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Comic-Con 2012: 'Dredd' Fans Cheer Reboot's Body Count, Absence of Stallone's Gold Codpiece

Stars Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby introduced an enthusiastically received advance screening of Pete Travis' "dark and gritty" interpretation of the iconic comic book character Wednesday night in downtown San Diego.

Dredd Poster - P 2012

Although programming at Comic-Con didn’t officially get underway until Thursday morning, attendees gathered in droves Wednesday afternoon for one of the first of many events coordinated outside the convention center: a free screening of the comic book adaptation Dredd. Lines twisted around downtown San Diego’s Reading Cinemas as people waited to get inside and see a preview of the film, which was introduced by stars Karl Urban (Star Trek) and Olivia Thirlby (Juno).

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In addition to inviting select press, distributor Lionsgate filled an auditorium to capacity with fans eager to see the film --especially after some queued up for eight hours or more. A few minutes after the film’s designated 10:00 p.m. start time, AMC Movie News Senior Editor John Campea greeted the capacity crowd and reminded them of Thursday’s Masters of the Web panel, where Karl Urban would preside over Campea and a cross section of internet press luminaries, including Movieline’s Jen Yamato, Movies.com’s Erik Davis and Collider's Steve “Frosty” Weintraub. He then turned over the microphone to Urban and Thirbly, who offered fans a brief introduction before the lights went down.

“I hope you like your films dark and gritty,” Urban said to cheers of approval. “I want to apologize to anyone who’s a fan of lycra and gold codpieces -- you’re just going to have to wait for two hours.”

Dredd is a markedly different film than Judge Dredd, Danny Cannon’s 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone as the implacable authority figure. Rather than dismantling his monolithic façade -- and thereby showing the star’s face -- writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis keep the character’s helmet on the whole time, and then throw him into a Die Hard-style scenario where he’s the mouse in a maze full of cats.

Maximizing the source material’s blackly comedic sensibilities, Urban plays his role of “judge, jury and executioner straight,” while Thirlby’s role as a rookie with psychic powers serves as an audience stand-in -- albeit one who can more than hold her own against the film’s rogues’ gallery of crooks and baddies. (Urban’s interpretation also foregoes most of the character’s trademark bling, hence the actor’s mention of the absence of gold uniform accoutrements.)

After Thirlby offered a brief if enthusiastic expression of anticipation -- “I am excited for this film,” she confessed -- Urban took another moment to thank their absent collaborators before the movie began.

“I want to mention a few people who could not be here tonight, especially Pete Travis and Alex Garland,” Urban said. Although the duo reportedly battled at one time for control of the film – to the extent that Garland was aiming for a co-directing credit -- evidently they worked out their differences. But once Dredd started, none of that history mattered, and the crowd quickly got into the spirit of the film, cheering its body count, its muscular visual style, and Urban’s no-nonsense, surprisingly charming take on the title character.

Dredd opens nationwide September 21, 2012.

For more updates from the convention floor, including interviews, panel coverage and news, follow Todd Gilchrist on Twitter: @mtgilchrist