Creator, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Dec 18, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
  • Bookmark and Share
Creator, The (4K UHD Review)


Gareth Edwards

Release Date(s)

2023 (December 12, 2023)


20th Century Studios (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Creator (4K UHD)



The Creator isn’t exactly a case of Gareth Edwards returning to his roots, but it is a return to his creative comfort zone, and that’s a welcome development for anyone who has followed his career ever since Monsters in 2010. Edwards was hardly the first director to make the leap directly from a low budget independent feature debut straight into the world of big budget franchise filmmaking, but he arguably had to jump farther than most. That’s because the needs of studio productions are inherently antithetical to the working methodology that he prefers. He had shot Monsters guerilla-style on location in Mexico and South America on prosumer video cameras while having his actors improvise their scenes based on a loose outline of what he wanted them to do. The shape of the final film was found in the edit, with Edwards completing everything on a laptop and even crafting the visual effects by himself. That’s not an approach that works well for major franchises like Godzilla and Star Wars (as the behind-the-scenes chaos of Rogue One demonstrated all too well). Yet his gifted eye never failed him, and there are plenty of striking visual moments in both Godzilla and Rogue One that are unlike anything else in their respective franchises. Still, Edwards did have to give up a fair amount of creative control and work within the confines of rigid structures that were set by others, so he ended up with one hand tied behind his back.

The Creator represents something of a middle ground between the two extremes of his career. It’s an original story, so he wasn’t constrained by an existing intellectual property. The scale of the production did necessitate working out a more detailed script that he co-wrote along with Chris Weitz, so everything was a bit less improvisatory than it was in Monsters. On the other hand, he was still able to recapture the unique energy of that film by shooting The Creator guerrilla-style on locations spread across Southeast Asia. He brought along relatively small crews (utilizing local talent to fill in the gaps) and acted as the primary camera operator. Like with Monsters, the visual effects ended up being layered on top of the location footage, which creates a look that’s distinct from most other modern effects-driven films. It’s adding digital elements to real backgrounds instead of adding real elements to digital backgrounds. As a result, the world of The Creator feels more tangible than the virtual world that James Cameron created for the Avatar films, and for a fraction of the cost, too: the final budget for The Creator was a relatively slim $80 million.

How everything functions in the alternate reality of The Creator isn’t as well fleshed out as what Cameron did with Pandora; Edwards is far more interested in providing texture for his story than he is in working out the pragmatic technical details. This isn’t hard science fiction by any means, but it’s not exactly space opera, either. Edwards used this science fiction milieu in order to express his ideas, but those ideas are broader and more universal than the specific context that he chose. In other words, the setting is a means to an end, not an end unto itself, and Edwards never makes the mistake of getting lost in his own world. He also doesn’t let any of it get in the way of what he wants to say, and he doesn’t subvert his own message like Cameron did in Avatar 2. There’s plenty of action in The Creator, but unlike Cameron, Edwards doesn’t take any visible pleasure from the tools of death and destruction. Violence may still a means to an end for some of his characters, but Edwards never actively endorses any of it.

While there aren’t any real surprises in the narrative for The Creator, it’s still best experienced as cold as possible. That’s not to avoid spoilers as much as it is to avoid any preconceptions regarding the story. The basic setup is that an Artificial Intelligence created by the United States government detonated a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles, killing millions of people, and the nations of the Western hemisphere have responded by banning A.I. outright. Since the nations of the East still embrace the technology, they’ve unified into a consortium called New Asia. The U.S. is searching for the mysterious architect of Eastern A.I. known only as Nirmata, and to that end has created a suborbital weapons platform called NOMAD to lead the hunt. Once again, hatred and fear has caused the U.S. to embrace any means necessary. The Creator stars John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Allison Janney, Sturgill Simpson, and newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles, but it’s best to discover the nature of their roles while actually experiencing the film for the first time.

