Never was there a role more perfect for Sylvester Stallone than the lockjawed Judge Dredd, a sort of futuristic police force, army and firing squad all rolled up into one (with quite a lot of assorted gadgets to help things along, of course). Kind of like Rocky, except on even more steroids than usual. Unfortunately, the film he starred in flew under the radar, bashed by both critics and fans of the original comic strip. Personally, I found it to be a surprisingly decent effort, with several clever political and class-related undertones. And the visuals were nothing short of spectacular.
Alan Silvestri was only third choice to provide the music to accompany those visuals, after both David Arnold and Jerry Goldsmith had dropped out of the project. But the composer was hot off his recent, Oscar-nomination-crowned success with Bob Zemeckis' Forrest Gump, and he provided a very strong, if not outstanding, score for Judge Dredd.
The first minute and a half of soft, choral suspense and drama material aside, the first thing that grips a listener about this album is the main theme, and holy hell, what a theme it is. Not since Back to the Future had Silvestri provided bombast and energy on this scale, and the blistering way in which this idea is screamed out on massed brass is film music at its best. I found myself making comparisons with the running music from Forrest Gump, and also with his later work for The Mummy Returns.
'Judgement Day' is where Silvestri lets loose with the adjective that best describes this score as a whole: MELODRAMA. A full adult chorus lets rip a few times throughout this excellent cue, and its sparing use gives it all the more impact, especially at the end of this cue, which soars all the way to the ceiling, attaining an almost Lord of the Rings-like level of choral and orchestral majesty.
But my favorite track on this album has to be 'Block War'. His score for Predator showed us that Silvestri is a master of pounding percussive rhythms, and almost the entirety of this track consists of one of those, accompanied by the main theme performed on brass (of course) over the top. It takes the very best of Predator and, by adding the wonderful main theme over the top, makes it a real blow-out of a track. Make sure your neighbors appreciate it too while you're listening to it.
'Council Chaos' continues pretty much where 'Block War' let off, a very strong action piece with statements aplenty of the main theme, a roller coaster, switching rapidly from dark to heroic. 'We Created You' is a bit of a respite; lightweight, romantic and dramatic, rather than action-oriented (despite the really great choral statement of the main theme at the end). Both these latter tracks, while solid, are not quite as brilliant as the first three.
'Angel Family' is a bit of an unfortunate track, because it is so out of tune with the rest of the score. The first four tracks can be said to take the best parts of Predator and, by deepening the orchestral, choral and thematic input, make them more consistently enjoyable. This track, on the other hand, reiterates the worst of Predator, the horror side. Lots of shrieking effects and nervous percussion beats dominate this suspense track, and it isn't really listenable on any level. Thankfully, it's quite easy to skip!
'A New World' is the lengthy finale track. In a way, it represents the entire score - it contains some suspense, some drama, a bit of action, nothing really memorable. But the last two minutes or so - a subdued, horn-solo statement of the main theme that swells and builds into a glorious, pounding march, a worthy end to this score.
Once one removes the 'Angel Family' cue, Judge Dredd becomes an epic, glorious ride, a worthy contributor to the immensely satisfying level of bombast emanating from Hollywood in the mid-90s (along with things like Stargate, First Knight, Cutthroat Island and Independence Day ). Not since the finale of The Abyss, or until The Mummy Returns in 2001, would Silvestri return to such a massive orchestral and choral scope. It's hard to listen to the end of 'Judgement Day' and not imagine that this is the sort of material he would have produced had he been hired to score The Lord of the Rings...now there's a prospect! (no offense, Mr. Shore) It is, by a long mile, Silvestri's best score of the 90s.