Took time to gather my thoughts after a sneak preview of ‘The Creator’ – this gorgeous, action-packed movie is SO much more than the reviews are saying. I’m still an anxiety-ridden mess so I don’t go out, but thanks to a friend I got to see ‘The Creator’ anyway.
Make no mistake – we’ve left the ‘hater therapy’ portion of sci-fi, where we try to make movies and stories for the haters to ‘bring them along.’ The Creator just goes all-out to tell an fun, interesting science fiction story and it doesn’t care whether /r/scifi likes it or not. THAT, my friends, is makes it great.
But wait, Jackson – you say – nothing about this movie is ORIGINAL. The script sounds like it was generated by an AI! Yes, yes – we’ll get to the complaints in a few moments. Let’s set the stage correctly. The Creator is the celebration of original scifi we needed – it feels like what great science fiction used to feel like – unshackled by public opinion, content to let you figure out what’s going on.
It reminded me in some ways of ‘La La Land’ when it came out. Before you ask ‘What on Earth are you talking about?’ Let me explain: A movie review of ‘La La Land’ calls it ‘a gorgeously photographed, unashamedly nostalgic, bittersweet marriage of the modern and the traditional’ which, if you think about it, is a perfect description of ‘The Creator.’ It, too, is a gorgeously photographed, unashamedly nostalgic, bittersweet marriage of the modern and the traditional science fiction.
Just as Casablanca works because it’s a collection of tropes told in a way that people can relate to on a human level, The Creator doesn’t attempt to be THE MOST ORIGINAL SCIFI IN THE WORLD. Rather, it’s trying to be the best science fiction story for the most people. It’s trying to bring people together. That’s why I loved it and that’s why I recommend it. It’s also why I think the sci-fi community is doing a massive disservice to itself if it doesn’t support this original, well-told science fiction story. But this isn’t ‘hater therapy’ time – it’s time to talk about The Creator. Here are some quick notes:
- John David Washington delivers a competent, minimalist performance as a haunted man with a second chance at redemption. Allison Janney, the sympathetic antagonist, is willing to share some of the horror that makes her into a villain. Ken Watanabe navigates the path between ‘pirate with a heart of gold’ and ‘calculating warlord’ with nimble efficiency. In all three cases, the actors present a form of generosity that I hope people see for what it is. Just as Reese Witherspoon in ‘The Good Lie,’ actors are at their best when they *don’t* insist on the spotlight. Watanabe, Janney, and Washington deserve a tremendous amount of credit for refusing to chew up the CGI scenery.
- Cinematography and art design will leave you in tears – The Creator is *that* beautiful. They’re doing something right when you want to pause the movie just to … look around. Look at everything, study all those tiny little details. Simon Stalenhag-inspired vehicles, cities, and androids beckon you to wallow in the alluring, immersive world of New Asia where humans and AI live side-by-side in peaceful, if economically depressed, harmony. Fully-realized social strata of humans and AI, compared to the struggling failed states of western civilization illustrate the future socioeconomic challenges of an ‘archipelago of micro-jurisdictions.’
- The Creator plays allegory like a Stradivarius, touching on various social issues without making the movies about them. The morality of drones and remote-control military operations, marginalized societies, dueling hegemonies are textured backdrops to the action and the adventure of another journey into the next-generation Heart of Darkness – a space-based weapons platform from which the Western world imposes a lethal anti-AI paradigm.
- In The Creator, the narrative doesn’t flow according to standard Western storytelling. In fact, it’s closer to other anime stories like ‘Princess Mononoke,’ where the big blocks of story bounce around (Leper Colony gunsmiths, a prince of an exiled tribe, and semi-sentient boars, anyone?) and it’s up to YOU the audience to connect them. Edwards takes his audience seriously and lets them deal with big emotions (sacrifice, loss, redemption) – that’s an act of trust few other mainstream scifi movies have done in the past five years. No ‘Iron Giant’ syndrome where a lost character gets MacGuffin’ed back into existence.
- Minor point, but you’ll be glad to know that Gareth Edwards took pains to keep the sound mix in reasonable control – no accusations of ‘blasting sound with whispered dialogue’ to be had in The Creator.
I find myself returning to different scenes and wanting to re-watch the movie again – the story has staying power. There’s a scene where Ken Watanabe directly challenges the Anti-AI sentiment that created the war they’re currently fighting. ‘Do you know what would happen if we won? Nothing. We would simply go on living in peace.’ In a world where people are poisonously polarized, The Creator is sorely-needed morality tale on the lethal dangers of tribalism, information bubbles and group think. We need stories that champion the angels of our better nature and The Creator is one of them.
In the past few years, I’ve cautioned that the sci-fi community’s ‘purity tests’ of new science fiction will eventually come back around. That moment appears to be here, since The Creator unabashedly eschews the scifi communities opinion. This is a great movie, whether you like it or not. A few years ago, the movie Passengers – an original scifi story – was drowned at the box office by purity tests. The Creator seems to have learned from the mistakes of the past and doesn’t concern itself with pleasing every single person in the movie-going universe.
In fact, let’s do a little ‘hater therapy’ now. I get it – you think the movie isn’t what it should be – what should have The Creator done differently? Are you a filmmaker? Do you know how to get original science fiction stories produced into films? Let’s make it easier: what’s an original scifi movie that’s done a better job in the past five years? By all means, let’s hear about it – I welcome every opportunity to improve our genre.
Wrapping up – I make this honest, if not impassioned plea – please support this movie. The Creator isn’t a perfect movie, but we can’t afford to wait for perfection in a world that’s constantly selling us mediocrity. The Creator is scifi that’s so much more – if we want it to be – this can be the beginning of a golden age of original science fiction.
That’s why I’m writing all this. It’s not about marketing or influence – we want to champion good, original science fiction when we see it. Even if it’s not perfect – Hollywood responds to butts in seats. This is an opportunity for us to say ‘more, please!’ That’s the only way we’ll get to see more of it. Will it find its audience in the rest of the Western world, or become an overseas-market darling? Time will tell.