(Crossposted from my tumblr.)
Right – I think it’s about time to share my thoughts on DREDD 3D. SPOILERS below the cut if you’ve not seen it, but then again, why haven’t you? Maybe a spoiler is what you need to make your mind up.
Because you need to see this film. And I’m not just saying that because I love Dredd so much I made it one of my life’s goals to work on the comic, in the same way that I presume there are people in the US who ache to write Batman. I’m saying it because it’s true. This film is true to the character’s roots in a way that goes beyond just not taking the helmet off and talking in a growly voice.
This film is an example of something that was postulated to me by, I think, Kieron Gillen, during a drunken conversation we had some years ago (but was almost certainly invented before that). It’s Punkpunk.
Let’s explain what I mean by that. When you see the film, the first thing you’ll notice (if you’re a Dredd fan) is that it’s not Mega-City One as it appears in the comics now. All the cars are on wheels, on roads, and they all seem to be old cars – old by our standards, not the standards of the future. In Dredd’s world as it’s been displayed in 2000AD, these cars would all be valuable antiques.
Similarly, in Peach Trees block, the terminals have trackballs, not touchscreens. The closed-circuit cameras are archaic, orange and flickery. In the schoolroom Dredd uses as an impromtu interrogation cell (nice to see torture not working, though movie-Dredd is more of a sadist than his comics counterpart and gives it a go) the furniture looks like old school furniture from when I grew up.
Is this down to budget and location? Sure. But I’d argue it’s also a conscious choice. Dredd 3D isn’t set in our future – if anything, it’s set in an alternate present day. The future we see is a paleofuture, a future that spun out out of the seventies, not out of our time. Once that realisation hits, every choice the film makes makes perfect sense.
In its ultraviolence, its clinical brutality, its stylist flourishes, its desire to be everything every other ‘comic book movie’ isn’t – apart from 3D, of course – Dredd takes its cues from 2000AD, but also from an older source – ACTION, the ‘boys paper of the seventies’.
ACTION was brought into being by Pat Mills, at the request of John Sanders, in an attempt to create a comic that was different from what was out there – grittier, more realistic, harder-hitting. (Find out more about it here.) It took the cultural touchstones of the times – Jaws, Rollerball, ‘kids apocalypse’ shows like The Changes – and distilled them down into hard punches of story and art that were the precursor to the idea of ‘thrill-power’ as we (attempt to) define it today. I’ve ended up calling it ‘the aggro style’, but it’s probably already been named by someone smarter than me.
Dredd 3D is an ‘aggro style’ film. If you were to boil it down to four or six pages, those pages wouldn’t look like an episode of Dredd as we recognise it today. It might look like one of Dredd’s first episodes, maybe – except it’d be harder, colder, R-rated.
What it’d look like, most likely, is a science-fiction take on Dredger.
When a piece of science fiction speaks to us in the cultural/science-fictional terms of Victoriana – taking influence from Jules Verne, etc – we call it Steampunk. If science fiction speaks to us in the terms of the mid-to-late seventies – Assault On Precinct 13, Action, those very early 2000AD progs, even the 3D splatter-shock films of the 70s – I feel like it needs a special name of its own, too.
Dredd 3D is a Punkpunk film. And you should go and see it right now, before it goes away.