If a viewer is able to control their own cinematic narrative then being inside a VR film becomes more of an “experience’ than a film, perhaps akin to immersive theatre.
Virtual Reality (VR) is having a renaissance. It’s been around for more than twenty years, indeed visionary films like The Lawnmower Man, The Matrix, Existenze also the controversial Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ music video, introduced audiences to its sci-fi-esque possibilities, albeit, at the time, imagined.
However, for around a decade VR has been consigned to the cutting room floor until real technological and gaming advances have given filmmakers and studios the confidence to back a new and complex vein of VR, as evidenced by films like Inception, Tron and this year’s Hardcore Henry. But with excitement comes hesitation amongst filmmakers who are as capable of embracing technological advances, as they are of shunning them for more classic methods.
As with many technological entertainment advances, the gaming industry is leading the way; currently VR completely enhances the gaming experience to great effect, players want to be in control. This is of course understandable, controlling your environment or at least believing that you do so is a much more immersive experience which allows for complex decision making and the illusion of winning; it also goes to the heart of the gaming experience which is based on the idea of VR; even if you aren’t playing a strictly VR-enhanced game, the very fact that you are playing a first-person narrative experience allows you to ‘feel’ as if you are on the edge of VR.
In contrast, VR in film can seem restrictive; immersing yourself into a cinematic world seems enticing but actually controlling your own narrative clearly detracts from the director’s vision or means that his vision must be spread across many possible pathways and narrative options. If a viewer is able to control their own cinematic narrative then being inside a VR film becomes more of an ‘experience’ than a film, perhaps akin to immersive theatre.