Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Judge Dredd (1995)

On location : How does ‘Judge Dredd’s’ crew of relative unknowns keep up with Sylvester Stallone and a slew of special effects? Very, very carefully.

DAVID GRITTEN, LA Times, JUNE 18, 1995

If you were given $68 million to spend on an epic film crammed with special effects, what would you do? You’d probably go to the movie industry’s most established craftspeople to deliver a film that gave you the best chance of recouping that astronomical budget. You probably wouldn’t do what Beau Marks has done.

Marks is producer of “Judge Dredd,” a futuristic action-adventure movie based on characters in a science-fiction comic book. It will be released by Disney on June 30 and stars Sylvester Stallone in the title role; but the bankable Stallone’s presence is the only obviously conventional choice made by Marks and Cinergi Pictures, the company behind “Judge Dredd.”
The safest route would have been to make the film in Los Angeles using some of the industry’s special-effects superstars, says the L.A.-based Marks, “but you get their subordinates anyway, and I’d have ended up with a film that cost $15 million more.” Instead, he embarked on a series of what he calls “measured gambles” to get “Judge Dredd” made. The first was to move to England for a year to shoot at the busy Shepperton Studios 20 miles west of here. “I felt I needed a certain quality of craftsmanship and a certain performance level when it came to the crew,” Marks says. “There’s not a great depth of crews here, but their quality of work is phenomenal and the ability to work in partnership is terrific.”
Margaret Adams holds the title of production manager on “Judge Dredd"--her first gig in such a post after a long spell as production coordinator on several movies. The job of production designer went to another Briton, Nigel Phelps; it’s the first time he too has held such a position. Phelps, 32, is best known as an art director (“Batman”) and relishes this opportunity. “A lot of people have been given a break on this film,” he says. “It’s a shrewd move by the producers. If you’re given a break like I was, you’ll work all hours.”

The same goes for special-effects supervisor Joss Williams. He has held the position before, on films such as “In the Name of the Father” and “Patriot Games.” But he has never had a job like this, overseeing a crew of up to 43; his various teams not only handled special effects but also designed and made the futuristic weapons used by various characters, as well as a robot who plays a key part in the “Judge Dredd” story.
“Beau and Danny wanted professionalism,” says Williams, 34. “Yet they also wanted a young crew, young blood, fresh ideas and a lot of confidence.”
“Judge Dredd” also represents a break for Marks, 43, a tall, rangy man with a forthright manner who is given to chomping on cigars. He served in various capacities (associate producer, production manager, second-unit director) on a string of films by director John McTiernan, culminating in “Medicine Man” (1992), on which he was line producer. “This is by far Beau’s biggest assignment, and he has a lot riding on it,” says an on-set colleague. “He says he likes to surround himself with young, hungry people. But he’s pretty hungry himself.”

“Judge Dredd” takes place in the 22nd Century in Mega City One, covering most of America’s eastern seaboard. After a series of natural disasters, society has turned violent and civilization has threatened to collapse. To shore up the crumbling legal system and help the overworked police, a new breed of judge has been given powers to dispense justice and punishment immediately--and violently, if necessary. Stallone plays Judge Dredd, the most fearsome of these “lawmakers.”
Dredd is one of two men created from the DNA makeup of great judicial minds in a top-secret experiment called the Janus Project. But whereas Dredd becomes a clinically efficient dispenser of justice, his “brother” Rico (Armand Assante) turns out evil and, having escaped from jail, aims to take over Mega City One from Dredd and his fellow judges.
All of this requires an arresting visual style, which “Judge Dredd” decidedly has. It took six months to build the sets at Shepperton, the jewel of which is Mega City One itself, on a grand outdoor back lot. Mega City One is a dystopian vision of the future that may initially remind audiences of the world created in Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner.” The city at ground level is a bleak conglomeration of rusting girders, sleazy storefronts and walls covered in graffiti.
“But it’s not all doom and gloom,” production designer Phelps stresses. "[Cinergi Chairman Andy Vajna was emphatic about that. There are some very cool parts of Mega City One. It’s a city where the poorer people live at the bottom, and the well-to-do live high up, with flying vehicles to transport them.”

On the set, Mega City One rises high, though its loftier levels will be created on film by matte artists. Flying vehicles will be created 3,000 miles away in Lenox, Mass., at a computer-generated imagery studio that Cinergi bought to supply visual effects for this film and, the company hopes, its sequels.

On a parking lot at Shepperton stands a row of vehicles that look at first glance like New York taxis--yellow with black-and-white checkered trim. But these taxis have fins; they have a sleek, futuristic look. And they all bear a Land Rover logo.

“I approached Land Rover to make this product-placement deal,” producer Marks says. “They sent down a couple of designers, and we had a brainstorming marathon to design the taxi of the future. The Land Rover people got a complete kick out of it. We all came up with a concept both sides loved; they produced it and saved the company a great deal of money.”

