Gareth Edwards had no idea his AI creations for futuristic film The Creator would be so relevant in 2023 (Picture: AP/Getty/ 20th Century Studios)
Filmmaker Gareth Edwards has drawn parallels between the writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood and his new sci-fi thriller The Creator, thanks to its uncannily timed tackling of the threat of AI.
Edwards, who has become somewhat of a master of his genre thanks to previous work on films Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Godzilla and his feature film debut Monsters, dives headfirst into the AI debate for his latest effort, set almost 50 years in the future in a world that has embraced and then rejected the advanced form of technology following a nuclear event.
Although a topic that frequently generates headlines and has been covered plenty before in sci-fi classics like Blade Runner and James Cameron’s Terminator franchise, Edwards has admitted he couldn’t have predicted how timely The Creator would become – and certainly not how fast.
With Hollywood creatives on strike and in dispute with the major studios over the past few months, one of the main concerns raised has been the risk of AI replication.
Remarkably, although a plot point initially created as ‘a stupid science fiction thing’, The Creator actually includes depictions of humans providing their likenesses to the film’s humanlike ‘simulant’ robots – the very thing actors are scared will strip them of jobs.
‘It’s weird in that we have this whole section in the movie where there’s big billboards and adverts asking people to donate their likeness to AI,’ Edwards told Metro.co.uk.
Madeline Yuna Voyles plays a deadly AI weapon in a film that wrestles with the development of the technology set 50 years in the future (Picture: 20th Century Studios via AP)
‘In our movie, the way it works is it’s kind of copy and paste: your brain gets scanned, and your face, and then it gets printed, and they make an AI version of you, and you get paid for that. It’s like donating blood or something.’
However, that’s not where the prescient coincidences stop as The Creator also shows people protesting AI with signs, which is something Edwards thought would never really happen – until he was caught in the middle of it.
‘Cut to us editing and finishing the film in Hollywood, and you’re driving past the studios and there’s all these people holding banners with AI [on them]. It honestly looked like a scene from the movie,’ he recalled.
‘It’s shocking how fast this has happened.’
He’s also a little rueful over setting the movie in 2070 ‘because I thought I’d be dead and I wouldn’t look like an idiot when it didn’t happen’.
‘And I now look like an idiot because I should have set it in 2024, as it’s come a lot faster!’ he laughed.
In the film, Tenet star John David Washington leads the cast as hardened ex-special forces agent Joshua Taylor, recruited for a mission five years after the death of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan) where he is tasked with hunting and killing the mysterious Creator, who is developing an advanced AI weapon with the power to end the war between mankind and AI forces once and for all – and likely the human race itself.
The Creator includes lots of different AI, from robots to simulants, with humans even able to donate their likeness to the later (Picture: 20th Century Studios)
AI has been a major concern of the still-ongoing Sag-Aftra actors’ strike in America and the recently ended writers’ strike (Picture: Getty)
However, the deadly world-ending weapon he’s been instructed to destroy turns out to be a simulant in the form of a six-year-old girl he christens ‘Alphie’ (newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
For The Creator’s dystopian setting, Edwards and his team created distinctive designs for their AI characters, who come in variations including more technical-looking robots as well as human-like simulants that feature a futuristic-looking hole through their heads.
‘You’re trying to come up with something that feels a little unique to your movie but you’re also standing on the shoulders of giants when you try and make a science fiction film like this – there’s so many classics that have been done,’ he said.
Edwards’ design of robots in The Creator was inspired by the 50-year span in vehicles, as well as some unexpected everyday items (Picture: 20th Century Studios)
In part, Edwards was inspired by seeing the variety of vehicles on the road during his recce test shoots in Vietnam and Thailand, spanning a 1970s moped being powered by a lawnmower engine to a modern electric car.
‘I wanted to have a 50-year timescale with AI too – so, like you have that classic diagram from ape to man, you have the same thing with robots. You have these early, simplistic-looking robots all the way to very humanoid, and I wanted them to all be hanging out in the same village, chatting to each other and treating each other as equals,’ Edwards explained.
Other inspirations included domestic appliances like cinema projectors and vacuum cleaners, and imagining interesting-looking insect heads were ‘designed by the person who made the Sony Walkman’.
The constant merging of ideas for their designs was a process done ‘over and over until you run out of time’, the writer and director confessed, adding: ‘I could have done robot designs for the next five years because it was the most fun bit, to be honest.’
