Science fiction in comic books wasn’t doing well in Britain of 1977, with titles whithering. However, with Star Wars on the horizon, a new publication, 2000 AD aimed to change that. Several characters debuted in the weekly, including Judge Dredd. Dredd, as created by John Wagner, was meant to be a tough cop along the lines of “Dirty” Harry Callahan on a big bike. However, artist Carlos Ezquerra took the description of “judge, jury, and executioner” and created a faceless law enforcer, with overtones of the fascism he grew up with in Spain*. The iconic helmet was inspired by a medieval executioner’s hood.
As the story got re-written to match the artwork, the dystopia of Mega-City One grew. Despite 2000 AD being a British comic, Mega-City One was placed on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The vision of the setting was an outsider’s look at American society through the lens of celebrity and violence. As the political shift to the right grew in the late 70s, with Margaret Thatcher becoming the UK Prime Minister in 1979 and Ronald Reagan becoming the American president in 1981, Dredd’s world picked up fascist overtones.
With 2000 AD running weekly, and the Judge Dredd Megazine running monthly, many stories were created. The title was treated as an open sandbox, letting writers tell whatever story they could in the setting, with Dredd himself the element that tied everything together. The open nature of the title allowed for elements like psychic abilities, the supernatural, and even time travel to be introduced.
In 1995, the first film adaptation came out. The movie had Sylvester Stallone starring as Dredd. There were a few issues with the film, leading to a lukewarm reception. One big problem, though, was that the studio didn’t want to keep Stallone’s face hidden under the helmet. In the comic, Dredd never removed his helmet; he was a faceless law enforcer. Removing his helmet meant adding a sense of humanity to the character that was never there.
With the 35th anniversary of Dredd’s creation in 2012, a new movie was released. Dredd would see Karl Urban in the titular role. Urban’s previous work includes Lord of the Rings, the JJ Abrams Star Trek, and Doom. In each of those movies, he portrayed his role well, to the point of channelling DeForest Kelly in Trek as Dr. McCoy. In Dredd, Urban became the role again, keeping Dredd’s ever-present scowl on his face.
The movie pulled in many elements from Judge Dredd’s long run, some only showing up as minor details, like in the graffiti scrawled on the walls of Peach Trees. Mega-City One was shown as a huge sprawl, dotted by towering City Blocks like Peach Trees. The inside of Peach Trees was desolate, almost soulless. Ma-ma herself was created for the movie, but she appeared first in the Judge Dredd Megazine in an origins story.
The movie went well out of its way to be a proper Judge Dredd story without adapting one straight from 2000 AD. The problems with the 1995 Judge Dredd were nowhere to be seen. Being a fan of the character, Urban argued that Dredd would never take off his helmet, even in a scene written where he would. As mentioned above, at no point did Dredd take off his helmet. The only time he was seen helmetless was when he was getting dressed; even then, his features were shrouded in shadow.
To include all the aspects of the comic would take far more time than a ninety-six minute movie has to spare. Still, hints of the larger setting and history appeared. Judge Anderson and her psychic abilities came straight from the comic, hinting at mutants and the Dark Judges. The best way to explore the full setting may be a weekly series, giving time to set up arcs and to delve into the setting. However, Dredd, while scratching the surface of the setting, captured the comic’s feel without having to change who Judge Dredd is.
Next week, Stargate-SG1.
* Spain was ruled by Francisco Franco from 1938 to 1975 as a dictatorship, which coloured Carlos Ezquerra’s view of authority figures.
Adapting video games to movies is difficult. Lost in Translation has discussed this before, in a general sense. DOOM is a good example of the problems inherent to adapting video games.
The video game itself, while not the first, greatly influenced the nature of first-person shooters. DOOM also allowed for custom levels, reskinning of the monsters, and multi-player. The studio, id Software, used shareware* for distribution. The player took the role of an unnamed Marine assigned to Mars for assaulting his commanding officer after being given the order to shoot civilians. The Marine then became the only thing between Earth and invading demons. id Software estimated that there was two million paid copies and another ten million copies of the shareware demo of DOOM installed. Considering that the game was released in December 1993, twelve million players is an impressive user base.
With the success of DOOM, id produced two sequels plus interstitial levels for the game. Doom 3 returned to the original game’s plot and expanded on it. The new game also pushed against hardware limitations; not all video graphics cards of the time, 2004, could handle the game. The game’s graphics greatly improved on the original’s, and added lighting as an effect. Players would have to switch from weapon to flashlight and back as needed. Like the original, Doom 3 could be modified, adding custom levels, monster skins, and effects. Extra details were added in the unnamed Marine’s PDA, where emails and phone calls of the missing could be played. Doom 3 was a success, selling 3.5 million copies.
In 2005, Universal released the movie Doom, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban, and Rosamund Pike. The plot involves a Rapid Response Tactical Squad of eight marines being sent to investigate and quarantine a situation involving dead and missing scientists on a Martian research lab run by the Union Aerospace Corporation. As the movie progresses, the fate of the scientists is discovered, as is the realization of what happened to the previous population of Mars. Along the way, monsters appear and attack the marines. An autopsy of one of the dead monsters reveals its human origins. The movie ends with a continuous shot that is based on Doom 3 from the eyes of “Reaper”, Karl Urban’s character.
The movie did not perform well in theatres, getting a decent opening weekend then tanking, not even earning back its budget. Much of the problem was the combination of horror and action, two genres that don’t have much in common. Horror requires suspense and tension to be built through atmosphere and limited viewer information. Action uses tension, but suspense is based on stunt work. It is possible to combine the two, but the atmosphere of a horror movie, which typically involves dark or dim areas with ominous sounds, clashes with the needs of an action movie where lighting needs to show the physical conflict, The nature of the monsters also turned fans of the game off from the movie; instead of demons from Hell, the monsters were changed by the addition of a twenty-fourth chromosome, unleashing the victims’ darker sides. The nature of a movie as opposed to a video game also worked against the movie; players are far more active and involved in a game than viewers are with a movie. Video games are active; players make the decisions and pull the trigger. Movies are passive; even with the first-person shooter segment, the viewers are there for the ride, not making decisions. One last factor is the R rating instead of PG-13. Most studios see PG-13 as the sweet spot; a mature enough rating to get adults in while still not preventing teenagers from getting together and going to it. A movie rated Restricted means that the teen market can’t get in. During the summer, that’s the kiss of death for a movie. In late fall, early winter, it’s not as big a problem, but the loss of potential family movie nights could not have helped Doom.
However, as an adaptation, Doom worked. Barring the change in the nature of the monsters, everything one would expect from DOOM was in /Doom/; the weapons, the appearance of the corridors, the lighting, even the monsters all came from the video game. The BFG made an early appearance, working as a Chekhov’s (big f***ing) gun. The production crew took care to make sure that the visual look of the movie mirrored that of the games. The extras on the DVD are well worth the price and show what the crew did to recreate the video game, including how the first-person shooter segment was shot.
Doom isn’t a bad movie. Like Battleship, it’s also not a good movie. Doom may be, though, a rare example of a good adaptation still failing at the box office.
Next week, Scott Pilgrim
* The first episode was free as a demo. Further episodes had to be paid for.