When Edwards first conceived of his story for The Creator back in 2019, he couldn’t have foreseen that A.I. was going to be such a hot button in 2023. Yet paradoxically, The Creator isn’t a particularly topical film because it’s not really about A.I. at all, just like Monsters wasn’t really about the titular creatures. In some respects, The Creator could even be considered a spiritual sequel to Monsters despite the fact that they take place in different settings. The nominal subject matter of each film is just a metaphor for what Edwards really wants to explore. The creatures in Monsters aren’t the real monsters, and the A.I. in The Creator isn’t the actual threat to humanity. In both cases, it’s mankind that poses the biggest threat to itself. We have met the enemy, and they are us. The core issue in both films is the human proclivity to hate the Other, and to marginalize anyone (or anything) that’s openly different than we are.

In Monsters, America had built a wall along its southern border in order to keep the alien creatures at bay, and conveniently enough, the wall also prevented Mexican and South American refugees from escaping to the relative safety and security that the United States could offer. (Needless to say, Edwards was also a bit ahead of the curve when he originally planned Monsters in 2010.) In The Creator, America’s xenophobia has led it to take the fight against the Other overseas, allowing the nation to get mired into a new Vietnam War all over again. Of course, ironies abound here because this time the so-called enemy is the one who’s more technologically advanced, but America still has the superior firepower and isn’t afraid to use it. It’s never the technological tools that are the real problem, but rather the way that they’re used. When hatred and fear rule the day, they’ll always be used as a tool of oppression. It takes a real revolution to allow the oppressed to have the freedom to live as who (or what) they really are.

The Creator has been criticized for having a weak final act, and while it’s true that it does offer a pretty standard race against the clock, all of that is still just the means to an end. The real finale of The Creator isn’t the climactic battle for freedom, but rather the last shot of the film. Audaciously, Edwards opted to close his film like Chaplin did in City Lights, offering a closeup of a character reacting to what has just happened. Chaplin’s Little Tramp had put up with constant abuse in his quest to help someone who he loved, and at that last moment, his face mixes fear of rejection with a tenuous hope for the future. In The Creator, this character’s face is filled with the pain of loss, until the realization sets in regarding how much that loss has actually accomplished. The fear and sorrow of the past slowly transforms into the joy of future liberation. Edwards may not have been able to have his actors improvise every scene of The Creator like he did with Monsters, but he still trusted them enough to allow a moment like this to play out with no dialogue, relying entirely on the expressive power of the human face. It’s a perfect way to end a film that’s far more introspective than typical big budget science fiction fare.

Edwards had developed a fruitful relationship with cinematographer Greig Fraser while working on Rogue One, where Fraser had encouraged Edwards to go back to his roots by personally operating the ARRI ALEXA 65 camera for a few scenes. Fraser told American Cinematographer that “Gareth was the most efficient at blocking shots while using an actual camera, rather than a viewfinder.” Due to Fraser’s commitment to shoot Dune 2 for Denis Villeneuve and the vagaries of the pandemic, Fraser ended up hand-selecting Oren Soffer to actually make the trip to Southeast Asia for the main shoot, with Edwards as the key camera operator. They captured The Creator digitally in ProRes RAW format (at 4264 x 2408 resolution) primarily using $4,000 prosumer Sony ILME-FX3 cameras with Kowa Cine Prominar 75 mm anamorphic lenses. Some of the drone footage was captured using a DJI Mavic 2 camera, and a few shots using The Volume LED virtual backgrounds were captured on Sony PXW-FX9 cameras due to the fact that the FX3 can’t sync its refresh rates with the LED screens. An Atlas Mercury 42 mm anamorphic lens and a few Iron Glass-rehoused vintage spherical lenses were used for select shots, but Soffer estimated that 95% of the film was shot using the Kowa lenses. The overall look of the film was guided by custom LUTs (lookup tables) developed by FotoKem based on a $5 LUT that Edwards had purchased off the internet. Post-production work was completed as a 4K Digital Intermediate, framed at the relatively rare Ultra Panavision 70 and MGM Camera 65 aspect ratio of 2.76:1. The combination of the 2x squeeze Kowa lenses and the full-frame sensors on the FX3 cameras actually yielded an aspect ratio of 3.55:1, which was cropped at the sides to achieve the final 2.76:1 ratio. (The missing information was used as part of the side screens for the 270° ScreenX presentations.)

