Well, clearly A.I. stands for Absolutely Incredible in the context of Gareth Edwards new cinematic love reel to the greatest sci-fi films of all time, arriving on our IMAX doorsteps this week in the form of the stunningly rendered and visionary The Creator (2023).
The temptation to bounce over to ChatGPT and prompt it to set forth all the best adjectives possible to praise it’s future descendents in this sensational tale, then give my screen a big hug, is immense, and as Edwards quipped at a Q&A after the screening tonight, he actually made the movie so he’d be left alone in the coming ‘robopocaplypse’.
In person, Gareth is an incredibly amiable, down to earth and very funny individual. Relaxed in manners and casual attire, it’s seems potentially at odds with this sci-fi magnum opus that we’ve just watched. Yet his personality is aptly in every single frame and aspect of the film. Throughout the many, many thoughts that ignited and teared up during the viewing, the foremost was the levels of humanity (& inhumanity, it felt at times like live footage of Vietnam) that were on the screen, and that the greatest foundation aspects of his entire career thus far, were truly folded into this utterly beautiful storytelling experience. The beauty and zen gentleness of his first feature Monsters (2010) was there, as was the scale and stunning visual sequences of Godzilla (2014) and Star Wars Rogue One (2016). But this time you could feel his ownership of it all, rather than a Kaiju studio dictating the shots, and much to the rich rewards for us, and film making itself, of that situation.
In the near future (2070), our A.I. apps have all grown up into robots that serve our every day needs and whims. They were integral to every aspect of life, and all was tickety boo, right up till it went tickety bomb, as a nuke was set off in L.A, killing hundreds of thousands, the blame landing at the mechanised feet of what is effectively a new sentient species. The Western world, as it historically factually does in reality, rose up in arms, declaring war on all A.I. entities, proclaiming every possible action will be taken to wipe them out. Meanwhile, the East Asian nations, with it’s ancient religions, and it’s more natural daily proximity to nature, held no such aggression towards these entities, as they are a fully woven, integrated aspect of their society. It’s not called a complex for nothing though, and the US military industrial has to do it’s kill thing, the bigger the better. Pure shock and duh?
This big swinging angry… arrives in the form of NOMAD, effectively a monstrous wings of death, ten years in the making, that serenely traverses above Asian lands, scanning and wiping out peaceful pocket sanctuaries, where locals continue life in harmony with their digital family members, and friends.
The US has got word of the development of a new A.I. ‘super weapon’, that could end the war in favour of A.I., and they can’t be having any of that. Seek and destroy teams are sent in to hunt for the target, and annihilate it. Thus begins the journey of ex special forces Joshua (John David Washington) on his mission to Yee Ha! this war to an end, once and for all, for the good old boys.
The ‘target’ however turns out to be an A.I. child called Alphie (played by 7 year old Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who is a revelation of acting abilities), which understandably affects Joshua’s ability to complete the mission, the hunter now becoming the hunted.
Edwards has been completely honest about the many film influences that inspired this epic (I’ll not list them, as you’ll only look for them during the film), which are apparent, as well as the seed that was sown in a road trip across the US with his girlfriend. Dreamily pondering what if robots worked in a passing factory, and one day walked out of the door into the long grass, to see, experience nature for the first time, which he wrote, expanded with Chris Weitz and grew into The Creator.
As well as the subject of the film being on the evolution of technology, there was an evolution behind and in the Sony FX3 cameras used. After directing Rogue One, Edwards immediately sought to develop with his cinematographer Greig Fraser (who also worked on Dune, 2021), small super light weight cameras that could dramatically expand versatility, usability and quite stunningly increase the range of filming ability with light, from an average of 800 ISO in low light situations, to a staggering 12,800 ISO, resulting in the ability to shoot by moonlight if necessary.
This also resulted in the capacity to utilise a relatively small $80 million budget (compared to Marvel/DC scales) in a staggering way, filming with small teams in 8 different countries, capturing incredible natural footage, utilising 70s style lenses in homage to classic sci-fi and frequent spontaneous moments (much like when making Monsters), then adding the digital sci-fi elements after the fact, almost a complete 180º in how its generally done. The results looking like it cost at least three times more than it did.
Despite all the Himalayan grandeur and technology of it all, it is the relationship between the two central characters that tsunamis you away, as the journey evolves, so too the bonding between Joshua and Alphie, the natural chemistry is pure magic to behold. Mesmerisingly, beautifully captured by the aforementioned Fraser and Oren Soffer, the sweeping landscapes, natural and emotional are genuinely breathtaking. All supported by stellar performances on every level, but particularly Maya (Gemma Chan), Harun (Ken Watanabe) and the fantastically nasty Colonel Howell (Allison Janney).
Barbie was absolutely the deserved hysterical surprise hit of the year, Oppenheimer the one to admire, though left me cold, but The Creator is the Goldilocks perfection of purpose built epic storytelling, constructed from every aspect to be embraced on the biggest screen possible, where it’s IMAX sized beating heart almost can’t be contained even within this scale. It’s bursting with love, awe, humour, spectacle, ideas, intelligence, vision, message and hope. I can’t wait to see this again many times on the big screen, and for many years to come.
The Creator is in cinemas 28th September.