An AI nukes Hollywood in 'The Creator.' The movie's director has thoughts about that

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

It's tricky enough in today's IP-obsessed Hollywood to market an ambitious original science-fiction film. Throw in a historic strike and it becomes a whole lot harder.

For Gareth Edwards, who directed 2014's "Godzilla" and 2016's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," selling his new sci-fi epic "The Creator" has been a lonely venture. His cast members, including John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Allison Janney and Ken Watanabe are unable to promote the film due to the ongoing actors' strike.

"I'm like a groom in an empty church at my own wedding," Edwards joked over Zoom from a hotel room in Madrid on a recent morning. "It's a very surreal experience."

What makes it even more surreal for Edwards and Walt Disney Co., which released the film wide on Friday, is that "The Creator" centers on artificial intelligence, which also has been among the central issues in the Hollywood strikes. (Two days after this interview was conducted, the Writers Guild of America came to a tentative agreement with the studios and streamers; SAG-AFTRA remains on strike.)

Running counter to the anxieties of the moment, AI is portrayed in "The Creator" as a force for good — or at least not as a cold and merciless techno-evil, a la HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or Skynet in "The Terminator."

Set 40 years from now, "The Creator" posits a future in which America goes to war against artificial intelligence after (irony alert) an AI-sparked nuclear strike on Los Angeles kills nearly a million people. Washington plays Joshua, an ex-special forces agent recruited to locate a powerful weapon being developed in New Asia, where humans are still living in relative harmony alongside robots and human-like "simulants." When he discovers that the weapon is actually a simulant child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), Joshua finds himself torn between his mission and his desire to protect the lovable and all-too-human sentient being he nicknames Alphie.


It remains to be seen how audiences will respond to "The Creator," which has received mixed reviews (including ours). But within the film industry, now grappling with the implications of rapid advances in AI, the film has taken on a timeliness that Edwards, who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Weitz, never anticipated.

The L.A. Times spoke with Edwards about the inspiration behind "The Creator," how he's navigating this delicate moment in Hollywood's history and his hopes to stay on the good side of our coming robot overlords.

Q: I'm sure after "Rogue One" you got all kinds of appealing offers. How did you end up doing an original sci-fi project about AI?

A: I never had an agenda about robots and AI or anything like that. The crude way to explain it is, to me, there's a holy trinity of science fiction: You have a choice to either do aliens, spaceships or robots. I'd done aliens and spaceships, so it was, OK, I guess maybe I can try and do a robot movie next. Essentially I was trying to look for something that was achievable but not so crazy ambitious that it will cost you $300 million.


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