Writer Alex Garland and Director Pete Travis’ adaptation of Judge Dredd, Dredd 3D, is a far cry from the 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone. The new Dredd is light years ahead visually, with beautifully designed 3D moments and extremely brutal action sequences. The story and visuals evoke urban horror films, especially John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the film follows Dredd and rookie Anderson as they answer a call at the Peachtree, one of the biggest high rises in Mega-city. After a series of rather nasty events occur, involving crushed skulls, the judges find themselves trapped and alone in the highrise, hunted by the resident gang. The leader of the gang is Ma-Ma, a ruthless former prostitute who is running the city’s newest and most popular drug SLO-MO. A drug for modern times, SLO-MO slows everything down, allowing the user to focus on the beautiful details of life, the things often overlooked, and in some cases the user has that much more time to enjoy the terror as they fall from the 200th floor of the Peachtree.
I spoke to Karl Urban about the film and how, as a fan of the comic, he tried to bring the more graphic elements of Judge Dredd to the big screen.
Dredd 3D walks the line of several genres. It could be a straight action movie, but it reminded me a lot of urban horror movies, like Dawn of the Dead. You’re holed up in this building and these people keep coming at Dredd, trying to kill him, with a zombie-like intensity. Was that a consideration while you were filming? Was there a desire to pay homage?
The truth is Alex Garland is the only person who can probably really answer that, but I know there are a lot of nods to a lot of movies. For example, like Robocop. There’s a line in the film, “You have ten seconds to comply.” which we just as a nod to Robocop put that in there because Robocop was obviously inspired by Dredd ... I think it's also been inspired by the likes of 28 Days Later.
The other thing that surprised me is how beautiful it is. The film goes from these moments that are hyper-real and a little bit painterly to these really gritty moments and it’s really, shockingly, gorey in parts. When you’re doing comic book adaptations these days is it necessary to up the gore ante to appeal to fans?
You can make a movie without it, but if you’ve ever read the comic you know there are particularly graphic elements within the comic. Judge Dredd was originally created as a response to Thatcherism in ‘75 -‘76 and I think there’s a lot of punk ethos that runs through the comic. A lot of anarchy and rebellion. So, I think that influence is prevalent in our film.
What I particularly find interesting about Dredd in that regard is that it dares to do what movies don’t normally do in that is take you out of the picture momentarily. You are watching something that is particularly graphic, but because of the SloMo drug and the extraordinarily artistically beautiful rendering of the effects that you’re witnessing when people are on that, it has the effect you kind of get lost in the beauty of that visual and then the film just slaps you back into reality. There’s really sort of a push and a pull going on.
Do you consider Dredd a superhero or a hero of any kind?
Yeah, I do. I think his brand of heroism is defined by the fact that he’s walking into situations most people are coming out of. He’s not a superhero, he doesn’t have superhuman powers he’s just a highly-trained individual with a deadly skill set a cool bike and a gun. And the challenge in playing the character, playing such an iconic character, was not to try to play the icon. I had to find what humanized him, because he’s just a man, a cloned man, but a man. So, that’s why it became very important to find those beats where his sense of humor could come through. You know, that iconic deadpan wit. That you know he’s actually having a laugh or taking the piss. Then obviously, the points you can see where he treats people with compassion or adversely with violence.
I would say, in general, this movie appeals to a male audience more than a female audience, even though two of the lead characters are women and MaMa is such a great villain. Do you think women make better villains than men?
I respectfully disagree, because if you think about it, how often does a film come out that has two empowered women? Really the heart of the story is Anderson’s journey from a rookie to a fully qualified judge and she brings the emotional, a lot of the humanity to the part, and also she’s a kickass action hero in her own right.
Obviously with MaMa, again a woman in a position of power, Lena Headey does such an extraordinary job, she’s so compellingly offbeat. You probably almost feel sorry for her at the end. I have actually talked to women who really enjoyed the film, but I understand in terms of the more graphic elements in it, it would traditionally lend itself to a more male audience.
Dredd 3D opens everywhere Friday.