TECH GURU TSHAKA ARMSTRONG OFFERS A PREVIEW OF IMAX’S UPCOMING VIRTUAL REALITY CENTERS AND WHAT THEY MIGHT MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF CINEMA.
Come, travel with me to the future. Not a distant future, but one right within our grasp — just a few months away, in fact. A future that will expand the boundaries of sight, sound, and the shared cinematic experience.
Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars: A New Hope? I do. I remember the famous trench run sequence when Luke and the Red Squadron swoop down on the Death Star amidst a sea of laser cannon fire. They’re tasked with flying the length of a service trench on the Death Star’s surface until they come to a narrow exhaust port they must destroy with two torpedoes… assuming they live long enough to get there. Without the use of virtual reality, George Lucas created a scene that was tense, immersive, and memorable. But what if a technology arose that allowed you to have your senses cut off from the world you know, letting you physically feel like you were on that run with Luke and his fellow Rebel pilots?
Do you remember the first time you watched When Harry Met Sally? Look back on the way you felt during that famous diner scene, when Meg Ryan faked an orgasm at the table with Billy Crystal. Writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner completely engrossed the viewer, pulling audiences into the embarrassment and absurdity of it all. But what if you could experience that moment like you were at a table right next to Ryan and Crystal?
The Exorcist scared people into the hospital. Literally. When it opened, there were actually theaters where moviegoers were taken out via ambulance because it was too much to handle. My daughter is a horror movie buff, but even with all of today’s tech, most of the movies she sees don’t shake her like that. I bet putting her — and her fellow jaded young viewers — in the midst of well-told ghost stories that immerse their senses could mean the rebirth of that level of visceral fear and sensory shock that the original Exorcist elicited.
Long before seeing Star Trek’s Holodeck, I was struck by Professor Charles Xavier’s Danger Room in the Uncanny X-Men comic books. The thought that I could be immersed in a virtual reality training room with seemingly real threats and obstacles was titillating. (It’s probably the reason why I got into paintball so heavily at one point.) And while we’re far away from me being able to test my mettle against Sentinels, or seeing if I can pilot the Millennium Falcon through the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, three companies recently announced something signifying a great step in that direction for the masses: Taiwanese tech manufacturer Acer, Swedish developer Starbreeze Studios, and IMAX have collaborated to bring moviegoers six IMAX virtual reality centers, with the first opening up in my hometown of Los Angeles. To borrow from an internet meme, I am excite!