Reviewing AI’s starring role in cinema

Movies provide a preview of the future possibilities of AI and its impact on our existence, forcing us to evaluate our relationship with technology.
Johan Steyn
By Johan Steyn, Founder,
Johannesburg, 27 Oct 2023
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Artificial intelligence (AI) has always sparked storytellers' imaginations, bringing them into new, imaginative worlds. Movies, as a strong storytelling medium, provide us a peek into the future possibilities of AI and the impacts it might have on existence.

Earlier films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Terminator” depicted AI and robots as entities that develop self-awareness and, consequently, a desire to overthrow or harm their human creators.

HAL 9000, the intelligent computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, turning against its astronauts, and the cyborg assassins of “The Terminator” illustrated a common fear of loss of control, mirroring societal apprehensions regarding unchecked technological advancement.

As the narrative progressed, the 2010s witnessed a shift towards exploring AI’s emotional and moral capabilities. In “Her”, the protagonist falls in love with an AI operating system, Samantha. Here, AI is portrayed not as a threat, but as a being capable of forming emotional bonds and providing companionship.

Similarly, “Ex Machina” explores a complex narrative where AI Ava expresses emotions and desires, blurring the lines between machine and human, raising questions about ethics, empathy and the rights of sentient beings.

AI promises to revolutionise the very fabric of movie-making, blending creativity with algorithmic precision to sculpt narratives that resonate universally.

Some films utilise AI to mirror and critique human behaviour and societal norms. “WALL-E” presents a stark contrast between the diligent robot protagonist and the languid humans, dependent on technology for their every need. Here, AI is the hero, embodying traits of diligence and kindness, while humans reflect greed and apathy.

Such films pose potent questions about environmentalism, consumerism and our relationship with technology.

Other films like “Chappie” and “Big Hero 6” explore the co-evolution of humans and AI. Chappie, an autonomous robot, learns and grows, embodying human-like curiosity and fear.

Meanwhile, in “Big Hero 6”, Baymax, a healthcare companion robot, emphasises the potential of AI in providing care and enhancing human life without necessarily posing a threat. These films shed light on the possibilities and positives of a future shared with intelligent machines.

AI's representations in “The Creator”

The most recent movie focusing on AI – “The Creator” (released in SA on 6 October 2023) − shines as a modern film exploring the deep connection between people and machine intelligence.

Directed by Gareth Edwards and featuring well-known actors John David Washington and Gemma Chan, it is a masterful film. The story takes place in a future where a war between humans and AI-powered robots is ongoing. The main character, a former soldier named Joshua, goes on a mission to destroy the secretive Creator − the designer of a smart AI that could end the war, possibly at the expense of human life.

“The Creator” carefully explores the philosophical and ethical sides of AI, going beyond the usual good-vs-evil story. It looks into the discussion about AI's consciousness and humanity's moral and existential questions in creating beings of equal or greater intelligence. This detailed portrayal encourages viewers to think about modern AI discussions, comparing the promises and dangers of AI.

The film reflects real-world conversations about how AI fits into society. With a captivating story, it makes the theoretical discussions about the ethical, existential and societal impacts of AI feel real. It serves as a spark for important discussions about the nature of AI, its potential effects on society, and the ethical responsibilities involved in creating and using it.

“The Creator” is not just a movie story; it's a powerful initiator of conversation, a social critique, and a philosophical exploration contained within a visual feast. It plays a significant role in the ongoing story of AI in cinema, prompting viewers to think about the future of human-AI relationships.

As “The Creator” reveals the complex world of AI, it invites us all to think about the path humanity imagines as it steps into a world of limitless technological progress with AI. Through its story details and the wider conversation it encourages, “The Creator” stands out as a key work in the cinematic AI story, reflecting the complicated, constantly changing relationship between humanity and technology.

The future of movie-making

AI promises to revolutionise the very fabric of movie-making, blending creativity with algorithmic precision to sculpt narratives that resonate universally. This not only makes the story more sophisticated but also highlights the possible partnership between AI and human creativity, showing a world of opportunities beyond the usual fearful story.

Scriptwriting, often a sanctum of human creativity, is witnessing the ingress of AI tools, capable of analysing patterns in successful scripts and suggesting enhancements. On the set, AI-driven robots and drones facilitate precise camera angles, while also ensuring safety and reducing manual labour. AI is gradually stepping into the domain of visual effects, enabling filmmakers to weave richer, more immersive visual tapestries with reduced costs and time.

In post-production, AI accelerates editing processes, sifting through hours of footage to select optimal shots, and even adjusting soundscapes to enhance emotional depth. It aids in crafting tailor-made promotional content, ensuring movies reach their apt audiences efficiently.

Amidst the digital wizardry emerges a critical dialogue about maintaining the delicate equilibrium between technological intervention and preserving the intrinsic human touch in storytelling.

As AI moulds the future cinematic landscape, the challenge will be to harness its potential while ensuring stories retain their authentic emotional core, perpetuating the timeless magic of cinema.