Screenwriter Alex Garland Sets His Sights on "Dredd 3D"

Acting as judge, jury and executioner for the dystopian Mega-City One, Judge Dredd dispenses violent justice wherever he sees fit, taking more lives than he saves and often serving as the antagonist in his own stories. Dredd's character was softened for Sylvester Stallon's 1995's box office flop "Judge Dredd," but fans have finally been rewarded with a brutal, bloody and faithful big-screen version of their favorite future cop with "Dredd 3D."

"Dredd 3D" is ultimately the vision of three men: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Alex Garland. While Wagner and Ezquerra co-created Judge Dredd back in 1977 for UK anthology "2000 AD," it is Garland, the screenwriter of "28 Days Later," "Never Let Me Go" and "Sunshine," whose hand has been most responsible for guiding the production of "Dredd 3D." Not content with simply writing the screenplay, Garland also produced the film, becoming involved so deeply in the movie's production that rumors of him even sharing a co-directing credit with director Pete Travis made the rounds at one point.

Garland took time out of his hectic schedule to speak with CBR News about "Dredd 3D," what he hopes to see in potential sequels, and the evolution that has taken place in his own writing since his breakthrough novel "The Beach."

CBR News: So how did you get involved with "Dredd 3D" initially?

Alex Garland: Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich worked out that the rights to Judge Dredd were available, and within financial range of an ambitious British independent film company. They then approached me and asked if I was interested in the project, without realizing I was a life-long fan. I said yes immediately.

I've seen the film and it is absolutely gorgeous. How closely did the final film adhere to your initial vision?

The reason the film is gorgeous is substantially the work of our DP, Anthony Dod Mantle, who elevates his films hugely. And the initial vision of course belongs to John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, and many other writers and artists of "2000 AD." But in terms of our filmed version, yes, everything basically adhered to the plan. The weird beauty of slo-mo, the dirty brutalism of the city, the riot-cop functionality of the uniforms. The only exception was the non-bike vehicles. I wanted to use VFX to tweak them in postproduction, but the money simply wasn't there.

How did Karl Urban do as Judge Dredd, in your opinion? And what about Olivia Thirlby as Anderson?

Karl and Olivia (and actually all the cast) nailed it. They owned their characters. Karl wouldn't ask, "Do you think Dredd would do this?" He knew what Dredd would do. From a subtle change in line delivery to a tiny movement of the head, he inhabited the character. Olivia also had an incredible certainty about her performance, and the precise beats and gearshifts of Anderson's trajectory through the plot.

In the film, the time-slowing drug slo-mo has taken over the streets of Mega-City One, resulting in lots of ultra slow motion 3D shots. How did you get the idea for a time-slowing drug as a plot device in a 3D movie? It's brilliant.

I've loved high-speed photography since I was a kid. I had a book which had a sequence of very high-speed still-frame images, which included an apple being shot with a bullet and a balloon being burst. I found the pictures fascinating, and would look at them again and again. Then as an adult I got interested in modern nature documentaries, where advances in camera technology allowed amazing shots of whales or sharks breaching in ultra slow motion, etc. I've also always loved images that were hypnotic in their own right (hence "Sunshine," which was essentially built around an escalation of images of the sun). Even in novels, I use trippy or psychedelic imagery within a narrative, where you move away from the pulse of the plot, get lost in visuals, then get jammed back in. Slo-mo came from a desire to combine all these things, and it allowed me to illustrate a specific theme within the story, relating to reality versus unreality, and the extremities of wish fulfillment.

Speaking of those intense slo-mo shots, they make "Dredd 3D" feel like a movie that really needs 3D, not just one that wants it so the marketing team can slap 3D on to the end of the title. Whose decision was it to include 3D?

The point we were finally putting together the finances for the film coincided precisely with the box-office returns of "Avatar." We had literally no choice about 3D versus 2D. But once we knew that, we decided to fully embrace it, and in the end I think it was a good thing. That entailed a holistic approach, from Anthony's camera work, to Mark Digby's production design, to Jon Thum's VFX. Not to mention the team who were specifically tasked with shooting and enhancing the 3D on set and in post.

