We were effusive in our praise of DREDD, writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis’ streamlined, brutal, and brilliant interpretation of iconic British comic 2000 AD’s longest serving leading man, Judge Dredd. Starring genre mainstay Karl Urban as the titular Lawman, DREDD topped our poll of the best films of last year, tying for first place (as it’s not strictly a horror film, and we’re strictly a horror website, we weren’t entirely sure it qualified as a solo winner). Although cult status almost certainly beckons, DREDD’s lamentably (and bafflingly) poor show at the box office means a sequel is unlikely (a celluloid sequel, that is – 2000 AD’s sister title, The Judge Dredd Megazine, plans to continue the Judge’s adventures in print later in the year), but all is not lost – as is often the case, the fans are on hand to save the day. Co-writer/director Steven Sterlacchini, with the assistance of a host of talented actors and filmmakers, both amateur and professional, has crafted JUDGE MINTY, a wildly ambitious fan film set in the Dredd comic book universe. Taking its cues from a one-off story written by Dredd creator John Wagner and published in 1980, JUDGE MINTY has been a five year labour of love for Sterlacchini and co. So is the finished product worth the wait? The somewhat surprising answer is yes. Unflinchingly loyal to established Dredd lore, JUDGE MINTY is quite possibly the most ambitious, inventive and accomplished comic book fan film to date.
In the future metropolis of Mega-City One, the Judges are the Law. Judge, jury and executioner, they stand alone against the rising tide of anarchy. One such lawman, Judge Minty, makes a serious error in judgement during a deadly shoot-out, and almost pays with his life. The city’s top cop, Joe Dredd, deems Minty unfit to hold the office of Judge, and the aging lawman elects to take the Long Walk, a lonely mission to take the Law to the depraved denizens of the Cursed Earth...
It’s fair to say DREDD took most fans of the character by surprise. We weren’t necessarily expecting a train wreck, but after Sly Stallone’s 1995 travesty, not to mention reports of editing room post-production clashes between Garland and Travis, our optimism was definitely on the cautious side. We needn’t have worried – as both a character study and a high-octane action movie, DREDD delivered the goods. The same can be said about JUDGE MINTY. With the exception of Sandy Collora’s genius mash-up DEAD END and Thomas Jane’s Punisher-done-right reprise DIRTY LAUNDRY, fan films tend to be amateurish affairs. There’s no doubting the genuine esteem in which the filmmakers hold their heroes, but that doesn’t always (or even usually) translate to a successful film. In the case of JUDGE MINTY, the creators are obviously huge Dredd fans – the sheer volume of Easter eggs and inside jokes is proof enough of that – but, crucially, they also have an understanding of how film works. As a result, they’ve produced a mini-movie that’s not just an extended homage to one of the greatest strips in British comics history, but an entertaining, sophisticated watch in its own right.
Having seen more than my share of genre films, I can state with confidence that JUDGE MINTY’s dystopian scf-fi worldbuilding is better looking, and eminently more convincing, than any number of larger budget, full-length features. The special effects aren’t flawless, and some judiciously tight editing papers over a few of the more obvious cracks, but for a not-for-profit fan film, JUDGE MINTY’s visuals are astonishing. Not for a moment do we doubt the veracity of the sprawling future metropolis, or the irradiated hellhole of the Cursed Earth. And it’s not just the locations – urban terrorists, backwoods cannibal mutants, and monstrous chameleonic reptiles are brought to fully-fledged life. Even that most tricky of real-world propositions, the Judge’s uniform, looks halfway decent (if a tad impractical). This meticulous attention to detail also applies to the rest of the film; it’s obvious that every shot has been carefully designed and deliberated over in a calculated attempt to maximise its storytelling potential. Thankfully, there’s also room for the wow moments, the widescreen vistas and stylised comic book images (the sign announcing a lawless territory, complete with screaming skull and Judge’s helmet, is particularly striking).
As mentioned above, the film closely aligns itself with the 2000 AD version of Dredd’s world. It helps that it’s co-written by novelist and sometime Dredd scribe Michael Carroll, but I suspect almost everyone involved is an aficionado of the Judge. To underscore the point, Dredd himself is played by Greg Staples, a talented artist whose depiction of the lawman has been one of the most definitive of the last decade (he’s also a surprisingly good actor, even if he is a bit too young and pretty to do the grizzled old bastard justice). The background radio chatter that typifies the urban scenes is littered with allusions directed at hardcore fans, and many of the background details have been ripped directly from the pages of the comic. In contrast, Edmund Dehn isn’t what you’d call a dead ringer for his illustrated counterpart, but the point’s moot – he’s excellent, bringing humanity and pathos to what could have been a clinical, robotic role.
At almost half an hour, JUDGE MINTY’s runtime is as ambitious as the rest of the production. It’s long enough for us to invest in the character and his world, but concise enough that the story beats are pared down to an absolute minimum, propelling the narrative at a commendable pace. In most regards (runtime notwithstanding) JUDGE MINTY would be able to hold its own as a commercial release; as a non-profit venture it’s exceptional. With its inspired visuals, engaging story, and palpable affection for its source material, JUDGE MINTY sets a new standard for fan films.