New York — Is any summer complete without Sylvester Stallone flexing his overdeveloped biceps and punching out a studio set of thugs?
Well, not this summer anyway.
This year the actor plays Judge Dredd, a police officer-judge who is allowed to arrest criminals and pass out sentences in a grim, fascist society. After a marketing push of epic proportions, "Judge Dredd" finally opens today at theaters across America.
Loosely based on the "Judge Dredd" comic strip created 18 years ago by England's John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, the futuristic movie takes place in Mega-City One (approximately the size of America's East Coast) in the year 2139.
Many comic-book connoisseurs are worried that the $80-million summer movie will not be faithful to the British comic strip, which has built up a huge cult following in Great Britain and an emerging fan base in the United States. Jim Pernicone, an owner of Neutral Ground, a Manhattan game and comic-book shop, says that the moviemakers shaped the film around Stallone. "In the comic, you never see Judge Dredd's face because his mask covers everything but his mouth and chin, but since this is a Stallone flick, they have to show off Stallone's face as much as possible."
Even though there might be some changes in the movie version, "Judge Dredd" fans believe that the movie will still be successful. "I think a lot of people will like it even if it is not true to the comic," says avid comic-book collector and "Judge Dredd" fan Ravil Lopez inside the Cosmic Comics store. "If movies like 'Batman' can survive and prosper without much of a similarity to the comic book, then I think 'Judge Dredd' will do just as well, if not better."
"Judge Dredd," distributed by the Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of recent comic-book-turned-movie successes as "Superman," "Casper," and "Batman." Partly because "Judge Dredd" has much more of a smaller underground following than these films, Disney signed up a big name to the project. "The American mass market is not very familiar with the comic-book character," says Jim Hanley of Jim Hanley's Universe. "But they will go because it's a Stallone film."
The movie, in fact, may help Stallone bulk up his box-office appeal. Ever since the "Rambo" movies of the early 1980s, Stallone has failed to find a character that "takes the law into his own hands," says Eric Foster, manager of Jim Hanley's Universe, a comic-book store in midtown Manhattan.
"And with this movie he plays a character that is a Clint Eastwood" in the "Dirty Harry" mold.
Just because a movie is based on a comic strip does not assure its success. Two recent comic-strip-turned movies, "Tank Girl" and "The Shadow," flopped in part because they featured actors not normally associated with action pictures. "Tank Girl" was a relatively unknown Lori Petty, and "The Shadow" was played by a miscast Alec Baldwin.
The early buzz within the comic-book industry on "Judge Dredd" is that the movie stays true to its roots. "From the people I have talked with who already have seen it, they said it was really good," says Foster. "They thought it had amazing special effects and were surprised that the story held together so well."
One of Judge Dredd's favorite lines in the comic book is "I am the law." Disney is hoping Stallone can lead the movie past the top-grossing "Batman Forever" so he can once again proclaim: "I am the box office."