DREDD 3D is quite possibly the one of the best surprises that you’ll see at the cinema all year (apart from the films of the 21st Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, October 18-28, 2012
In person, Karl Urban’s piercing brown eyes, prominent brow, and chiseled jaw all scream out to you that this guy is meant to be a star, but his leading man looks belie the fact that he is a bigger film dork than most of us. Just ask him about action films of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and his eyes light up with an excitement reserved by most people for Christmas morning or an exceptional dessert. “Smash Palace and Once Were Warriors are all-time favorites of mine,” Urban starts before rattling off a list of films that even my expansive filmography can’t keep up with, “and of course the Indiana Jones films,” he concludes, a fact solidified by the naming of his seven year old son: Indy. “I grew up loving the New Zealand action films of Geoff Murphy, a director I respect immensely and actually got to work with on the Lord of the Rings films. It was films like those that solidified my desire to be an actor.”
After stealing scenes with supporting roles in major film franchises (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne films, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot and Red – both of which have sequels in the works), Urban finally takes the lead with the titular DREDD, a character he has been a huge fan of since his teens. “I always loved the character of Judge Dredd in the 2000 A.D. comics,” says Urban. “He is the ultimate lawman in a society where the normal process of justice has changed. There’s no more protracted legal system, it has all been condensed into this one man. I’ve always loved a vigilante-type character and Judge Dredd is one of the best.”
Urban approached the filmmakers when he discovered the plan for a franchise reboot following the less-than-faithful-to-the-source-material box office bomb that was Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd. He was impressed with the pedigree of the production team assembled (in addition to Oscar winning Slumdog cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, producers Allon Reich and Andrew Macdonald, and writer/producer Alex Garland had previously worked together on 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go, while director Pete Travis helmed the layered thriller Vantage Point). After their first meeting, Urban was thoroughly impressed with their take on his beloved comic. “It was clear that they wanted to make a film that would be gritty, realistic, hardcore, and faithful to the source material – which immediately intrigued me.”
One of the most unique elements retained from the source comic is the helmet that Judge Dredd wears at all times, shielding his entire face, save for his mouth kept in its trademark downturned scowl. This would be a roadblock for most actors, but Urban jumped at the opportunity. “I think one of the great aspects of Dredd has always been that you never fully see his identity,” he explains. “How do you convey a subtle emotion like doubt or concern when you don’t have the use of your eyes? It was a very challenging process.” And yet as a viewer, one can immediately tell whilst enjoying the film that it’s a challenge that Urban genuinely embraces, conveying more complex emotions with just his mouth than some actors are able to muster in the entirety of their careers (Kristen Stewart’s furrowed brow and Nicole Kidman’s blank eyes had better step it up, I’m just saying).
When we first meet Urban’s Dredd, he erases all memories of Stallone and provides us with a badass of a hero – showing little to no emotion, save for his disdain at being saddled with a rookie judge (played with wide-eyed sincerity and a gumption previously untapped in any of her previous onscreen roles by Juno’s Olivia Thirlby), albeit a rookie judge with psychic abilities. The unlikely pair head to a slum of a high rise to investigate a series of three grudge killings, only to become targets themselves when Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, 300), the psychotic overlord of the slum and distributer of the hottest new drug Slo-Mo, which decelerates the human brain down to 1/100th of its normal speed, locks down the high rise and traps the two judges inside. Over the course of the film, Urban brings to life a character steadfast in his morals and duty to protect a society that he can never be a part of, who seemingly feels no pain or emotions. And yet, by the film’s incredible conclusion, he conveys both with such a genuine and understated manner in his actions and reactions. The role is meatier than meets the eye and Urban tears into it with a calculated fervor that not only announces his leading man status, but his desire for a sequel. “If the film does well, [b]DREDD 3D [/b]could be the start of a trilogy,” Urban stated with a smile that exudes his passion for the project. When asked what he would like to see in a potential sequel, Urban’s fanboy comes immediately out as he exclaims “Judge Death! Slo-mo was a fantastic storyline for the first film and allowed for incredible visuals with the 3D Bullet-time, but it is a one trick pony. Introducing Judge Death, Dredd’s ultimate nemesis, in the second film would be akin to Christopher Nolan utilizing the joker in The Dark Knight.”
Urban certainly has sequels on the brain, as he has recently wrapped entries in the Chronicles of Riddick and Star Trek franchises, and is potentially gearing up for a sequel to Red. When asked to comment on the upcoming Star Trek film, Urban thought carefully before answering. “I can share one thing about the Star Trek sequel,” he started. “… The runtime will be around two hours and twenty minutes,” he finishes with a smile. Urban says he really loves interacting with fans, but that he loves respecting the secrecy of film more. “Search “Karl Urban Sneak Peek” on YouTube if you don’t believe me,” he adds. “Premiering DREDD 3D at Comic Con this year was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far. It was incredible to see the audience so invested in my film.”
Urban is also a fan of Philadelphia, having been here once before to promote the film Red. He left that tour to immediately begin shooting DREDD 3D, so returning to Philadelphia to promote this film makes it feel as if everything has come full circle. But as much, as he likes to travel to shoot and promote his films, New Zealand will always be home for him. “New Zealand really grounds me. Whenever I’m away I get homesick for surfing, friends, and especially family.” In addition to seven year old Indy, Urban also has an eleven year old son named Hunter. “I’m nuts about my family,” Urban states. “I’ve been blessed so far with my work and the characters that I’ve been able to bring to life, but my boys are biggest accomplishment.” When asked about his parenting style, Urban responded matter of factly, “I believe in keeping my kids active, but I would never push them into doing anything that they don’t want to do. As a parent, if you don’t feel like you’re screwing up, you’re not doing it right. Kids are going to be themselves and we have to try and get as much goodness as we can into the jelly before it sets.”
I just got some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard from Judge Dredd… go figure. DREDD 3D opens in Philadelphia area theaters this weekend and the Philadelphia Film Society HIGHLY recommends you checking it out.
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