The police, judge, jury and executioner known as Judge Joe Dredd is getting another shot at the big screen. With comic heroes springing to life in all corners of the cinematic world, it’s not so surprising that the British science fiction anthology and 2000 AD’s longest running comic strip would be next.
Created by writer John Wagner, artist Carlos Ezquerra and editor Pat Mills, Dredd is one of a number of clone law enforcement officers, created from the DNA of Chief Judge Eustance Fargo, the most famous of the elite corps of Street Judges who run Mega-City One, a violent city of the future where uniformed Judges have the power to arrest, sentence and execute criminals on the spot. A frequently used sentence in the series is, “I am the law!” leading readers to view Dredd as a personification of justice itself. Armed with a large computer-driven “Lawmaster”, a motorbike with powerful cannons, video communications system and full artificial intelligence, a handgun with DNA-coded palm recognition, a daystick and a boot knife, Dredd combats crime clad in a uniform complete with a helmet that obscures all of his face, except his mouth and jaw. Co-creator Wagner had this to say about the head gear: “It sums up the facelessness of justice – justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to.” They even went so far as to have Dredd remove his helmet but covered his face with a censorship sticker, having other characters react as if he were disfigured - what a tease.
His anonymity caused problems the first time Dredd was adapted for the big screen in 1995, with Arnold Schwarzenegger declining the role because the original script featured Dredd with his helmet on during major parts of the film. Sylvester Stallone took on the role instead but managed to get the lid removed for key scenes. Though there’s no proof this is what made the film flop (production budget was $90 million and domestic total gross was a weeny $34,693,481), fans were highly critical and non-fans were equally negative. But since the comic strip has been running since 1977 we’re inclined to think it’s not the story that’s the problem. Fans may have also been upset with the film's lack of Dredd mythology and the way it played fast and loose with tradition: as with most Hollywood flicks, a love story was developed between Dredd and Judge Hershey. But what Hollywood failed to acknowledge was that romance is strictly forbidden to Judges. As a result of their tinkering, the movie won several “worst film of the year” awards.
It will be interesting to see who is cast as Dredd in the upcoming flick (and whether he removes his helmet). The first person who springs to mind is Avatar bad guy, Stephen Lang. But perhaps Legion’s Gabriel, Kevin Durand, or even Hellboy’s Ron Perlman will make the shortlist. At the moment it's unknown what the movie will cover. The script has been described as a “high-octane slay ride through the dark underbelly of a vast futuristic city”, but seeing as most superhero flicks start with the origin story we wouldn’t rule out seeing Dredd's creation.
As the strip occurs in real time, Dredd is currently more than sixty years old (with rejuvenation treatments a-plenty to keep him going) and has over fifty years of service under his belt, from 2079 to 2132. Characters have commented on Dredd not being as young and fit as he used to be, which leads fans to wonder if Dredd is becoming too old to serve and if he is, what will happen next? Mega-City One has cloning and brain transplant technology, so will an elaborate science project keep Dredd going, or will other clones take his place? Or could the film see an aged Dredd training up his replacement?
DNA Films spent more than two years negotiating with rights-holders to Judge Dredd and details are now emerging suggesting that this will be a $45 million project backed by Reliance Big Pictures and Stuart Ford’s international sales banner IM Global and DNA Films itself (the UK production house headed by Andrew Macdonald). The screenplay was written by Alex Garland and will be directed by Pete Travis. Filming is scheduled to take place this year in Johannesburg.
HeatVision had it first.