Virtual Reality: the second coming of cinema, or Hollywood’s next big headache? By Robbie Collin

A ‘screening’ of Jesus VR at the Venice Film Festival CREDIT: GETTY

Without wanting to ruin the sacred mystery, here’s how it works. Jesus VR was shot in and around the southern Italian city of Matera, which you might recognise from The Passion of the Christ, or Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew, or the new Ben-Hur movie, or almost any Biblical film with a location budget.

On set, a cluster of cameras pointing in all directions, a little like an insect’s compound eye, soak up what’s going on. Then back in the editing suite, the footage is stitched together on computers. This creates a virtual bubble of moving images you can “stand inside” by strapping on a VR headset, which is basically a pair of jeweller’s loupes pointing at a high-resolution smartphone screen.

When you turn or tilt your head, motion sensors in the smartphone calculate the direction and angle of your gaze – over your shoulder, between your legs, it doesn’t matter – and with silky seamlessness, the screen shows you whatever was there, as if you were too.

If this is the future of cinema, make the most of big screens and communal experiences while you can. Even watched in Venice’s dedicated virtual reality suite – 30 headsets and swishy white rotating chairs – VR films are a solitary experience. Nevertheless, it’s a potential gravy train Hollywood is determined not to miss. Every major studio is currently pondering two key questions: exactly what this new technology is capable of, and how they might be able to make some money from it.

The answers may come from the VR Society, a newly formed arm of a cross-studio initiative called the Advanced Imaging Society, which was originally set up to do the same thing for stereoscopic 3D, last decade’s saviour of cinema.

Next month, Paramount Pictures will host a two-day VR Society conference called VR On The Lot, where studios, video game companies, technology start-ups and researchers will share early experiments and butt heads to work out what comes next.

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