If Dredd does well this weekend, what's in store for the inevitable sequel? We talked to screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later) and he told us what he has in mind. He also told us all about how he kept Dredd bloody and fascistic — and how his next movie could channel some of the same deep space themes we loved in his underrated movie Sunshine.
Did you keep count of how many people you killed in Dredd?
Alex Garland: I have no idea. [Laughs] There's a particular sequence where a whole section of this mega block, which has a very high density of population, gets machine gunned. So I guess it would end up being in the hundreds.
So there's no way you could keep track of how many bullets of buckets of blood you used, because there was a lot of blood... a lot of blood.
We used a lot of blood. We used to keep running out on set. It was surprisingly difficult to get a hold of sometimes. We were splashing it around all over the place.
The visual effect of watching people get riddled with bullets in slow motion is pretty astounding. Talk us through the creation of the beautiful drug SloMo?
The idea partly came from a personal interest in high speed photography, and what it makes you feel when you watch it, how it hypnotizes you. And about what would happen if you used that in action in a certain kind of way. It becomes theme relevant in one part of the film which is about wish fulfillment, but I don't want to go too far into that. And then the process of it was very complicated. I began with sitting down with our VFX supervisor and watching a lot of high speed photography together and figuring out the kind of images we were interested in and why we were interested in them, and what frame rate we needed. Then the director of photography would get involved and we would talk a little bit about LSD and we'd try and figure out what the major hallucinogenic imagery was and how to use that, and what kind of experience we were trying to replicate. Then we shot it and obviously there was a massive, massive post production process on it as well. Because all of those shots are composites and have a large VFX element to them.
Can you tell us about all the criminal clans Ma-Ma had to beat to gain control of the Peach Tree Block, and their distinctive traits?
Actually that was trying to get some of the texture of the comic book in there. Where the comic book would have a kind of surreal characters. So we came up with various gangs and what they would be like. There was a Chinese gang, the idea was that they were based around dragon imagery. And there was a gang that were kind of a riff on the Judges [The Judged] and they had their whole heads tattooed with a Judge helmet. Then there was a gang that was based on Day of the Dead imagery, which were inspired by my wife who is Mexican. But I guess a lot of it had to do with adding texture to the film.
Even though the film takes place on one block in Mega-City One, the city still feels pretty massive — how did you create that sense of scale?
It's a trick really in a lot of ways. The reality of Dredd is we were a low budget, independent movie that was struggling. We were trying to go head-to-head with a much bigger kind of budget film. So what you do is you use your big shots and get as much value out of them as possible. You have to make the city feel big. The basic approach is at the beginning and end of the film to use some absolutely key establishing shots, to make people really understand the scale of it. And then use that as an advantage when you get locked down into one claustrophobic space.
Have you prepped anything for a Dredd sequel? Are you interested in telling the block wars or any of the political weirdness, like the Mayor being a serial killer?
If I got a chance to work on the sequel, and if there was a sequel (and there are a lot of variables in that). But, from my point of view, the politics is a lot of what I want to get into. There's a lot of stuff that's implied in the first film that you could really explore a lot more of in the second. Dredd is part of a police state, he's a fascist. The subversives are sometimes the enemy in the comic books — there's something really interesting about pro-democracy terrorists. Where the bad guys are the people fighting for democracy. Of course they're not the bad guys, because you should be fighting for democracy. I would like to explore that.
Dredd is such a Cold War icon with the nuclear wasteland and the Soviet Mega-City, did you do a lot of thinking about making it relevant to the 21st Century?
You're right there's a lot of Cold War themes in there, but it's also quite punk. 1977 [is when it started]. It's antiestablishment, highly aggressive and it's basically subversive. Bearing all those things in mind some of which you could say are period-based, I didn't really worry about it. Because at the heart, what you have [in this] story is a very, very fucked up urban environment. In which the law and order is struggling to keep a cap on it. It's over-stretching itself and over reaching it's own boundaries in order to try and stay ahead of things. And that, to me, doesn't seem to be very different to a lot of what's happening in the here and now. I felt that it was perfectly current and the irradiated wasteland beyond the city becomes scifi texture rather than the heart of it.
Not to change gears but we're all huge fans of Sunshine at io9.
I'm amazed. You know it's really strange, when I've been talking to people about Dredd, people mention Sunshine. Which is really weird to me. When that film came out, we got fucking slaughtered. We were absolutely slaughtered. Nobody went to see it, people think retrospectively we picked up a lot of good review, we really didn't. People thought the film was crap. They said it was boring and pretentious. For me it was a film, in the period of time after it came out, you would meet someone and they would be embarrassed and avert their eyes from you and pretending it didn't exist. It was really frustrating it was a film I cared a lot about. That seems to be changing a little bit, and all I can say is that, that's really nice.
Is there going to be a return to that kind of science fiction in your career? The big space odyssey type movie?
Yeah, I'd really love to. It's a very difficult subject matter to sell on people. Because people actually use Sunshine as a reason why you shouldn't do it. Which is even more infuriating, to be sort of partially responsible for making it harder for other people to do the same thing. Makes it all the more bitter really. But actually the thing I have in my head next to try and do is closely related to Sunshine than any other thing I've worked on. In some ways I connect 28 Days and Dredd in some way, because they are similar adrenalinized, slightly psychotic movies. The next project, if I get any traction on it or persuade anyone to let me do it, is more in Sunshine mode.
Would it be set in space?
No it's not set in space, but what you could say of deep space scifi. What man finds in deep space, what man encounters is his own unconscious. In Forbidden Planet that's like in the literal tense. It's Solaris or... it's discovering the recesses of himself in his subconscious. What I would say is, it's like that. That's the connection. It's a scifi story about that... You'll probably never see it, because I'll never get the money for it.