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Go behind the scenes of The Creator with director Gareth Edwards and star John David Washington
Featurette: 20th Century Studios

The Creator
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Rated PG-13
Protected 29 September 2023

The Creator’s substantial thematic ambitions aren’t fully realized, but it still rises above its derivative elements to provide a good standalone sci-fi experience.

Tomorrow Today

The Creator movie poster

It’s a striking opening with a title card that goes deep. It defines “nirmata” as the Nepalese word for “creator.” What follows throws off a 1950s vibe of grainy, Kodachrome imagery as scientists work on creating the latest in robotics; the rapid advances in artificial intelligence quickly blur the lines between past and present and future. Blade Runner, set in 2019, featured robots with uncanny human likenesses called “replicants.” In The Creator, set in 2065, they’re called “simulants.”

It’s an impressive level of detail in the presentation style; this is all framed as part of a TV show called Tomorrow Today and it all serves to set the stage for a nuclear blast decimating Los Angeles. The United States government calls it an attack perpetrated by AI and the entire western world enacts a ban on the technology.

Countering that approach, the Republic of New Asia (including today’s countries of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia) has built an entire society around the communal and economic mix of humans and simulants.

The angry Americans, of course, want to rid the entire world of AI and have sought vengeance on New Asia, destroying towns and farmlands by using an ominous floating battle station called NOMAD. Innocent human lives are viewed as nothing more than collateral damage in this aggressive approach.

In response, the simulants have created a counter-weapon, called Alpha O, to destroy NOMAD.

Apocalypse Tomorrow

There are obvious shades of Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now running throughout The Creator. While those derivative ghosts undermine portions of the movie, there are also some outstanding moments, such as kamikaze ‘bots that run to their target and then detonate. In particular, there’s a stand-out scene with The Child (not to be confused with The Mandalorian’s Grogu) facing off with a kamikaze. This child doesn’t use the Force; the child (dubbed “Alphie”) instead finds her righteous chi to at least temporarily disarm the situation. And this child is portrayed by Madeleine Yuna Voyles in an undeniably striking debut performance.

Therein lies the dilemma of The Creator. So much of it is truly thought provoking. It is at its best when the focus is on the relationships between Joshua and Maya and – even more significantly – between Joshua and Alphie. It’s at its most compelling when it grapples with questions of life and death, humanity and technology. But a fair amount of The Creator is overdone and evokes another sci-fi spectacle, Avatar, with its aggressive, world-destroying, one-dimensional villains.

John David Washington edges away from his standard, subdued approach and delivers a solid performance as Joshua, a guy with a complicated past and strained relationships. His expectant wife, Maya (Gemma Chang), is assumed dead following a NOMAD attack. But the tease of her having survived becomes the bait to enlist him in “one more mission,” to find the creator of New Asia’s AI and destroy it to end the (essentially unilateral) war. In return, the US government would find Maya and reunite the couple.

Donate Your Likeness

The Creator was directed by Gareth Edwards, perhaps best known for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; he also co-wrote the screenplay with his Rogue collaborator, Chris Weitz. They create an interesting view of the future, one that is timely with all the chatter around ChatGPT and worries about AI replacing humans in the workforce.

It’s also an interesting approach to refashion the geopolitical scene with the Republic of New Asia. For those who aren’t keeping track, Asia is today – in the real world – at the forefront of technological advances and it’s the US that tends to lumber along behind the times. In that sense, it makes sense the Asian East arrives at a peaceful coexistence with AI while the West reacts with fear.

It would’ve been refreshing if Edwards and Weitz took that existential part of the narrative further and avoided the standard trap of nuanced “good” humans and societies foiled by “bad,” intransigent, one-note villains. As New Asia is “fleshed out,” so to speak, with so many interesting details – including simulant Buddhist monks – there is a desire to see the story stay invested in that world.

There’s also a twist in the Los Angeles nuclear explosion that turns into a mere throwaway when it could’ve been a narrative game-changer, sending the story and the characters in a fresh direction.

The devolution of the story going back to the basics of destroying a battle station not all that far removed from the Death Star serves as the movie’s biggest disappointment.

OK Computer

There is another interesting angle to what Edwards has accomplished with The Creator. It’s an original sci-fi movie; it’s not a franchise builder and it’s not based on a book or a video game. And it cost a measly – in modern film terms – $80 million to produce. He went back to his independent roots and shied away from making it a major studio production. It’s part of a wave of movies – including Oppenheimer (directed by Christopher Nolan; $100 million budget) and Barbie (directed by Greta Gerwig; budgeted reportedly up to $145 million) – that have created worlds and engaging stories on budgets far less than the typical Marvel production (the November release of The Marvels cost around $274 million).

Edwards, Nolan and Gerwig all started as independent filmmakers. That’s great. Most do. But The Creator gets an asterisk.

The trailers for The Creator featured an eyebrow-raising amount of graininess in the imagery and some rather unimpressive visual effects. Genuine film grain is absolutely fantabulous for sure, but there was something disconcerting about the image quality in those trailers. And The Creator was not shot on film; it was shot with the Sony FX3 mirrorless camera. The end result then is less “film grain” and more “digital noise.”

As The Creator unfolds, it starts with that unmissable grainy imagery in its “vintage” footage, the Tomorrow Today material. That serves as a cover to establish a sense of time and place in the past, but it’s ported over to the 2065 scenes as well. And it’s a sleight of hand; it’s cinematic trickery. At least in IMAX, where the graininess is all the more apparent on the large screen.

The graininess – from this writer’s point of view – is a cover for the deficiency in the visual effects. Some of the effects – the kamikaze ‘bots, for instance – are truly terrific. But when the NOMAD enters the picture, it’s back to a CGI result that’s not very convincing.

Bucking the big-budget trend is not new. There have always been artists who are – for whatever reason – forced to do more with less. The original Star Wars was directed by George Lucas on a shoestring budget, as was Raiders of the Lost Ark with Steven Spielberg at the helm. The duo intentionally went old-school on that one.

But go back and take a look at Terry Gilliam’s movies and the jaw-dropping worlds he created in Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. That’s impressive filmmaking all done with ridiculously limited resources.

• Originally published at

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