Early praise for "Dredd 3D" has been almost universal. Given the reported stresses in the production, does artistic success make it all worth it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself on day one?

The praise for "Dredd 3D" has been a nice surprise, but the film still has a mountain to climb in terms of public and mainstream-media acceptance. Both "Sunshine" and "Never Let Me Go" had positive signs prior to their opening weekends, but then failed to make much impression, so I have no expectations.

If I could go back in time to day one, I would say to myself: "A few years from now, a guy will ask you about stresses on the production and what you would say to yourself if you could travel back in time to day one. For fuck's sake, don't answer him."

You've tried to shift attention away from the auteur theory of filmmaking, which states that a film is primarily a product of its director's vision. Why is this and will we see more films made from you in the same manner as "Dredd 3D?"

I have no problem with auteur theory when it's appropriate. Films like "Annie Hall" and "There Will Be Blood" are, it seems to me, auteur movies, and it is part of what makes them so interesting. But I'd also argue that auteur films are the exception, not the rule. Film is for the most part a collaborative medium, and the term 'auteur' is reflexive and a marketing tool, not an accurate account of how a film was made.

In terms of whether you will see more films where I'm part of a collaborative team, so far that is my only experience of filmmaking, and I hope it will continue.

How do you see any "Dredd 3D" sequels playing out?

The sequels are essentially a daydream. I suspect that if they were to play out, the daydream and the reality would not marry-up. But let's say: a kind of Chopper/Orgins mash-up for second movie, and Cal/Dark Judges for a third.

You can clearly see a Chopper graffiti tag, among many other Easter Eggs, in "Dredd 3D." What's your take on the classic Judge Dredd foil?

Chopper is a great character to put up against Dredd. A folk hero versus an anti-hero. I'd use him as a catalyst to start a thought process in Dredd, rather than Dredd's chief antagonist.

The Dark Judges. We all know them, we all love them. What's your take on Death and company, and why do you feel they're so vital to the Judge Dredd mythos?

The key to the Dark Judges is not just that they give Dredd a hard fight. It's also that they subvert what he actually is. They make me think of the ouroboros image, where Judge Death is the head and Dredd is the tail.

You've said you could also envision "Dredd 3D" sequels as an HBO-style TV series. Is this just a pipe dream, or have any discussions actually taken place on this front?

Pipe dream. But without the actual pipe. The reason I think TV would work is partly that Dredd's character and many of the stories are well-suited to playing out over twenty-four hours rather than ninety minutes. But that aside, if anyone isn't aware of what American TV is doing, they are missing the biggest creative evolution in filmed narrative since 1970s cinema.

Your writing has shifted away from novels and moved almost exclusively towards screenwriting in the last decade. Why is that?

In creative terms, I don't really differentiate between writing novels and screenplays. The compulsions are identical. But I would broadly say that I enjoy working on film more than books, because I like working as part of a team.

You first gained major success with the generation-defining novel "The Beach," which was about a loner trying to fit into a place with no technology or modern society. Your best screenwriting efforts have all been smart sci-fi films like "28 Days Later," "Sunshine" and "Dredd 3D." Which genre do you feel more at home with?

By some margin, my favourite genre is sci-fi. If you said you can only eat one kind of food for the rest of your life, I'd probably say "Chinese," and then instantly regret it. But if I was stuck writing sci-fi from now on, no problem.

Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner likes this film. I think that's all that needs to be said about "Dredd 3D," really! How much did you consult with the man while making "Dredd 3D?"

I consulted with John throughout, right from the very start to the very end. I couldn't begin to list those of his notes and suggestions which were directly or indirectly addressed. I would just say that he casts a long shadow, and he was a crucial part of the collaborative team.

As a self-admitted life-long "2000 AD" fan, when were you first introduced to the book and what are some of your favorite stories or characters?

I started reading "2000 AD" regularly during the Judge Child quest, so -- when I was ten. For this reason, in some ways I sometimes think of that story as my favourite, because it made such a big impression. As for non-Dredd stories, I would choose "Strontium Dog" and "Halo Jones."

"Dredd 3D" opens in the U.S. on September 21.

James Gunn Isn't Ruling Out a DC/Marvel Crossover Movie

More in Movies