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'The Creator' Is a Dazzling, Breathtaking Vision of the Future
Assorted thoughts on Gareth Edwards' latest.
This post will not contain spoilers for The Creator but will reference basic plot details that are evident in the trailer. The Creator is out in theaters this Friday.
The Creator reminds me of the sci-fi movies that made me fall in love with movies in the first place. Films like Blade Runner or Alien or Akira felt less like fictional stories and more like actual windows into a possible future for humanity. The worlds seemed so meticulously designed, so detailed, so confident. “This is how it could be,” these films seemed to be saying, bestowing upon us a forbidden knowledge that we would now need to figure out what to do with.
I was dazzled by these films, just as I was dazzled by The Creator. Gareth Edwards’ latest film offers a bold, breathtaking, detailed vision of a future in which the United States is at war with AI robots. In the midst of this, an ex-special forces agent named Joshua (John David Washington, in one of my favorite roles of his so far) is tasked with delivering a young AI child robot named Alfie (an impressive Madeline Yuna Voyles). But his loyalties will be tested as each side of the war reveals its true nature.
The Creator is the most visually impressive film I’ve seen this year. The movie has a budget of about $80 million but it looks like it cost 2-3x that amount. The money was deployed wisely; Edwards used Sony FX3’s (a camera that you can purchase for less than $4,000) and shot many of the scenes with minimal crew and lighting. The production filmed at locations around the world and visual effects were deployed to make each one feel futuristic. The result is a world that feels lived in, worn, and recognizable, even as it’s populated by sophisticated robots. Every 5-10 minutes, there was something spectacular to look at in this movie. I can’t remember the last time a film made me feel that way, let alone one that wasn’t based off of a superhero comic or some other pre-existing IP.
While I had a blast with The Creator, it has a few big issues that I think people will find difficult to overlook. Its biggest weakness is its script, which is a fairly generic Lone Wolf and Cub-style journey for its two leads. While Joshua and Alfie have great chemistry, that’s mostly as a result of Washington and Voyles’ performances and less about their dialogue or how the script develops their relationship.
I also think the film deploys imagery of war in ways that don’t do honor to the weight of what it’s referencing. Minor spoiler: a bunch of Asian people get killed in this movie and it was odd to watch all this evocation of Vietnam War-era imagery and then see in the credits that virtually no East Asians were involved in the primary creative aspects of the film. To its credit, the film positions the viewer in the perspective of the oppressed, but it exacts a high cost in doing so.
Perhaps more significantly, this movie doesn’t have anything interesting to say about AI. The Creator uses AI more as window dressing — just part of the context under which this adventure is taking place. It has way more to say about American foreign policy and military intervention than it does about AI machines, who are primarily referenced in the film via the “they’re more human than the humans!” cliché. That’s a huge missed opportunity, especially for a film with a world as interesting as this one.
That said, The Creator does fulfill the basic requirements of sci-fi. Sci-fi books and films present us with worlds that feel like extensions of our own, but that often have dystopian elements. By showing us how things could be, and how bad things could get, they invite us to imagine something better. The Creator takes place in a future in which the United States is so paralyzed by its fear of AI that it embraces its darkest, most terroristic instincts. We still have a chance to avoid the same fate (at least when it comes to AI).
I don’t think The Creator is a masterpiece but it sent me out of the theater buzzing. It’s bold, original sci-fi storytelling of the type that we too-rarely see anymore. There are visuals and moments in the film that I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time. And after the chaos of Rogue One, I think the film re-positions Gareth Edwards as an exciting filmmaker to watch.
Note: A few people have asked me whether this film is worth seeing in IMAX. While the film does have impressive sound design, there’s no material shot in full IMAX format (i.e. 1.43:1 aspect ratio). Any theater with great sound and picture will do for this one, imho.
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