I just came back from a screening of the new “Judge Dredd” movie, “Dredd 3D.” While I was sitting in the theater, I went back and forth between enjoying the flick and giggling hysterically to myself. The film was fun and can best be described as the Hollywood version of “The Raid” lite.
Now, that’s not the reason that tickled my funny bone over and over during the film. The reason was because I had written a treatment for almost the exact same film for the company that held the film rights to Judge Dredd almost exactly 10 years ago now.
But, let me start at the beginning and set the stage with some background on the situation, as well as introduce some of the players in our comedy.
It was 2002 and I had just moved to Los Angeles. My first wife and I were separating, and I was a bit lost with what I was going to do with my life. I was still actively storyboarding for film and TV back then and had just finished directing my first indy film, “Bite Me, Fanboy.” When I landed in LA, I hooked up with a company called Shoreline Entertainment and a gentleman named Morris Ruskin.
Now, Morris was a great guy and very knowledgeable about making movies. He was best know for putting together “Glengarry Glen Ross,” although in the years since his company had become synonymous with schlocky B-movies – direct-to-cable or direct-to-DVD horror, thrillers and comedies – the kind of movies that keep Judd Nelson and Eric Roberts . Morris hated the stuff they were doing, even though it made them a lot of money, and was always pushing to make bigger movies.
One of the deals he had set up was to co-produce a new “Judge Dredd” movie with Rebellion Studios, the video game company that had bought up 2000AD a number of years before. As part of that deal, Rebellion had sent out one of their VPs, Andrew Prendergast, to get movies made of their various properties. Andrew and I got along incredibly well as a pair of younger guys a bit out of our elements in LA.
Over the course of a few months, a few really bad Dredd screenplays came in. The production was hampered by the fact that no one wanted to be “first in” with their cash and none of the companies involved wanted to do the smart thing and pay John Wagner to write the film. The unspoken rule in Hollywood is “the more money you have, the more of a cheap bastard you are.”
From what I can remember there was a screenplay which featured Judge Death (which was more of a comedy to my eyes) and one that I described at the time as “Hey, they ripped off Dan Akyroyd’s Dragnet movie.” There may have been more that were so terrible my mind repressed them in order to save my sanity. I vaguely remember one with dinosaurs… Almost every script Morris gave me to read had Dredd fighting the corrupt legal system of Mega-City 1 and doubting his own beliefs (STUPID STUPID!).
The “Dragnet Dredd” script must have been a favorite of the higher-ups because I read a lot of revisions for it. Somehow, the revisions were worse and worse each time. At this point, becoming thoroughly disgusted with the whole situation (I had been a HUGE Judge Dredd fan since about 1980 when a comic shop in Hawaii used to get the progs for me in big month chunks of 4-5 at a time), I complained rather loudly to Morris in regards to the level of suck to be found in the script.
In typical Morris fashion he told me to put my money where my mouth was and do a re-write on “Dragnet Dredd” (he’d doing it again a year or so later when he asked me to write “Stinger”). The monkey-wrenches he threw me were, I wasn’t allowed to change the basic story AND I had to do it overnight. I stayed up for 36 hours straight and turned in a rewrite that blew goats, but was less bad than what they had. Morris proceed to dissect my script, pointing out all of the horrible bits to me…every single one of them had been on the “do not change” list from the original script.
Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway because I love typing that old cliche out), I was pissed.
Filled with the righteous anger that gets me into constant trouble to this day, I wrote up a pair of treatments for what I thought were the only smart way to do a Dredd film, both based around Dredd trapped in a sealed off Block. The first was more horror oriented and focused on Judge Death (a story I still would love to do), and the second was what I jokingly called “Judge Dredd’s Game of Death.” My pitch had Judge Dredd and Hershey getting trapped in a Block and having to fight their way to a crime lord at the top of the 500-storey building. I even had Dredd addressing the tenants over the PA system and the criminals realizing, in a nod to the Watchmen, they were trapped in the building with the lawman and not the other way around.
When I turned in the treatments, Morris patted me on the head (metaphorically) and said there was no way it could be made because:
A) No actor big enough to carry the movie would do it with the helmet on the whole time (back then they were pushing for a younger Jason Statham) and that without showing the character’s eyes, audiences wouldn’t connect with him.
B) Dredd was too much of a 2-dimensional character to work the same way he did in the “lesser” medium of comics.
C) You had to have an origin story at the beginning so people would forget the Stallone movie.
I was told that comics could get away with a lot more because less was expected of them.
I argued that the James Bond movies were based on a two-dimensional character with no origin story – and that “black and white” characters like Dredd had been staples in storytelling since the dawn of time. The important thing, for me, was that the rest of the characters (good and evil) would be fleshed out and would play well off of the two-dimensional lead. It works for Batman, right? I also pointed out that the audience bonded with Arnold as a villain in “The Terminator” and there wasn’t a whole lot of emotion there.
It’s doubtful anyone other than Morris, and maybe Andrew P, ever saw the treatments and they were good enough to let me, a lowly comic book and storyboard artist, write for Shoreline down the road. It also impressed Andrew enough that he asked me to help write “his” version of a Judge Dredd screenplay that was a take off on the “Dead Man” stories. I do have to admit to being a bit abused by my “friend” on that one, although it did lead to me going to hang out at Jean Claude Van Damme’s house (twice) and to getting kicked in the chest by the “muscles from Brussels,” which was pretty darn cool.
The “Dead Man’ screenplay was really strong as a story, but would have sucked goat testicles as a Dredd movie, so I’m glad nothing ever came of it.
While there are an amazing number of similarities between the new “Dredd 3D” film and the 40 or so page treatment I turned in, I’m sure it was a case of “independent evolution.” I chalk it up to being, honestly, the must “DUH” way to do a decent Dredd movie. It’s stupidly obvious and I’d have been more surprised if they had gone a different route with it.
The one little thing I’d like to add is that I remember calling Andrew P a couple of years later, in 2005, when “V for Vendetta” premiered and said “See?” He agreed they had fucked up pretty royally with the call on the mask.
In my book – my small, petty, self-centered book – I call that a “Win.”
Go see “Dredd 3D” and laugh with me. Oh, next time I’ll write about how my adventures with Judge Dredd led to me coming up with the rules of six iconic moments that I based everything I write around.
-Mat Nastos, Super Genius