The distant future. America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies a vast, violent metropolis of over 400 million citizens. And keeping the brutal heart of the beast which is Mega City One beating are the Judges. Police, judge and jury, whose job is to keep order in a City always a Block War away from anarchy.
distant future. America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast, running
from Boston to Washington DC, lies a vast, violent metropolis of over 400
million citizens. And keeping the brutal heart of the beast which is Mega City
One beating are the Judges. Police, judge and jury, whose job is to keep order
in a City always a Block War away from anarchy.
It’s been 35 years since the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, 2000AD, introduced us to Mega City One
and the city’s most infamous lawman – Judge
Dredd – has been an integral part of that darkly satirical world ever since
he graced the cover of Prog 2.
This July, at London’s Film and Comic Con, FilmJuice was
invited to a world exclusive sneak peak and panel talk to showcase the movie
which fans have been waiting for ever since – DREDD. And it was
clear that the team behind the movie have Dredd-heads very much in mind this
time round, as not only will DREDD be released in the UK a full two weeks
before it goes Stateside, but, yes, he will keep his hemet on.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Dredd has appeared
on celluloid. In 1995, Sylvester
Stallone was the man behind the mask in a movie which seemed to have it
all. Superb performances from Armand
Assante as Rico Dredd and Max von
Sydow as Chief Judge Fargo, a staggeringly cool ABC Warrior and an
appearance from Mean Machine and the Angel Clan. However, critics felt that the
second Stallone removed his helmet, he lost his audience. Which really is a bit
of an insult to the fans. The truth is more complex, because while Stallone’s
Dredd looked the business, in a gloriously 1970s comic book way , it failed in
so many other ways. The question
is, can a helmeted Dredd succeed when a film with a much bigger budget and higher-profile
cast flopped so horribly?
It helps that all of those involved in the project clearly
love Dredd. In fact, as Script Writer
and Producer Alex Garland
revealed, the first thing he did before taking on the project was contact Dredd
creator, John Wagner. “I did feel
that I needed to get in touch with John Wagner for all sorts of reasons” Alex
said. “I wanted him to be involved in it in a hands on way, not in a name
checking way … and he was. And I also wanted to know that he was OK with the
idea of us doing it. The first film for John had been a bruising experience and
I didn’t want that to be replicated in any way.”
Karl Urban, who
plays the eponymous lawman, was equally keen to ensure that what appeared on
screen met expectations – being quite the fan boy himself. He started reading 2000AD “when I was
16 … working in a pizza parlour in Wellington, New Zealand”. In fact, what
finally sold the role to him was that at no point in the script was the Judge’s
identity ever ‘revealed’.
“Anything else” he said, “just wouldn’t have been Dredd.”
However, despite all the enthusiasm, it was still a long
journey from script to screen. Garland’s first story actually featured the Dark
Judges but was abandoned because “you need to know what the Judges are before
you subvert them with these supernatural dark forces”. The second script was a
Cursed Earth-origins story, which was also abandoned as “too ambitious”. The
final script, which Garland describes as “a riff on the Judges” was the one
which ultimately got John Wagner’s approval. “[What] was wrong with the first
movie, [was that] it was too sweeping.” Wagner said. “They tried to show far too much. Alex has
narrowed it down to a day in the life of Dredd and I think it is so much better for that.”
So the big question is, has all of this painstaking
preparation paid off? The signs look promising although the clip we were shown
was something of an anomaly. Most of the shoot took place in Cape Town but our
sneak peak was filmed a year later in an abandoned shopping mall in Colindale,
of all places. Alex Garland again: “Everyone working on the film was familiar
with Dredd and it’s an easy mistake to make that everybody else is as familiar
with Dredd – and they’re not. And we hadn’t really done quite enough to
introduce the character in the way that we originally shot it … So we went back … and [this] was
one of the scenes we shot … it’s a nice scene which tells you something about
how the citizens feel about the Judges … and it also gives you a feel for
Dredd … and it was just the right way to set up the character. “
The scene, which we won’t spoil here, has a Precinct 13 feel, not just because of
the John Carpenter-esque score but
the dark, oppressive visuals which couldn’t be more different from the Stallone
movie. It is, as Karl Urban commented, “a radical departure to what had come
before … a lot more gritty, realistic and hardcore.” This ‘urban realism’
stands in sharp contrast to the much discussed slow-mo drug sequences which,
when combined with 3D multi layering, are said to deliver “extraordinary” and “beautiful”
trippy sequences. It all sounds very compelling, but is it Dredd?
Fans have already reacted to the new costume, which adapts
the well-known comic book look into something more practical and militaristic.
There have also been fevered debates about the whole ‘day in a life’ scenario
which some think offers too little and panders to audiences who don’t know or
care who Dredd is. Producer Allon Reich
said that whether or not they make a sequel is all down to money. If they gross
above $50 million in the US then that will be enough to green light the
project. He was also keen to point out that, with an 18-Certificate in the UK
and an R-Rating in the US ‘”we’d have our work cut out” to make that sort of
box office. But there’s something else which could make or break this movie
– the media machine.
After the release of Prometheus
early this year, many felt betrayed by
a film which the studio had aggressively marketed as part of the Alien
franchise. Much of the disappointment stemmed not from that fact that it was a
bad film, but that audiences had been sold a different movie to the one
they went to see. This doesn’t
mean that what we saw at the Film and Comic Con wasn’t Dredd. But it certainly
wasn’t a slavish translation of the comics. So perhaps the studios should stop
falling over themselves to reassure us about the film’s Dredd cred. All most of
us want is a well-made film which doesn’t ride roughshod over the Dredd name.
And if DREDD can do that then we’ll all go home happy .
released in the UK on 7th September.