This Friday, 7 September Pete Travis’ eagerly anticipated cinematic adaptation of 2000 AD’s futurism science fiction character Judge Dredd or DREDD as it is now known will be unleashed into cinemas.
I can’t lie I can’t wait to see DREDD. It may be show BUSINESS but we seem to be in the throes of an age where film makers not only understand what key audiences want but can choose to act on it, as opposed to watering down stories to suit everyone they can choose, albeit a risky choice, to create art for people who will appreciate it. And much like the way Alex Garland & Danny Boyle updated the Zombie genre with 28 Days Later I am hoping that with Alex Garland writing and the very visual Pete Travis Directing that DREDD sets itself apart and is one of those films that defines itself rather than letting audiences define it.
Like most of the characters in the 2000 AD fold there is nothing stereotypical or cliché about Judge Dredd. 2000 AD may have broken the mould with almost every one of their fresh and original characters, but even amongst them DREDD is something of an anomaly. If someone was to explain him to you it would become apparent that he could be an oppressive force of the conservative establishment and a fascist with a seriously un-unhealthy relationship with guns.
But I always saw him as the last line of defence in an out of control world. In the mad apocalyptic ravaged, over populated future world (oddly not too dissimilar to our current global state of affairs) that 2000 AD creates where human traits and foibles are taken to their extremef - you can only win by being madder and more extreme. Not only that but for me DREDD exemplifies that most endearing of qualities we seek in our heroes - the man just doesn’t give up. He is unbreakable.
No matter the odds or how fearsome the fantastical threat he faces DREDD squares up in the same way and doesn’t change course until he has obliterated or jailed the lawbreaker. He doesn’t seem to mind which of those outcomes play out first. In DREDD’s black & white world view - dead or alive you will be judged! Like an unmoveable force DREDD doesn’t just enforce the law he is the strong arm of justice and is incorruptible. Try reading that without hearing Sylvester Stallone wail I YAM THE LAAAAUUUGHG! He rights the wrongs often to a fault.
With that in mind last week I got to sit down with Producer and writer of DREDD Mr. Alex Garland, probably most well known for working with Danny Boyle on The Beach, (based on Garland’s first novel of his backpacking experiences – he also drew Daffy’s map), Boyle’s revisionist zombie film 28 Days Later and the deafening silence of their quiet mini sci-fi masterpiece Sunshine.
Garland has written 3 novels, 2 are films, he wrote the screenplay for 2 games HALO (still stuck in development hell) & Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, written a Batman comic and adapted Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for screen. He was also an Executive Producer on 28 Weeks and may currently be working with Director Nicolas Winding Refn and stars; Ryan Gosling & Rose Byrne on a new version of Logan’s Run (if you are interested in this - skip down to the bottom of the interview for more info) but truth be told ever since I was slightly confused by some of the character elements of the adaptation of The Beach and read the novel to understand it better - I was always curious about Garland and type of mind he might have so when the opportunity to chat with him came up I jumped at the chance.
Two things that struck me whilst chatting with Alex Garland:
Alex Garland doesn't disappoint he seems to be one of those quiet people that would be described with terms like “still waters, run deep”, behind his almost shy demeanor you could see the electricity of creative possibilities constantly crackling like a generator behind his eyes.
Garland was surprisingly open in talking about his approach & hopes for DREDD as well as his current state - sh*tting himself in the run up to DREDD’s release.
It easy it is to forget that despite its; glossy nationwide hypnotic Florence & the Machine tuned trailer, the involvement of big name stars like Karl Urban & Lena Headley and DREDD’s roots stem from a hugely popular comic – that DREDD is in fact an independent film. That is financed privately with no big studio behind it. This of course means that; the budget behind DREDD may well not be the same as other huge summer releases but I only see the upside – DREDD seems to be made by a bunch of dedicated people taking a huge gamble on a film without the restrictions of a studios decision making machine interfering with the creative vision. Yes by now it should be apparent that I am hoping DREDD takes its place in the pantheon of great dark adult sci fi films, films like Sir Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner & Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing & Escape from New York.
I know my expectations may be too high but I’m in that space where the sky’s the limit, the space where the endless possibilities of film could take us anywhere. Early indications, like the 18 Certification and Alex Garland’s thoughtful approach seems to point that we are on track.
ALEX GARLAND ON HIS STATE OF MIND PRIOR TO THE RELEASE OF DREDD ON 7 SEPTEMBER
Being both a Producer and a Writer on DREDD must be intense. How does it feel to be at what could be the start of a big franchise?
