Interview: Pete Travis (Dredd 3D)

Interview: Pete Travis (Dredd 3D). By Simon Miraudo.

What if you were tasked with bringing a beloved comic book character into the 21st century, but had to follow in the footsteps of a much-maligned movie that is known best for betraying its fan base? What if your film sat on the shelf for over a year, and rumours emerged that you had been booted off the project due to creative disagreements? What if another picture was released mere months before yours was set to bow, and featured a bunch of coincidentally similar sequences? And what if your film was actually quite good? These are mere hypothetical situations for most of us, but realities for English¬†director Pete Travis, who has delivered the Judge Dredd movie many have long waited for. It wasn’t an easy ride though.

Check out Simon Miraudo’s review of Dredd 3D here.

Dredd 3D sees Karl Urban taking over from Sylvester Stallone as the titular lawman; trapped in a decrepit apartment building and on the hunt for the vicious dealers peddling sensory-exploding drug ‘Slo-Mo.’ I spoke to Travis about the previous Judge Dredd, the similarities between his film and Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid, and his “unorthodox collaboration” with screenwriter Alex Garland, who allegedly had Travis locked out of the editing suite and asked to be credited as co-director.

SM: Dredd is undeniably an “action blockbuster” but, just as in the comics, there are plenty of social and political undercurrents at play. When I learnt that your background was as a social worker, that wasn’t entirely a surprise. Do you find yourself drawn to films that concern these kinds of issues, even when they are fun action flicks?

PT: I suppose I’ve always been drawn to things that are about something. I mean, it’s always about the story and about the script to me. Alex’s script was very hardcore and a real ride. It had a real intelligent sensibility about it, trying to deal with the real world. Because the whole idea of Dredd since when it was written was a “be careful what you wish for” idea. When you’re scared of violence, and you want someone to come out and sort out the baddies, this is where it could lead. That was always a central idea to me, even in the original comic. Alex very clearly put it on paper when he wrote the script, and you could see that in it. That made it interesting and, at the same time, essentially it’s an action movie, and it has to live on that level as well. I’ve always been excited by genre and exciting movies that don’t make you have to leave your brain at home.

SM: Absolutely, and Alex has always been good with that when it comes to his scripts. What was your relationship with Dredd prior to working on the film? Were you familiar with the comics, or at least the movie?

PT: I can’t pretend that I was an avid reader of comics, but you can hardly be British and not be aware of Dredd, because he’s such an iconic hero here. I suppose I kind of grew to love him making the film, so, yeah, that was my journey really. What I loved about the script was it created a world that was totally real, and didn’t require you to have any prior knowledge. For me, as a director, that’s always exciting. When you dive into it, you find out who he is, and kind of grow to like the character and his world in the process of making the movie. That was the journey for me.

SM: Well your film isn’t a remake, but it does follow in the footsteps of a much-maligned movie. Was that daunting, or did it give you more confidence in your own take?

PT: You can’t pretend there wasn’t another film, but, to be honest, Alex’s script, and what all of us involved in the film were trying, was to give the original comic a voice that was true to its roots and where it had come from. I think that’s what we were more concerned about, than we were looking over our shoulders to what the other film had done. That was our aim really; that there was something extraordinary in the original material that we wanted to honour, and I think that’s what we were mostly concerned about.

SM: The slow-motion sequences are quite breathtaking. Can you tell us a little bit about bringing those to life, because they’re quite unlike the kind of slow-mo we usually see?

PT: Well, I think the credit for all that goes to the cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle. Alex came up with the idea of ‘Slo-Mo’ and then described it very clearly in the script as ‘things that looked normally horrible would be transformed into something beautiful.’ That was in the script. But then, to realise that, how do you actually do that? Anthony had a lot of experience in his career with experimenting with things and, in particular, new High-D cinematography, to show some beautiful, poignantly sad images, and I think he’s responsible for how beautiful it is. He was really excited by the idea of doing that part of it, especially in 3-D. I think it’s the first time a cinematographer has done a combined extreme high-speed cinematography in 3-D, and that’s an extraordinary combination. And all of those shots are amazing on different layers, and that’s thanks to Anthony’s imagination and working with the visual effects team. They should take all the credit for that.

SM: There are similarities between your film and the Indonesian martial arts movie The Raid, but considering your production timelines, there’s no way you could have known the other existed when making the movie. How did you feel when The Raid came out a few months ago? I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but did you notice those similarities in the plot?

PT: I haven’t actually seen it, but I know there are similarities. Though, the timeline is very different. I think we finished shooting before they even started it. I mean, yeah, there are similarities in the plot, and a lot of people have seen it and really love The Raid. It looked very exciting. It’s not something we were aware of.

SM: Around this time last year, there were rumours that you and Alex Garland addressed about the production. You released a joint statement saying it was a misinterpretation of an “unorthodox collaboration.” Can you elaborate a little on how it was an unorthodox process?

PT: The whole story about us falling out was based on a lie. We never fell out ; there was never any big conflict between me and Alex. We decided early on about how we were going to make the film together, and that was misinterpreted, you know? He had a vision of a film that was there way before I got involved with it, and it was about us finding a way to work together. We both kind of got on with each other and continued to get on with each other. No one got fired. Alex didn’t look for a joint [directing] credit. We found a way to work together that worked for us, and other people just misinterpreted what happened.

Dredd 3D arrives in Australian cinemas October 25, 2012.

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