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FF2012: 'Dredd' Heads

Alex Garland and Karl Urban talk politics and hard R comic adaptations

By Richard Whittaker, 5:14PM, Sun. Sep. 23, 2012


Into a grimy future: Karl Urban in 'Dredd 3D'

As judge, jury and executioner, comics anti-hero Judge Dredd seems like a someone who'll shoot the bad guy in the head for no reason. "Not for no reason," says Karl Urban, who gets to don the iconic helmet for the new Dredd 3D.

It's a hard-R take on the mythology of the ultimate, unrelenting future cop. Over the years, the character has had to contend with some cartoonish elements (he was lumbered with a lisping mechanical sidekick for years called Walter the Wobot). But this new cinematic outing cuts out all the frivolousness, and heads straight for the jugular. Often with a heart-seeking high-explosive round.

"That's just the way I like telling stories," said script writer Alex Garland. "I work in genre but I play it straight. I'm not into high camp like The Fifth Element or the previous Dredd movie. I like John Carpenter films. It's not trying to nudge you or give you a wink. They're doing what they're doing, and that's just what I like."

Like many British men, Garland grew up reading Dredd: The lead character of the punk-tinged weekly anthology 200AD, Garland called Dredd the result of "the left wing subversive guys coming up with a fascist hero." As he explained, the political satire went over his 10 year old head but he responded to "this incredibly adrenalinized psychedelic action comic." It was the same approach that he took with his genre-rdefining 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Garland said, "There could be lots of nudges and winks and comedy beats, and there's some, but it tends to be very dry."

For Urban "the graphic element was always there in the comics, whether it was seeing someone's splattered body, or 'Gaze into the fist of Dredd' as he puts his fist right through someone's head."

Yet for all the fun, Urban sees Dredd as "the representative of a totalitarian system … but he reminded me of those firefighters on 9/11. He's running into a burning building when everyone else is running out."

Urban described the violence as "a character in the film. It informs the audience to the type of world this is. It's a world where these judges, who are charged with upholding the law and protecting the citizens, can only respond to six percent of the crime. I just looked at it, in the context of the story, as a desperate measure for a desperate time."

The designers hide a bunch of references to Dredd's history throughout the set (old school fans, look for the Fatty belly wheel and Chopper's graffiti signature.) However, Garland's script puts one of the more comic book elements front and center. Dredd's rookie partner, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is a psychic, the result of a mutation caused by post-nuclear fallout. Garland said, "Broadly speaking, in all the stories that I work on, there's something grounded and something hallucinogenic." That goes back to his novel The Beach (adapted for cinema in 2000 and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.) "It's about a back-packing kid, but he's basically schizophrenic. He's hallucinating the entire time, even when he's not taking drugs."

Dredd 3D is in cinemas now. Read our review here and follow our Fantastic Fest coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantastic_fest.

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