~Spoilers ahead~

Dredd 3D (2012) has already been praised for good use of 3D effects but will most likely be remembered, visually, for its slo-mo sequences. Set in an apocalyptic future, the film deals with Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his sidekick Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) who, on a normal day on the job, come up against Ma-ma (Lena Headly) the drug lord presiding over the manufacture and distribution of a new narcotic called slo-mo. Their city, a post-nuclear zone that stretches across most of the US, has a ravished, post-industrial appearance that is muted by its grey and burnt-out brown tones. Similar in appearance is the Ma-Ma controlled Peach Trees tower block that seems to be a more violent version of Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions. When various users, including Ma-ma, are seen taking the slo-mo drug, the film’s stereoscopic effects are ramped up and the colour palette changes to vivid acid tones which, on the one hand, point to the LSD precursors for the drug and, on the other hand, remind us of the lurid colours frequently used in lenticular images. Bright oranges, greens and blues clash together but are given a fluid and liquid like consistency by the slow motion pace that is set in these sequences.

Lenticular images from lulusoso.com

Mark Kermode has already pointed out the danger in setting up a film premised on a drug called slo-mo that for all extents and purposes sounds like the now infamous Chris Morris hoax drug Cake that British politicians took to be a real threat. This problem of whether to take something called slo-mo seriously was further confused by Dredd’s own viral marketing campaign Say No to Slo-MO Public Service Announcement.  While the film and marketing campaign seems to be asking audiences to buy into the drug as a believable possibility in an alternative world, its very name seems too close to a self-reflection on one of film’s most illusionistic techniques.

As with many films focusing on drug use, there is the secondary problem of how to translate the highly personal and embodied nature of drug taking on to a flat screen at a distance from the audience. Requiem for a Dream (2000), Trainspotting (1996) and, more recently, Looper (2012) have all combined dynamic editing, emotive sound and close-ups on the reaction of the iris to try and display the different effects that narcotics have on the senses. In a slightly different way, Dredd changes the entire mise-en-scene to reflect an entirely different perception of the world brought about by the drug use. While the former films often show a flip-side such as the trip gone wrong or a horrendous come-down – Requiem’s manic Sara Goldfarb, the baby crawling across the ceiling in Trainspotting,Dredd is interesting for the way in which it retains the gruesome amongst its highs. Ma-ma’s grotesquely scarred face is clear to the viewer as she is enveloped in the liquid colours around her. Blood and body parts hurtle around in slow motion when other characters are killed during the drug scenes.

However, what is ultimately more interesting for me is the way Dredd makes use of specific stereoscopic effects to try and breach the no-man’s land between the visceral experience felt by the characters taking drugs and the stationary and inert audience member in the auditorium. The reduction of pace to a slow emotion effect in the scenes allows the depth effects of the film’s stereoscopy to stand out. Ma-Ma is first seen visualised through the slo-mo effect, sitting in a bath tub behind a screen of swirling cigarette smoke that moves impossibly slowly. This smoke separates us from her but it is transparent enough to be traversed so that we feel as if we could reach through and touch her. Seconds later, a close-up shows her hand dragging water out of the bathtub. Droplets stream slowly through the air and towards the audience in particularly strong negative parallax. At a later point in the film, Judge Dredd and Anderson interrupt other users experiencing the drug. As they shoot the users, the blood and other body fluids, are not just hurtled around screen but are channelled directly towards the auditorium in a similar slow motion and excessive negative parallax effect. For me, these moments produced the spine-tingling effect that happens when you witness something so visceral that it seems to send shocks through your body. Although I didn’t reach up to try and grasp the elements that came towards, I felt that they were almost upon my skin. While the effects in no way helped me replicated the narcotic experience that the characters were undergoing, they did leave me with a heightened bodily experience that wasn’t available in the other scenes in the film.

It becomes obvious in Dredd that overt 3D negative parallax effects are saved specifically for these slo-mo sequences. Although at one point Ma-ma engages in a brutal shoot-out with inhabitant of Peach Trees, the directions of the shooting and the resultant debris is mainly horizontal, across the traditional screen plane, rather than in overt negative parallax. In a similar way, when Dredd has his incendiary moment when he torches many of the characters chasing him, there are a number of spectacular flame effects but little of it seems to burst directly into the audience’s space. The final slo-mo scene, during which Ma-ma falls from the top of the tower block, returns to stereoscopic effects and throws, directly at the audience, the glass shards from the window she shatters. It is the moment at which the body of the film most strongly violates the audience spaces and appears to be able to penetrate our viewing bodies. Significantly, this effect is immediately inverted as Ma-ma hits the ground. The various colours in the shot intensify and merge until they bleach out entirely and the screen becomes an intensely bright, white plane. Its flatness becomes immediately apparent, surrounded as it is by the black border of the frame. This is the end point of the stereoscopic spectacular in the film.

The rest of the film is not 2D and there are other points where stereoscopic effects are used. Throughout the beginning of the film there is a lot of stereoscopic ‘bulge’: vehicle parts such as Judge Dredd’s motorcycle and car bonnets swell towards the audience, protruding out beyond the traditional plane of the screen.  This happens not just with large objects but also with characters such as the point when a criminal holds a girl hostage down-screen right and their bodies bulge towards the audience. There are also a number of shots that look down the perspective lines of the tall buildings, enhancing a sense of vertigo through use of positive parallax. These overhead shots are particularly predominant when the camera looks down the full height of the Peach Trees’ central shaft, at one point following three characters as they fall from the top to the ground below. Nonetheless, the most memorable and spectacular instances of 3D effects take place in the slo-mo sequences.

Like many other narrative films, viewers are going to wonder about the parameters of its fictional world. It is not just that the film involves a brand new drug; there are also Anderson’s psychic abilities. At points it is unclear how far these abilities reach with some obvious moments when the audience will wonder why she didn’t see certain things coming. However, the tight construction of this world, based almost wholly on the Peach Trees tower block and the lack of an expository voice-over, which is so common in these types of films, leaves enough space for audiences to make their own minds up.

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