Alex Garland: Nerve wracking. There are a lot of people who’ve worked on this film for a long time and it released on the 7th of September here and I know it’s later in America but it feels very close and scary I guess… I’m sh*tting myself.
First off I was curios to know what was important about Judge Dredd and would be translated to screen, hoping that Garland’s vision would be something I could buy into. And I did.
|Image: DREDD and his Lawgiver in action|
Craig Grobler: If you were to distil DREDD to its core elements what would be the most important elements to bring to screen?
Alex Garland: Him, DREDD the man. Way back Andrew McDonald, Alon Reich and I were figuring out how to make DREDD, the aesthetics, the approach we knew that we would never be in the territory of a $100 Million movie, and could create this world in a certain way. There would always be aspects of the comic that we would never be able to pull off…
Craig Grobler: You mentioned the comic there, are you a fan of the comic?
Alex Garland: That’s right I grew up reading DREDD. I am a big, big fan. The thing I knew we could always get right would be DREDD the character. In the comic book you might have flying cars, very futuristic vehicles. We always knew we didn’t have the VFX resources or money and had to think about it – so we created an aesthetic that side stepped that issue.
But DREDD we could get right, so after we decided to do DREDD the first person we contacted was John Wagner, the Writer - not just to name check him so as not to upset the fans but I knew if John was involved and engaged by the film he would make sure DREDD was right. So I would send him drafts of the script, he changed dialogue, he would make it right.
I always knew that whatever else we got wrong, we would get DREDD right and that was reassuring position.
Craig Grobler: Can you delve a little more into the aspects of DREDD (the man) that was important to be brought onto screen?
Alex Garland: He is a hard bastard. If you take the classic story structure, this is often exemplified in film by a protagonist who goes on a journey and he is not at the same place at the end of the journey as he was at the beginning.
DREDD doesn't function like that, DREDD, his character changes but it’s like a glacier and you don’t see the change, possibly retrospectively you may see that he is a foot further down the valley than he started out. But that’s all, so that traditional story arc doesn’t apply to DREDD. This is something that is sometimes true in television and comic books but not in film…
** DATA MISSING **… but I think DREDD is at the heart of the story it is DREDD. It’s probably quite technical and boring but it was interesting to have a more or less unchanging character at the heart of the story. So many stories try to pull you against that and it is quite a thing to pull off. Hopefully there is a sense of satisfaction at the end of the film.
At this point Garland went into some character and plot detail that I consider spoilerish. So I may add this missing paragraph when DREDD has been out for long enough to not be spoiled.
** END DATA MISSING/ **
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT WRITING HIS DREDD SCRIPT
DREDD has a deep legacy and history, why this story? Was there a temptation to go even deeper into the character?
Alex Garland: Well, I should say that I didn’t decide to do it – the two producers I work with got hold of the license and offered me the chance, which I gratefully took up.
But you are quite right in that this is a reductive, simplistic version of a DREDD story. I went through a very long process to get the script to what we shot. For most part it takes place over one night it’s almost a day in the life – a rookie’s story.
What I found in trying to tell the big stories like; Judge Death or DREDD’s origin or approach the set up of the incredible world that DREDD lives in - it would always get slightly out of control because there was too much to establish. We approached DREDD as if the previous film did not exist and we started from scratch.
After two completely separate scripts this third version was the most reductive and felt right - as it allowed us to hone in on DREDD, the man.
Regarding not revealing much about DREDD’s personality, we felt that was the right approach - because if we gave too much away we wouldn’t be treating the existing character the right way. Karl (Urban) and I used to speak about DREDD as if – there was a desert and in this vast desert there is a single cactus, so your eye is immediately drawn to the cactus, so any tiny thing that DREDD does gets freighted with information, there is information there but Karl portrays it very subtly but hopefully audiences will discover it.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT CASTING KARL URBAN AS DREDD
Did you always have Karl Urban in mind to play DREDD? You say you’ve been a fan of the comic is that who you saw?
When I was boy of 10-11. I would have said Clint Eastwood. DREDD is substantially influenced by Dirty Harry - that terse no bullshit mode he exists in.
We met a few people for DREDD and Karl Urban was just right. Karl was right in lots and lots of ways. He looked right, I was very keen to avoid DREDD being big steroid sort of machine, I didn’t want him to look like he spent a lot of time at the gym I wanted him to look like he was a fighter.
