Over the course of making his latest sci-fi movie, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Rogue One) got used to a certain routine. Every morning would begin with a drive to set across a jungle in Asia, using the downtime to plan out shots for the day. Then things changed. Edwards' regular morning commute was interrupted by a friend sending him an article that might as well have come from the world of The Creator, his new movie about a war between humans and A.I.
"It was this whistleblower from Google, their conversation with the A.I. where they thought it had become self-aware," Edwards tells EW. "I read that whole conversation, I got sucked into it. Like everybody else, I couldn't quite understand how something that wasn't a human had talked like this to another person. It was very unnerving, and I didn't plan any of my shots. We were screwed that day on filming, because I got so distracted by this conversation. I guess everyone did."
It was on a different drive, years ago, that Edwards first found the spark of inspiration for The Creator. Shortly after finishing work on Rogue One, the filmmaker was en route to his girlfriend's home in Iowa when they passed a rural factory with a Japanese logo. From that combination of setting and mood, Edwards was hit with the image of a robot built in a factory going outside for the first time. One idea after another unfolded until Edwards had a blueprint for what would become The Creator, a story about a future soldier named Joshua (Tenet's John David Washington) on a mission to find the "creator" of A.I. who stumbles upon something unexpected: a robot child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) named "Alfie" (short for "Alpha") that Joshua believes can lead him to his lost wife (Gemma Chan).
20th Century Studios John David Washington in 'The Creator.'
Edwards notes that robots felt like a natural concept for him to tackle following movies about giant monsters and spaceships, since those are each core pillars of sci-fi. Androids and artificial intelligence have long been used by genre writers to probe questions of consciousness and the nature of life itself. But during the years that Edwards and his collaborators were working on The Creator, A.I. went from a far-off fairytale to a real-world phenomenon that has been central to this year's Hollywood strikes, as writers and performers worked to protect their creative labor from being replaced by lifelike chatbots.
"When I started writing this four years ago, the biggest note I got from everybody was, 'But why would you ban A.I.? Why would anyone do that?'" Edwards recalls. "It was a real hurdle getting everybody over that line to see why A.I. might be a bad thing. Cut to today, when the film's coming out, and it's hilarious watching the opening few minutes of the movie because you're so already there." The beginning sequence sets the backdrop for this full-scale war between humans and robots: At some point, a nuclear weapon detonated in Los Angeles, and A.I. was blamed. Given the recent discourse around A.I., Edwards now can't help but wonder if that setup is even necessary for the audience. "It just makes the film more resonant, I think. But now it feels like we're preaching to the choir in this first scene of the movie," he continues.
Beyond robotics, the pairing of a weathered adult warrior with a young child in need of protection has also become popular in recent pop culture, seen in movies like Logan or TV shows like The Mandalorian. Edwards' interest in this dynamic reaches all the way back to Lone Wolf and Cub, the iconic manga by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima that inspired many live-action samurai films.
"Lone Wolf and Cub was a massive inspiration," Edwards confirms. "When I saw that for the first time, it was just a glimpse of a few shots on TV late at night, somewhere in the early 2000s. I was just so gripped by that idea of an ancient, jaded warrior and a little kid that I was like, 'I have to find out what this series is.' So, I did the research, I got all the films and the manga books."
Edwards tried to bring that dynamic into his first movie, 2010's Monsters. "I pitched it as a soldier taking a little child back to America," he recalls. "[The production company] thought it was too expensive, so that one became more of a love story. But I always kept it in my pocket. So, when I saw those fields in Iowa and I thought about some little robot that would come out of that factory, it just clicked straight away with that Lone Wolf and Cub dynamic."
20th Century Studios
Even with its disparate influences, The Creator still produces remarkably unique imagery. Of particular note is the NORAD orbital platform that the human military uses to fire on A.I. strongholds from the sky, as see in EW's exclusive clip above. Edwards says he envisioned it as a mixture of a bird of prey and a Big Brother-style eye in the sky. The robots themselves are also interesting designs, ranging from faceless automatons to more humanoid androids with whirring gears in place of earlobes.
"The most important thing was that, when you see an A.I., there's no doubt about it," Edwards says. "We don't play the trick in this movie of revealing someone you thought was human turning out to be A.I. We take that off the table straight away. So, if we were going to the trouble of doing this, there had to be something about them that was impossible to get with a normal human actor. Punching a hole right through their head was one of the clearest ways to do that."
"For the actual robots," Edwards continues, "we did all kinds of tricks. We looked at different insects and we imagined if these insects were designed by the person who designed the Sony Walkman, trying to straighten out all the lines and make it into a product. That gave us a lot of little good shapes for eyes and heads and stuff. It was my favorite thing. I've spent three years designing robots."
See the results of that labor when The Creator hits theaters this Friday.
Make sure to check out EW's Fall Movie Preview cover story on The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes — as well as all of our 2023 Fall TV Preview content, releasing through Sept. 29.
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