The Biggest Original Sci-Fi Movie of the Year Steals a Trick From Blade Runner

How do you determine who’s real? Don’t ask the actors.

John David Washington as Joshua in The Creator
20th Century Studios

Even amid a sea of sequels and spin-offs, sci-fi is still the best place to craft an original story. Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards is no stranger to time-worn IP, but with The Creator, he seems poised to remix familiar (and oddly prescient) ideas in a brand new world.

The Creator is set in a future where humans and AI struggle to live in harmony. A rogue AI defies its programming and launches a nuclear attack against the humans that created it, in an incident strongly reminiscent of films like Terminator. This gives way to a contentious, decade-long war, one that Edwards’ hero, Joshua (John David Washington), hopes to end.

Edwards spoke to at San Diego Comic-Con about the “east versus west” conflict in the film. “In the eyes of the West in our movie, [AI] is public enemy number one,” Edwards explained. But The Creator also explores the conflict from “the other side of the fence,” where people and robots live peacefully half a world away. This includes the Creator, who developed the near-humanoid artificial intelligence.

“From the AI’s point of view and the people who live in Asia, the Creator is like God, creating all these beautiful people,” Edwards said. The film marries the naturalism of Apocalypse Now with the tech-focused paranoia in Blade Runner, as a spur-of-the-moment trip to Vietnam inspired Edwards to shoot The Creator on location in Southeast Asia and use locals as extras. In a clever twist, no one on set knew if they were playing a human or a robot.

Although you, as the viewer, can probably guess that Ken Watanabe has a little robot in him.

20th Century Studios

“We shot in eight different countries, and we would go to little communities, and shoot scenes in real huts and temples,” Edwards recently told Empire. “We never told anybody if they were going to be robots or not. They understood that it was science fiction, and there would be robots, but we never let anybody know who would or wouldn’t be AI, because we didn’t want them to behave differently.”

Edwards and his team determined which background actors would be artificial in post-production. “We chose who would be a robot based on their performance,” the director continued. “The more natural they were, the more exciting it was to make that person AI.”

It’s pretty clear who’s human and who isn’t in the finished product, but the question of identity is still a factor in The Creator. The film grapples with what it means to be a person, and Joshua will be the main vessel for that conflict. As an ex-special forces agent tasked with hunting down the Creator, he’ll be forced to evaluate his own prejudices, especially once he learns his target takes the form of an innocent child.

Joshua may also start to question the validity of his own existence, as Blade Runner hero Rick Deckard did. While there’s a clear aesthetic distinction between humans and robots in The Creator, it’s tough to shake the thought that anyone could be AI, which is exactly what makes Edwards’ return to film so exciting.

The Creator hits theaters September 29, 2023.

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