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September 2016: The Third Rail

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The Third Rail.

Bartlet: …the third rail of American politics. Touch it, and you die.
Toby: That's 'cause the third rail's where all the power is.
- The West Wing S05, E12:– ‘Slow News Day’.
There was a discussion in BoLS Lounge about the idea of a 40K film, and one forum poster said this: ‘The Grimdark needs to be embraced rather shied away from. Any Hollywood PC tinkering will turn it into a joke, think Dredd rather than Judge Dredd.’

And all I could think was had he watched the same film as me? ‘Dredd’ is about as politically correct a film as can be.

Hollywood PC Tinkering

Every good film needs a compelling main character; someone to get behind. Someone whose story is engaging enough to keep us ignoring the increasing loss of sensation in our buttocks while the explosions (be they literal, emotional or metaphorical) happen around them.

But how do you create a compelling character? Well, there’s numerous ways, but one of the most enduring is through the use of a ‘character arc’, something I’ve spoken about before. It’s a simple narrative tool: the character starts the film one way, learns something about themselves, and after struggling, ends the film as a different, hopefully better person.

For example, in ‘Iron Man’, Tony Stark starts off an arrogant, selfish jerk; he’s wounded by one of his own weapons, and learns he needs to take responsibility for the things he creates. By the end of the film, he’s still an arrogant jerk, but he’s not selfish any more. His arc has taken him from selfishness to responsibility.

However, the thing about Judge Dredd is that he can’t go on this journey; it’s impossible to give him a personal character arc. Why? Well Dredd’s kind of unique in that he’s not like most characters. In his own words, he’s the law. That’s why he’s so f**king awesome; nothing besides that matters to him. There’s never any internal questioning, never any room for discussion. The law is the law and that’s it. You break the law, and it doesn’t matter who you are – it will be applied to you with complete impassive precision. Others may debate the law; Dredd doesn’t. He just enforces it.

What makes him so fascinating is that he literally has no personality beyond that, and that’s where Hollywood has always had a problem with him, because the laws he enforces are, by modern standards, quite literally insane. You can see the way Hollywood tried to deal with this conundrum it in the wretched nineties ‘Judge Dredd’ film, the conventional character arc has him going from being the fascist lawman he is, leaning that that was wrong, and then becoming more humane…

…and that sucks, because to take away Dredd’s fascism completely misses the point of Judge Dredd. His one-dimensionality is what makes him so different to everything else out there.

Pictured: drokk you, Batman. The law treats everyone equally.

Given that, what’s the Hollywood machine to do?

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