Dredd with Karl Urban, Jock & Alex Garland

Star Trek actor Karl Urban, comic book artist Jock, and 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland were at the London Film and Comic Con over the weekend to talk about their new movie, Dredd, based on the character Judge Dredd from the 2000 AD comics.

Dredd is out in the UK on 7 September and in the US on 21st.

  • For more interviews about comic book-inspired movies, click here and here for Kick-Ass 2.

What do you think of the 1995 Judge Dredd film?
Karl Urban: I would consider myself a long-term fan of Dredd. I first started reading it when I was 15 or 16. So, I was quite excited to see the 1995 version of the movie. It wasn’t quite what I’d imagined.

Even Sylvester Stallone, by his own admission, said there were missed opportunities there. But there were still elements of it I enjoyed – I thought Mean Machine was really wicked and well done.

For us, as we approached this film, I personally found it quite handy to look at that film to see what worked and what didn’t. That helped inform me as I was approaching the character with choices I wanted to make and didn’t want to make.

Jock: Dredd the comic has had a million different stories over its 35-year history. It’s been a horror story, a thriller, a comedy. You really have to choose one specific angle on it to make a movie.

When I first met Alex and the guys, I was super-impressed by how specific their goal was and what they wanted to achieve. And as Judge Dredd creator John Wagner has said, the tone of this new film is exactly what Dredd is – tough, brutal, violent and exciting. I was thrilled to be a part of it.

Dredd keeps his helmet on throughout the film. How difficult was that as an actor?
Karl Urban: It was an extraordinary challenge. First of all, knowing that I wasn’t going to have the benefit and use of my eyes, which is such a valuable asset and tool for an actor. But that’s the way it should be done.

When I first had a meeting with Alex and the producers, they said to me, ‘you do realise that Dredd keeps his helmet on in this movie?’ I said I wouldn’t be having this meeting if I’d read the script and he took his helmet off.

So, right from the beginning we were all on the same page about the authenticity of what we were trying to do. Then the question was: how can I convey as much as I can without using my eyes? That’s when other things became very important… the voice, body language, the dry and wry humour.

What preparation did you do before making the film?
Alex Garland: I started reading the comic 2000 AD when I was around 10 or 11, during the Judge Child quest. So, I didn’t exactly have to do any research or reading.

The first thing I did was contact John Wagner as I wanted him to be involved in the film in a hands-on way. I also wanted to know he was okay about us doing the film as the first film had been a bruising experience for him, and I didn’t want that replicated in any way. So, we talked in detail about our approach, budget and aesthetic.

And the second thing I did was I talked to Jock and he ended up drawing a whole comic of the script, which we distributed among ourselves and used for discussions. Jock also did a lot of concept art which informed the film in a very direct way – one of the key parts of that was the uniform.

Karl Urban: The first thing I did was stop drinking beer and eating hamburgers, coupled with lifting lots of heavy things and lots of gym work. I found that quite daunting. I worked out twice a day, ate 6 times a day, and every time I came back I saw my pile of Dredd comics with this ripped figure just goading me!

We wanted him to be muscular, but not overly roided… we wanted him to be like a panther. I wanted him to be a tightly wound coil that could leap forward with violence in an instant. To me, it’s more interesting to watch a character try and control his anger than let it out.

I also read every single Dredd comic I could get my hands on, which reignited my love for the character and his world.

And in South Africa, I learned how to ride the Lawmaster motorbike and move tactically. We had these ex-military guys training us to move like proper military. We did this cool exercise on set where we had airsoft pistols that were mocked up as Lawgiver pistols, and we’d go through the set as stunt men with air pistols shot at us and we shot back. And you know when you’d screwed up pretty quickly when you got an airsoft pellet in the face! Don’t try that at home!

What can we expect from the 3D in Dredd?
The 3D is most prevalent in the scenes with Slo-Mo, a drug which slows down people’s perception. There’s this stunning footage of slow motion mixed with the extremity of the violence you see Dredd do.

Alex Garland: The idea for the slow motion came from high speed nature photography, seeing the way a bird would flap its wings, in a beautiful and hypnotic way. This coincided with a camera called the Phantom arriving, which meant you could shoot very high speed stuff in film. That was very difficult a few years ago.

There were two teams working on the slow-mo – the camera crew led by Anthony Dod Mantle, a visionary director of photography who deserves more credit than anyone for the film’s aesthetic, he deserves more credit than anyone else.

And the visual effects guys who took the beautiful high-speed photography Anthony did and heavily saturated the colours, added all sorts of effects and blood sprays.

What about Dredd sequels?
Alex Garland: We’ll see a sequel if we gross above $50 million in the US. It’s a simple financial equation. We’re an independent movie. We sold the film to various territories. It’s maths, as far as the financiers are concerned.

In terms of the Dark Judges, the first time I sat down to write a Dredd script, I wrote Death. But it didn’t feel right for a first film. I tried about 16 drafts of it, but it really didn’t work out. I had to set up the city and Dredd first before taking it on a riff on the Judges. You need to know what the Judges are before you can subvert them.

Then I wrote a second script, an origins story, which was about Dredd going out into the Cursed Earth. That script failed for similar reasons. The third time round I zeroed in on just setting up Dredd in the City.

If we got to make sequels, I’ve got a story arc now that goes from this one to the origins of Dredd, Chief Judge Fargo and the City. And in the third one, the City’s faces a strange, existential attack from the Dark Judges.

It’s an 18 certificate in the UK, it’s R-rated in the States. We’ve got our work cut out to hit those sorts of figures.

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