The result of all that hard digital work is an image that looks surprisingly natural and filmic. Edwards chose the LUT that served as the baseline for FotoKem’s final version because it offered a retro Seventies feel that appealed to him, and part of that involved a significant amount of artificial grain. It really does look like grain, too, and not just like a layer of noise. The image is faux-grainy enough that it might impact the overall level of detail a bit, but not necessarily in a bad way. The tiny text boxes at the perimeter of the chapter cards are still sufficiently well-resolved in order to be readable, although you may have to walk right up to the screen in order to do so. Even on a 110” screen, I still had to get up to be able to read some of it—The Creator was definitely designed to be seen on the largest screen possible, right down to the choice of fonts. The High Dynamic Range grade (in HDR10 only) doesn’t do anything to distract from the look that Edwards preferred; it primarily offers more nuances to the visual details. The highlights are a bit brighter, and the blacks are generally deep and true, although they’re perhaps a bit elevated in the way that some of the darkest nighttime shots were captured. Yet it’s all the ranges in between the two extremes where the grade really shines. Edwards has an eye for light and shadow, and the work that he did here along with Fraser and Soffer is reproduced beautifully.

Primary audio is offered in a first-rate English Dolby Atmos mix. It’s fully immersive even during the quietest moments, with plenty of environmental effects to surround the viewer. During the action scenes, the sounds of gunfire and other weaponry are energized through all channels. It’s not just random noises, because the object-based mix offers precise steering of specific effects. For example, when the first ambulatory bomb launches itself, it runs out of the center of the screen toward the left rear channel. It doesn’t just pan along the left side of the soundstage; instead, it smoothly follows a diagonal line through the middle of the room. That provides the uncanny feeling that the bomb is actually running right past the listening position. Typically for Disney releases, the overall level of the track is a little low, but notching up the volume doesn’t destroy the dynamics. The bass hasn’t been neutered, either—there’s a real kick of deep bass when the nuclear weapon explodes during the prologue, and the other explosions in the film offer plenty of heft. The score by Hans Zimmer sounds wonderful, and it’s nicely balanced with the rest of the mix. No doubt at the behest of Edwards, he channeled the ambient music style that Jon Hopkins had brought to Monsters, and it resulted in one of the best scores that he’s written in the last several years.

Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio; French (France), Spanish (Latin America), German, and Italian 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus; French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish (Spain) 5.1 DTS, and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD HR. Subtitle options include English SDH, French (France), French (Canada) Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), German, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Disney’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Creator is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, a slipcover, and a Digital code on a paper insert tucked inside. The sole extra is included on the Blu-ray only:

  • True Love: Making The Creator (HD – 55:47)

One good making-of documentary is worth its weight (and then some) in static interviews, and True Love delivers in that regard. It’s a case where quality definitely exceeds quantity. Shot and directed by Glen Milner, it’s a fascinating exploration of the unusual nature of the production, mixing interviews with a substantial quantity of behind-the-scenes footage. Gareth Edwards is joined by producers Jim Spencer and Kiri Hart; Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer; visual effects supervisors Jay Cooper, Charmaine Chan, and Ian Comley; production designer James Clyne; and actors John David Washington, Amar Chadha-Patel, Sturgill Simpson, Gemma Chan, and Allison Janney. They explain how the initial overseas shoot was done as proof-of-concept for the studio in order to demonstrate that they could make the approach work. Even ILM required some convincing in that regard, since it was so different from how they normally like to operate. Edwards says that Southeast Asia was a Disneyworld for cinematography, and in that regard, Fraser and Soffer describe how they designed the camera rigs and lighting to facilitate Edwards acting as his own operator. The final film was indeed found in the edit, with the initial assembly cut running five hours, and it became a process of whittling away what could be removed without causing the story structure to collapse. Edwards also confirms that his initial interest with The Creator was in the concept of the Other, not necessarily in A.I. as such, but current events caught up with him.

With a documentary this good, there’s really no need for anything else. Not even a commentary track, because Milner gave Edwards plenty of opportunity to express his thoughts about the story and his working methodology. It’s a great look at a great film. That statement may be a bit controversial since reactions to The Creator have been mixed, but for those who are willing to delve beneath its admittedly pretty surface, there’s a lot more going on here than may initially meet the eye. The Creator is one of the very best films of 2023, and this 4K Ultra HD presentation does it justice. Highly, highly recommended.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)