Back in his office, effects supervisor Williams shows off an assortment of weapons from the film. One is the Laserpump, a fearsome looking firearm. “There’s a real AK-47 in there,” he says casually. “We decided to put contemporary weapons in futuristic casings, which we designed and made in-house. This black pistol here’s called a Lawgiver--it’s Dredd’s handgun. Inside here there’s a Beretta.”

On the sleek, gleaming steel-and-aluminum set that is the Janus Lab, one encounters a remarkable robot, called ABC, and designed by one of Williams’ teams. It looks immensely complicated, but Williams insists that because it was designed at Shepperton it is one-third cheaper than if it had been contracted out to an American company. “The robot was a major worry for us,” he says. “But worth it.”
All this youthful verve and cost-cutting ingenuity is fine, but the fact remains that “Judge Dredd” must compete in a crowded marketplace against such other effects-filled summer movies as “Batman Forever,” “Casper,” “Congo,” “Die Hard With a Vengeance” and the upcoming “Apollo 13" and “Waterworld.” How will “Judge Dredd” stand out?
“Emotion and inspiration,” director Cannon says bluntly, before launching into a tirade about his “singular vision” of the film. “I’m extremely into this story. You start to think it, you breathe it.”
At the end of all this, one feels tempted to tell Cannon to lighten up a little--that, after all, isn’t this just a bit of fun, a comic book movie with Sly Stallone? But he has already made it clear that he disapproves of such an attitude.
“I’m not much into the campiness of comic books, you know?” he says. “I read Judge Dredd as a kid, and though I wasn’t a great comic book reader, I kept coming back to Dredd because it was so anti-superhero. It intrigued me, because it was far more political. It took itself more seriously than other comic books. “I have no sympathies for the directors of action movies like this who do it by the numbers. What makes this special is that it’s such an emotional film, played with such earnest conviction. We all care. That’s what’s sadly lacking in all those cocky, tongue-in-cheek films--you forget about them as soon as you’ve left [the theater]. I think this one will make an impression--just because of its inspired passion.”
Of all the people on the “Judge Dredd” set, Cannon is one of the last you’d pick out as its director. A small, slight young man with cropped hair and scruffy clothes, he looks like a junior crew member. He talks forcefully in broad Cockney, and if in conversation he can seem lacking in humor, it was that same sheer conviction that landed him the job. Though “Young Americans” did not reach a wide American public, it was a terrific calling card for Cannon, who was offered a number of A-list projects to direct by major studios before selecting “Judge Dredd.”
 “We weren’t that happy with the story we had for ‘Judge Dredd,’ ” producer Marks recalls. “But Danny came in and pitched a story, just the way he saw it.” Cannon likes to say he sees “Judge Dredd” as “Star Wars” meets “Ben-Hur.” “He wanted it to be larger than life and over the top but still credible,” Phelps says. “He asked for an epic quality but a believable background to the story. That presented me with my biggest challenge as production designer. There are certain criteria about the way comic books are drawn. They can look jokey, but we had to make it all look believable.”
Making the film has been a two-year commitment for Cannon, who says he would never have become involved with the project had he not believed in it completely. “It’s a lot of work,” he says. “On the one hand you’re telling a story, with a group of talented people around you who have opinions. At the same time, you’re talking about wheel sizes on vehicles, and the height between the [sidewalk] and the road. You’ve got to know that also, and you can’t turn ‘round and say, ‘Oh, I don’t mind.’ You have to mind. If you’re to follow through a vision, you follow through.”

Rumors from the set suggest that Cannon and Stallone have clashed at times and that Cannon stood up to Stallone, the “money” in “Judge Dredd.”
But Cannon plays down such talk: “I can’t remember arguing much with Sly. Sometimes he’ll squeeze another take out of me to put another inflection on something. Sometimes he’ll think I’m being too subtle, too clever-clever. But those are the easy arguments. If all it takes to get a print is another take, then fine, right?
“In the end everyone’s done what’s best for the movie. Sly certainly knew Dredd--he’d done his research. He’d read the comic book; we talked about how big to play the character and where the emotional responses are. He was ready to work, willing to be vulnerable.”

Marks shot most of the film within Shepperton and was pleased with the results and the cooperation he received. But he found it frustrating to arrange for location shots at publicly owned sites in Britain.
“The problem is this is not a country where they want you--although I’m spending approximately 20 million [$31 million] here,” he says ruefully. Marks managed to shoot at Bankside, an unused power station overlooking the Thames, and at Kew Gardens, the world-famous botanical park, only after delays in dealing with initially reluctant bureaucrats. He was also unhappy about fees charged for location shots and aired his views publicly.

Back on the set, it becomes clear that some in the overwhelmingly British crew--perhaps more accustomed to sedate costume dramas--are not enamored with spending a year on what seems certain to be a violent film. “I don’t want to deal with just violent films,” Joss Williams says cautiously. “But if you’re going to do something, let’s do it the best way you can.”