Ken Watanabe as simulant Harun, recognisable by the distinctive hole through his head (Picture: 20th Century Studios)
The Creator takes in the lush landscapes of countries including Thailand for its ‘new Asia’ scenes, while Los Angeles is depicted as a nuclear fallout zone (Picture: 20th Century Studios)
Discussing mankind’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for pondering its destruction at the hands of its own creations – no matter how many times films warn us – Edwards suggests that we’re ‘always on the brink of the end of the world’.
In filmmaking terms for him, that’s represented by fuelling the inner character journey in a movie ‘with the highest stakes possible’ while balancing the outer world of its plot and politics.
‘That tends to be life or death – that you might die many times on this journey. And with the highest stakes possible for the world, it’s some apocalyptic scenario. I’m fascinated by it. I don’t know why [but] I do get quite a kick out of just fantasising about the end to the world. I don’t know what that says about me.’
‘People won’t probably want to admit it out loud too much, but when the pandemic happened there was half of me that was quite excited,’ Edwards shared. ‘Just not having to see anyone for a year and a half was an interesting… it was a tragedy, to some extent, but there was also a side of it that threw a spanner into our normal lives and suddenly something was happening.
‘Movies that sort of deal with apocalyptic scenarios… There’s a morbid fascination with it, I guess.’
The Creator is not the sort of sci-fi film that offers answers about AI, or tells you how to think, opting instead to challenge pre-existing views and keep the viewer guessing, with Edwards inspired by a sci-fi cinema master in this respect.
‘I think George Lucas did this brilliantly, where there’s so many characters, so many things, and it doesn’t explain them, they just move on, the story’s going this way – and you’ll pass by all this stuff that won’t make sense to you. And that’s true of when you go travelling to a foreign country that you haven’t been to before. It’s like an alien world.’
Diego Luna, Felicity Jones and K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in Edwards’ underrated 2016 Star Wars film, Rogue One (Picture: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock)
Edwards was inspired by sci-fi master George Lucas to not give answers in The Creator about AI (Picture: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
‘There’s so many things in [The Creator] where, I love it, but your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going on with some of the background people and the buildings and things like that,’ he added.
Consider yourself (and your brain) warned.
Edwards’ inspirations for The Creator are well-documented and include highly regarded hits like Blade Runner, Akira, Apocalypse Now and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Although the film is an idea from his own mind, he’s carefully realistic (if not dismissive) about the ‘original’ label, despite the film industry’s current obsession with franchises, adaptations and using already-popular IP.
He’s coined the descriptor of ‘Apocalypse Now but in the Blade Runner universe’ as The Creator’s quickest explanation but is careful to not lay any boastful claim to those ‘masterpieces’.
The director, who was a VFX specialist himself, also draws a connection between AI and how it samples from a dataset to learn, and the brain’s ability to subconsciously inspire you with things you’ve seen before.
Blade Runner was one of the biggest inspirations for The Creator, which is an original idea from Edwards (Picture: Ladd Company/Warner Bros/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock)
John David Washington is the hero of the piece as hardened ex-special forces soldier Joshua Taylor, tasked with the mission to destroy Voyles’ Alpha One (Picture: 20th Century Studios via AP)
‘You think you’re being original constantly but originality, in my opinion, is just the ability to get your inspiration because it’s all from somewhere at some point,’ he argued.
Edwards was sold on Washington, former American Football pro and son of renowned actor Denzel Washington, as the lead in The Creator because he was keen on something different to the usual brawny and buttoned-up action star.
‘I really wanted to have a hero in the movie that wasn’t a classic one, in the sense that [Washington] wasn’t afraid as an actor to show all the vulnerability and brokenness of someone. A lot of actors that do these sorts of roles end up very tough and I don’t relate to that kind of person. I think we all struggle, especially in this crazy situation that’s in the movie,’ he explained.
Voyles’ character challenges Washington’s in the film, with the pair striking up a close bond during their time working together (Picture: 20th Century Studios)
Meanwhile, Voyles’ casting was a ‘no-brainer’ as Alphie, who forms a bond with Washington’s Joshua, despite his mission.
Edwards recalled that she didn’t even have to formally audition for the part, and Voyles and Washington quickly developed an ‘amazing relationship’ after the 39-year-old figured out how to become a friend to the shy youngster, now nine.
He recalled that the duo was ‘inseparable’ on set, and the three of them recently reunited in honour of Madeline’s birthday, taking her to Disneyland as the actors wouldn’t be able to come to the film’s premiere due to the continuing strike.
‘They hadn’t seen each other in a year, and it was so sweet – it was like her big brother had returned from the war. She spent the whole day just holding on to his hand and going on all the rides, it was great.’
The Creator is in cinemas from today.