Empty cinemas mean shortened runs which means lower box office for the movie.

The Target Audience

This is the tricky one. The audience was really in a no-win situation with Dredd 3D. If you went to see it, you were supporting a film released under a misguided, at best, release schedule. In some cases you were paying money to be made to feel sick for a couple of hours. If you didn’t go and see it, and wanted to, then you weren’t just cutting yourself off from a fun movie, you were being forced to choose to damage a movie you were all set to support. There was literally no way to win, and whilst there’s no blame to apportion there, feelings are clearly still running high amongst fans.

The 18 Certificate

I’m 36, which means I can remember not only when all of this was nowt but fields, but also when an 18 meant sex, violence, swearing and bad behaviour. 18 was the Beastie Boys of movie certificates, the heavy metal. 18 was cool.

18 also stopped people going to see movies, and that, along with the natural process of cultural acceptability has meant that whilst the certificate still exists, it’s become a rarity. What used to be 18 material is now 15, or 12A. Larger audiences, larger profits and everyone goes happy.

Except Dredd, which stuck to its hard 18 rating through and through. It’s consistently extremely violent and whilst it uses violence as both punctuation and punch lines, much like RoboCop, the critical landscape has changed. Unfortunately, and more importantly, so has the financial one, with a wide audience now far more desirable than an appropriate one.

The Old Ultra Violence

Judge Dredd is the poster child for cathartic, and comedic, violence and Dredd 3D more than lives up to that. Whilst that’s utterly, beautifully in keeping with the core material, it’s also a hard sell to an audience that doesn’t already know about the comics.

Walk Ins

Ask most people on the street if they know who Batman is, or Superman, or the X-Men and chances are they’ll say yes. Ask most people if they know who Judge Dredd is and most won’t. The character has never broken through beyond comics, a single movie and computer games; never left bootprints in the popular consciousness like those other characters. Don’t believe me? How many cartoons has Dredd had? TV series? A few albums, a few novels, decades worth of comics and some fun computer games don’t net you the non-geek audience and without a strong hook, people with no interest in the character have no reason to change their minds. Or drop an extra coupe of quid for a movie they know nothing about but can only see in 3D expensive-o-vision…

Marketing

To the target audience, 2000AD did their typically great job of raising awareness of the movie. To anyone outside that audience? The studio put Dredd on the side of a couple of buses, and put together trailers I liked but which I accept were a bit generic. Aside from that? Nothing. Admittedly it’s a small budget movie but the marketing for this thing just wasn’t there. I don’t know whether it was the niche appeal or the 18 certificate but something meant Dredd 3D was left hanging in the wind at the exact point it needed all the help it could get.

Other Movies

I’m very fond of the first ten minutes of the Stallone movie. The rest is a disaster. Whether you like it or not, and if you can even remember it or not, the Stallone movie’s spectacular failure may well have informed Dredd 3D’s budget and certainly informed the creative process behind the movie, given how far in the opposite direction they rowed.

Similarly, the persistent belief that Dredd 3D ripped off The Raid, when the two movies were on entirely different production schedules and both production crews have repeatedly denied any connection can’t have helped. It’s not a direct issue, especially given the relatively small commercial success of The Raid, but when a film has so many other strikes against it, it’s easy to add one more for good measure.

So, eight suspects, but in the end, there’s really only one killer. The studio’s marketing and release decisions have continually placed Dredd 3D at the tip of the spear of 3D movies. The refusal to release anything like a realistic amount of 2D prints into the country, coupled with the fact you can’t buy the movie on Blu-ray without getting the 3D cut as well makes it very clear where their priorities lie. And, unfortunately, it’s in the opposite direction to the audience’s.

So what can you do? Honestly? Nothing. If you’re buying the DVD in the misguided belief it will help convince the studio a sequel is viable, save your money. There’s no “Serenity manoeuvre” to be pulled off here, no chance of a reprieve. That’s the bad news. The good news is, if you saw it and liked it, now you can watch it in 2D as much as you want and if you didn’t see it but you’re a Judge Dredd fan? Chances are you’ve got a real treat coming your way. The Judge may be dead, but Mega City 1 is forever, regardless of Box Office.

Alasdair Stuart

(With thanks to Sarah Fones, Zoe Gould and Steven Ellis for their help)