DREDD generally, and very much in the early drawings, where I came across the comic – is lean. He looks like a boxer, a fighter. Karl had the perfect physique for that. He also understood that character, long before meeting us or reading the script. When he turned up for the meeting, he had his comics with him and he got it all. He didn’t say anything wrong, he said everything right and we left that meeting feeling very certain about him.
Wired: The look of DREDD is very near future and not really the grand sweeping vistas of the comic artwork, was that down to budget or a stylistic choice?
Alex Garland: Well I could post rationalise that question. I would say no, it’s not down to budget. I would say if you look at the films I’ve worked on in the past, tonally DREDD is very much like those other films. My MO is to work within-genre and then treat genre as if it’s real. They usually have an element to them so; they tend not to be campy or have too many knowing nudges and winks to the audience.
There are references for fans but they are played down so as a viewer you don’t get a sense of there being an in-joke that you are not entirely picking up on. References should be quite invisible to people that aren’t tuned into them.
So I play it straight then bend it with hallucinations and trippy stuff. Like the apocalyptic thing, that’s what I’m in to. For me DREDD is tonally related to Sunshine and 28 Days Later.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT HIS LOVE OF DYSFUNCTIONAL ENVIRONMENTS & HOW THIS RELATES TO DREDD
Sci-Fi-London: You are no stranger to post apocalyptic and dystopian worlds. Did that help with writing DREDD?
Alex Garland: I just like those stories. Even when it’s not a post apocalyptic world like say in The Beach, when it’s just a bunch of people hanging out in Thailand in some beautiful setting that kind of turns into an apocalypse.
I think I just like the idea of places that should function but don’t. DREDD is great like that, he is a very interesting set up - he is an anti- hero, a fascist cop. He shouldn’t be your hero, except he kind of is, because he is a fantasy, he is wish fulfilment - he kills the right guys, he doesn’t get it wrong and he is honest.
An interesting thing that John Wagner, one of the co-creators of Judge DREDD does is take the inflexible nature of DREDD and make it his Achilles heel sometimes and if we were able to move forward with more DREDD I would like to follow what John did with him.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT HIS VISUAL APPROACH TO WRITING
Craig Grobler: Alex the films you are involved in seem to have very strong visual elements to them – when you are planning or adapting a screenplay is that something that you think about?
Alex Garland: Yes I think about that the whole time. My route into writing was through comic books, my dad’s a cartoonist and I used to try emulate him and draw. I spent my teenage years drawing up until my early 20s but I think in terms of pictures.
I try to avoid describing specific camera moves because that’s up to the Director of Photography. You get a guy like Anthony Dod Mantle because he is a genius and can do that - so I don’t do that. But what I do - is try to convey the sense of what the slow-mo effect would be like in terms of colours, the particles, its nature and why it’s in the film, why it is desirable I guess. I try to think visually.
Regarding the 18 Certification / R Rating. You say it makes it difficult for DREDD to become a franchise but it must give you some freedom though? How do you approach that when writing?
Alex Garland: I never think about certification. I will think about it later if we have a fight over cuts and stuff like that - I’ll resist them strongly. In the case of DREDD I didn’t have to because it was so far into the realm of being an 18 that we were never going to bring it back to a PG 13. It would be impossible the drugs and violence preclude it. That made it simple.
At times I’ve got very angry about ratings we got a rating for Never Let Me Go which is a very adult, quiet film because there is a sex scene and it’s a cliché or a truism that you can hurt people - you can cut heads off and get a 12 Certificate but show two people having sex in quite a chaste way.
I find that wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin. Its self evident how stupid it is, so I have had issues with censors in the past but not with DREDD. It is what it is.
I have to choose my words carefully here - if you have the weight of a big franchise and big studio behind you. Let’s say you are Steven Spielberg who I think set the precedent for this with Saving Private Ryan and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, in terms of where the boundaries lay you can get away with stuff that others couldn't. It could feel like it’s corrupt, as a system.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS POSIBLE DREDD TRILOGY IDEAS
Unleash The Fanboy: You mentioned how you found it interesting that DREDD is an unchanging character, in further films where would you like to see that character go?
