Friday, 3 May 2013

Dredd 3D

In September 2012 Dredd 3D hit cinemas hoping to work some reboot magic on a stagnant movie franchise. The first attempt at an adaptation, Judge Dredd, was released in 1995 and starred Sylvester Stallone, it was a box-office disaster and swiftly faded into obscurity. When the reboot was announced, it was generally met with scepticism due to the unwanted association with its predecessor and consequently, expectations were modest at best.

The resulting movie, Dredd 3D, was (in my opinion) one of the best and most underrated films of the year! It knew exactly what it needed to be and delivered, it was great fun with effective violence and minimal gore. It was a comic-book adaptation with heart and yet it will go down as one of the biggest box-office disappointments of the year! 

But why?

Before we go any further, here's the synopsis:

 In the future, much of North America has been poisoned by radiation. The sprawling urban jungle Mega City One stretches from Boston to Washington D.C., and in order to keep the growing criminal element in check, police enforcers called "Judges" have been given the power of judge, jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared of them all, delivering death sentences with impunity as he fights to rid the streets of "Slo-Mo" -- a powerful new drug that alters its user's perception of time. In the process of training psychic rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd receives a report of an incident in a sprawling criminal stronghold ruled by fearsome drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Heady), and ventures in to investigate. 

The poster campaign for Dredd 3D epitomises exactly why the movie bombed at the worldwide box-office. The example provided (see top-right) is the main theatrical poster clearly boasting the return (or rebooting) of Judge Dredd. There’s big explosions, a stern-faced protagonist, guns and a post-apocalyptic setting. However, is this enough for a prospective audience?

At a first glance this appears to be another run-of-the-mill comic-book adaptation, largely because the poster has a singular focus and offers nothing in terms of additional characters or even narrative. There is nothing to entice casual cinema-goers, in fact the poster is very single-minded and alienates those who are generally unfamiliar with the source material.

Example of Dredd 3D International poster
However, this wasn't a heartless shoot-em-up; and although the action is pivotal to the plot, it was never completely reliant on it. There is a strong underlying story that focuses on hope and a desire for change, which is symbolised through a small minority of Judges who repeatedly risk their lives for a society that thrives on corruption and chaos. There is also a fascinating sub-plot that focuses on the Judges' sense of futility. This is juxtaposed by their struggle to sustain mortality within a world that doesn't mourn their death and sacrifice, but celebrates it.

The poster suggests that the focus will be entirely on the titular character – Judge Dredd – this is evident through his positioning on the building, he is standing tall and authoritative. The burning towers in the background, though vital to the narrative, are inconsequential in this image. Dredd seems to be of sole importance, which is also emphasised through the domineering angle, he is looking down on us, which is an indication of his superiority and he must therefore keep a watchful eye over everything.

Example of Dredd 3D International poster
This was clearly a film for the fans, and here lies the main reason for Dredd 3D's eventual downfall. When a distributor solely targets a core (and supposedly loyal) fan-base they instantly risk limiting the demographic and growth prospects. If the target demographic is small, as was the case with Dredd 3D, and they reject the movie, it will undoubtedly fail as there will be nobody to champion the film through positive word of mouth.

Perhaps the strongest selling-point amongst key fringe demographics (such as women and non-action fans) was the inclusion of strong female characters, the rookie Judge – Anderson, and the primary antagonist – Ma Ma. Both of these characters are vital to the narrative and would increase the public's general awareness of the movie, which would subsequently prevent it from being labelled as a generic action flick. 

Why were neither of these characters featured on the main one-sheet campaign?

Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson

Lena Headey as Ma Ma

This adaptation aimed to appeal to a much wider demographic, but the marketing was focused almost entirely on the core fan-base. It is vital that non-fans can identify with the main protagonist, but when he is essentially a faceless hero, the importance of the secondary characters and antagonists become of paramount importance.

Ultimately, Dredd 3D was a great movie that was widely ignored due to a marketing strategy that limited awareness amongst key fringe demographics, and a failure to distance itself from Stallone’s Judge Dredd, which ultimately crippled its box-office potential.

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