Set decorator Peter Young is one of the few older talents involved, a veteran with 30 years experience. “The film’s on schedule, on budget and looks terrific,” he says. “It’s a credit to a British crew. But Judge Dredd’s a fascist pig. It’s all kill, kill, kill, explode, explode, explode.” Young sighs a tad theatrically. “One longs for crinolines again.”
Overall, though, the mood on the “Judge Dredd” set is upbeat. In a small room off a special-effects sound stage, a pale young man with long, dank hair labors contentedly.

Chris Halls, 24, personifies Marks’ policy of measured gambles. He is designing and building Mean Machine, the most fearsome and horribly mutated member of a group of baddies called the Angel Gang. Yet, Halls originally joined the set only as a designer. “For a couple of years previously, I’d been working on Judge Dredd the comic,” he says. “And I’d actually been drawing Mean Machine. Luckily for me, Danny saw my drawings and got me on board as a designer. As soon as I was in the door, I was rooting for the job of actually building him. “I was prepared to do it cheap too. I’m quite resourceful, having worked on effects on low-budget films.” Halls then points at a couch in the corner, covered in design models. “I’ve been living in here,” he says. “Hence the couch. There’s no way this job could have been done for the money in this time without working all the hours under the sun.”
Marks nods vigorously when Halls’ name is mentioned to him. “Typical,” he says. “With a lot of these people, it’s been very important to them to succeed. The way we’ve done it here, we have three times the film for the same money.”

Monday, 16 March 2020

March 2020

'McKellen: Playing the Part' (2018)
Dir: Joe Stephenson

'Do The Right Thing' (1989)
Dir: Spike Lee

'The Last Emperor' (1987)
Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci

'Stoker' (2013)
Dir: Park Chan-wook

'Onward' (2020)
Dir: Dan Scanlon

'The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst' (2015)
Dir: Andrew Jarecki

'Until The End of the World' (1991)
Dir: Wim Wenders

'The Fine Art of Separating People from Their Money' (1996)
Dir: Hermann Vaske

'Westworld S:3' (2020)
Dir: Jonathan Nolan

Saturday, 15 February 2020

February 2020

'Richard Jewell' (2019)
Dir: Clint Eastwood

'Official Secrets' (2019)
Dir: Gavin Hood

'Judy' (2019)
Dir: Rupert Goold

'The Personal History of David Copperfield' (2019)
Dir: Armando Iannucci

'Raising Cain' (1992)
Dir: Brian DePalma

'Museo' (2028)
Dir: Alonso Ruizpalacios

'Dark Waters' (1993)
Dir: Mario Baino

'Hagazussa' (20170
Lukas Feigelfeld

Saturday, 11 January 2020

January 2020

'Cape Fear' (1991)
Dir: Martin Scorsese

'Color Out Of Space' (2019)
Dir: Richard Stanley

'Parasite' (2019)
Dir: Bong Joon Ho

'Let The Corpses Tan' (2018)
Dir: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

'The Killing' (1956)
Dir: Stanley Kubrick

'Fellini's Satyricon' (1969)
Dir: Federico Fellini

'War of The Worlds' (2005)
Dir: Steven Spielberg

'Empire of the Sun' (1987)
Dir: Steven Spielberg

'The Abyss' (1989)
Dir: James Cameron

'The Rise of Skywalker' (2019)
Dir: JJ Abrams

'Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird' (2014)
Dir: Steven-Charles Jaffe

'The Last Black Man In San Francisco' (2019)
Dir: Joe Talbot

'Midsommar' (2019)
Dir: Ari Aster

'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' (2019)
Dir: Céline Sciamma

'A Hidden Life' (2019)
Dir: Terence Malick

 'Anna' (2019)
Dir: Luc Besson

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

December 2019

'Mesrine Pt1: L'instict de mort' (2008)
Dir: Jean-François Richet
'Mesrine Pt2: L'ennemi public no 1' (2008)
Dir: Jean-François Richet

'The Brothers Grimsby' (2016)
Dir: Louis Letterier

'Never Look Away' (2018)
Dir: Florian Henckel Von Donnersmark

'Home Alone' (1990)
Dir: Chris Columbus

'Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker' (2019)
Dir: JJ Abrams

'Cats' (2019)
Dir: Tom Hooper

 'Spies In Disguise' (2019)
Dir: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane

'Citizen K' (2019)
Dir: Alex Gibney

‘Pavarotti’ (2019)
Dir: Ron Howard

‘A Rainy Day In New York’ (2018)
Dir: Woody Allen

'6 Underground' (2019)
Dir: Michael Bay

'Last Breath' (2019)
Dir: Richard da Costa, Alex Parkinson

'The Souvenir' (2019)
Dir: Joanna Hogg

'Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall' (2019)
Dir: Alfred George Bailey