Alex Garland: Please understand the caveat to this is - that what follows is all basically the fantasy of a middle aged DREDD fan. That got to be part of the team that made a movie. DREDD is an 18 rated film, it is R rated in America and the level of money it needs to generate to justify a sequel makes it highly unlikely. If you look at historical box office figures it is an extremely tall order. Seriously look at the box office history of 18 / R rated Sci Fi. It is a car wreck in terms of success.
|Image: DREDD 2 Chopper|
But in my fantasy, loosely the next story would go into DREDD’s past in the terms as laid out by the comic - which is exactly what I would adhere to. This is also related to the origins of the city ( Mega City One ). DREDD and the city are completely bound up in each other. It’s an interesting story about how you get into this fascist state with this guy as a hero.
There’s this fantastic tale with pro-democracy terrorists which takes this anti-hero thing to a brilliant level. The pro-democracy terrorists are extreme and blowing up pizza restaurants and doing things that you shouldn’t do, but they are democratic so they are kind of the good guys. This creates a really interesting tension.
There are some really subversive figures in the comic like Chopper. He is brilliant. It would be that world for the sequel. It would be that argument, that strange position that DREDD finds himself in.
|Image: Chopper defaced DREDD poster - stolen from https://twitter.com/Rex_Banner_|
Alex Garland: I know people that are kind of superstitious about talking about things in advance. I’m not. There is every intention.
I have a story in mind that starts and ends with Chopper. Chopper is the catalyst and the Coda, so the thing that triggers it and then the thing that puts a bow on the end.
|Image: DREDD 3 Judge Death|
In the third one, if we ever got that far, we could really go off the wall and nuts. We would bring in the Dark Judges (Judge Death, Judge Fire, Judge Fear and Judge Mortis) and Judge Cal who was like Caligula and we could then move up through the ranks to a really tense ending. But it is such a fantasy in the real world something else will happen.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS THE POSSIBLITY OF A DREDD TV SHOW
Sci-Fi-London: Given the obstacles you mention with a sequel - could you see further DREDD possibly being done on TV? There is a lot of big budget, high quality TV on at the moment. With the wealth of DREDD material it could make a fantastic series.
Alex Garland: Something has happened, particularly in American TV over the last 10 years that I think is absolutely electrifying. The dramas that are played out, the freedom that there is within these dramas and the way audiences have responded – they are watching.
All sorts of prohibitive rules existed in cinema for a long time that have been shattered, They are putting it out there and people are responding well and the quality is very, very high. When I watch Game of Thrones I think about DREDD. And not just Game of Thrones, it is fantastic and I can’t stop watching it but there is also The Wire. We ripped off The Wire in some respects. There are all sorts of TV shows that show what you can do.
Again to be clear - I’ve thought about that a lot, I have not discussed it with a distributor, or a financier, it’s total fantasy stuff. But do I think it would work? I think it would be amazing; it would be incredible, there are big stories in DREDD that you just cannot tell over 2 hours. You just can’t. You need 12 hours to do it properly. That glacier thing of a character gradually changing, imagine that played out over 24 hours. It would be fantastic. So I agree 100%.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT ADAPTING FURTHER COMIC BASED MATERIAL
Unleash The Fanboy: Talking about your work pattern you mentioned tackling crazy, weird and progressive films in between the quieter ones. Would you consider adapting another comic book or superhero story?
Alex Garland: The character I did think about a lot is Button Man, I don’t know if you know Button Man. I think Button Man is one of the most natural adaptations to film that I’ve ever seen.
Craig Grobler: Are you involved in any discussions about Button Man?
Alex Garland: No. Not really John Wagner, he wrote Button Man as well, and I have spoken about it in a kind of an around the houses way. But it is set up somewhere else. And they are in a serious state of wanting to get it made and that’s great.
ALEX GARLAND TALKS ABOUT HIS NEXT PROJECT. THIS COULD BE LOGAN'S RUN WITH NICOLAS WINDIG REFN
Craig Grobler: Can you tell us a little bit about what you are working on next?
Alex Garland: We only just got out of DREDD quite recently and I’ve got a story that I am just about to start writing. It won’t be like DREDD.
Craig Grobler: Could you tell us a bit more about it? Genre? Perhaps?
Alex Garland: Yea, it is sci-fi. But absolute down the line of sci-fi. I have a pattern – I tend to do a propulsive, slightly crazy story or movie that really moves forward then one that is quieter and more introspective. DREDD is on the more crazy end of that spectrum so the next one will be along the lines of Sunshine or Never Let Me Go, quieter and more reflective.
For the latest news on DREDD head over to its facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dreddthemovie
Director: Pete Travis
Writers: Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland, John Wagner
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey