DREDD 3D Behind the Scenes – Getting the Story right

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Image copyright Reliance Films
Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Image copyright Reliance Entertainment

With DREDD 3D now in UK cinemas, downthetubes goes behind the scenes to discover the secrets behind the creation of the well-received film…

The future world of Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra back in 1977 for 2000AD has grown to have a life of its own. With countless stories and characters, it has been voted best British comic and Best Comic in the World Ever at the National Comics Awards.

Now, the endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland brings DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip.

“I grew up reading Judge Dredd,” says Garland. “The incredible writers and artists of 2000AD were formative influences on me. Andrew, Allon and I have developed this adaptation of the strip with an emphasis on adrenaline and realism, but with all the scale and spectacle of Mega City One.”

And Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner and 2000AD are on board, “Alex Garland’s script is faithful to the original concept that made Judge Dredd a favourite bad-ass hero,” he enthuses. “It’s a high-octane sleigh-ride through the dark underbelly of the vast future city. A fan pleaser.”

Getting the story right

John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip about a single-minded lawman in a distant future was born over three decades ago and has since spawned a legacy of its own. Novels, magazines, board and card games, computers and role-play games, action figures, duvet covers, pinball machines and even dressing gowns have been devoted to the iconic policeman, judge, jury and executioner who became a legend through a comic-book.

In its heyday in the late 1970s and then under Thatcherism, British comic 2000AD sold 100,000 copies a week, and the young Alex Garland was taken by its dark, visceral, ironic violence.

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Image copyright Reliance Films
Karl Urban as Judge Dredd on his Lawmaster. Image copyright Reliance Entertainment

“I was around 10 when I found a copy of 2000AD at the local newsagent and started reading it,” the celebrated screenwriter and novelist says, “I got quite fixated about all of the stuff in there, but particularly Judge Dredd. That story you know of finding 2000AD in a shop and getting hooked on Dredd is really common amongst guys my age…and we’ve all carried something about that into our adult lives, I remember it was partly because Dredd has an adult aspect to it, like I was maybe slightly too young to be reading it. Like watching an 18 certificate film when you were 12, that particular thrill.”

The novelist and screenwriter, famed for his mix of psychological exploration, moral conundrum, and suspenseful plotting in his novels The Beach, The Tesseract and The Coma as well as his intense screenplays for 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, says he always thought he’d end up telling stories through comic strips.

“My dad’s a cartoonist, and I always thought I was going to end up doing cartoons. I used to draw comic strips constantly, so I picked up a lot of how to construct a narrative by that.”

He believes that this graphic-novel sensibility comes through in his books which are cinematic, “and comic strips are quite cinematic, the length of the chapters, and the speed with which the plot moves. So it is in my background in one kind of way, a graphic way of dealing with narrative.”

Co-creator of the comic book John Wagner understands Garland’s visceral reaction to his work and believes that the main attraction of Dredd is that he is a combination of good guy and bad guy.

“He’s a real bad-ass cop and in some respects you are all for what he’s doing and in others you think – ‘thank god someone like him doesn’t exist today’.”

That contradictory mix of good and evil is something that he believes is the real drawing force of the legendary character. “Although Dredd would never see himself as villainous, he believes he’s upright and righteous but he is certainly not someone you would want on the streets looking after you, because you’d probably end up inside.”

DREDD 3D Concept Art created by Framestore. Image copyright Reliance Entertainment
More imagery here on i09

Producer Andrew Macdonald first collaborated with Garland when he produced Danny Boyle’s film of The Beach ten years ago. In 2002 Garland wrote 28 Days Later for Boyle and Macdonald, who was now running the UK independent company DNA Films together with Allon Reich. Garland went on to write Danny Boyle’s acclaimed sci-fi thriller Sunshine and adapt Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterful novel Never Let Me Go into a moving and provocative film for DNA Films.

The writer was inspired when the company decided to expand its horizons and venture into bigger budget waters with franchise-based, genre pictures aimed at a larger audience base with wider releases. Producers Allon Reich and Andrew Macdonald became aware that they might be able to get the rights to Judge Dredd and Garland would obviously be the perfect talent to pen the script.

Tracking down the rights, however, was intricate says Macdonald, “It was complicated because the film rights had moved through different owners. At one stage Disney owned them, then Stallone’s version. We spent two years getting the rights sorted.” But all along the team had faith that they’d get them and so Alex started working on the first drafts of a script.

The irony is that because the 1995 Stallone vehicle never delivered on the goods it enabled the filmmakers to get this reboot into gear. “It bizarrely enabled us to get the rights,” says Garland, “If the first film had been a smash hit, we would have never got the rights. It opened the door for us. And also we knew that people’s expectations would be defined by that film, so from the beginning we wanted a whole different thing. Something that was much more hard-core and edgy.”

Macdonald echoes Garland’s sentiments, “The rights were held by Rebellion [owners of 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine], run by two brothers, Jason and Chris Kingsley, who are also producers and they were very protective and knew the property had value and, like us, wanted to exploit it properly.

“It took a while to convince them that we were the right people but we had just done 28 Days Later and we said we wanted to do it like that. A movie that would not please everyone, which the first one tried to do and ended up diluting Dredd’s character. They changed the tone of the comic which was a big mistake.”

Even the star of that first Dredd film Sylvester Stallone agrees with their criticism, and has been quoted as saying it was a “real missed opportunity… for me it is more about wasting the great potential there was in that idea…it didn’t live up to what it could have been.”

This time round the filmmakers wanted to remain true to Wagner and Ezquerra’s vision and both Reich and Macdonald have always maintained the importance and integrity of the screenwriter and original content.

“We have always taken the view that any originator of material is important to keep on side and it’s vital to work with their wealth of knowledge and information about the material. On Never Let Me Go we worked very closely with Ishiguro and he was very involved at strategic moments,” says Macdonald. “When we wanted to do DREDD, it was essential to go and see if we could get the support of the person whose imagination it first came out of and that was John Wagner and we went to meet him. He has had other novels made into movies and was essentially a sceptic, even though he was perfectly polite!”

Wagner recalls getting an email from Garland requesting a meeting, “I thought ‘aha not another one!’ Then I met up with them and I thought to myself: ‘these guys are genuinely serious?!’

He says he was “desperate for a second Judge Dredd film to be made, because I wanted it to be made right and after our meeting I was impressed by their honesty and I really believed they were serious. I mean the fact that they cared enough to get me involved at such an early stage meant a lot to me.

“In 1995 they made the wrong film; they didn’t read Judge Dredd and just filmed another story. What they were embarking upon this time I knew was going to actually be the Judge Dredd I know.”

Garland was thrilled that they brought in Wagner at the first opportunity, “If at that first meeting John had said I just don’t want another film, the last one was too bruising and he doesn’t work on film and should stay as a comic book character and that’s where he should stay. I think we would have walked away and said fair enough. But I knew Dredd. I read him my whole life and I felt confident we would be able to do this.”

Producer Allon Reich reckons the meeting of minds in Garland and Wagner was fortuitous and led to a unique cinematic take on Dredd, “It is his creative vision. Alex is a big comic book fan, he grew up with Dredd and is immersed in the world of 2000AD and Mega City One and is also an experienced screenwriter.”

Garland used a lot of the original material, says Reich, but he also made it stand alone as a film in its own right. “It is absolutely his imagination and his creative vision and that is the stamp on this movie, without any question.”

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Image copyright Reliance Films
Judge Dredd. Image © Reliance Entertainment

But writing it proved no easy task, “I started writing a story with another character in the Dredd universe, Judge Death, who is a nemesis character for Dredd and worked on that for a year through several drafts,” Garland says, “And in fact that was the first draft that John saw, but I realised I couldn’t crack it so I shifted on to pro-democracy terrorists which is another of the storylines that John created that I found particularly interesting.”

But the writer felt that wasn’t working either as an efficient narrative for the rebooting of Dredd onto the screen.

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd. Image copyright Reliance Films
Judges Anderson and Dredd. Image © Reliance Entertainment

“Suddenly I thought, ‘I keep trying to go too big with this’ – that I needed to be thinking in a more reductive way and think of different kind of stories that John would tell. Which were not the big grand sweeping narratives of which there are many over the course of the Dredd mythology.”

Garland started to pare it all down and look at “some of the punchier stories which are like short stories.”

What he decided was to write a day in the life movie and Wagner couldn’t be more thrilled, “That was what was wrong with the first movie, it was too sweeping. 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.”

The long journey to the page proved fruitful and everyone responded to the script with delight, Pete Travis says, “I read Alex’s script and it blew me away. I think Alex created a story that goes beyond your needing to be a fan of the comic. If you live in a city, violence frightens you, and DREDD is set in a future that is not so far from ours. I think he has managed to fashion a character you can really grab hold of.”

Andrew Macdonald sums it up when he says, “What made DREDD possible was that we had a great character and we had a great script. Everyone who read it wanted to do it.”

DREDD 3D Official website

2000AD Official website: www.2000adonline.com

Categories: 2000AD, British Comics

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