“A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view…” Aladdin may have been talking about his magic carpet ride, but those lyrics ring truer than ever with the emergence of location-based Virtual Reality (VR). Previously, we’ve heard much about VR for gaming, but it is also gaining popularity in education, real estate and film, as well as many other sectors.
Despite the world’s first VR cinema opening in Amsterdam last year, cinema-based VR has been a long overdue promise that has so far largely undelivered. This year, however, with the release of IMAX VR in Los Angeles, where you can explore the world of films like Star Wars and John Wick, Hollywood is finally starting to explore this huge and unique potential to captivate individuals. Marvel has confirmed ventures into the VR market – the anticipated Justice League and Aquaman movies will get virtual reality treatment from IMAX, giving viewers a fully immersive experience.
Initial plans are to fit dedicated cinemas with around 12 pods, which viewers will go into to have a short VR experience for a movie they’ve just seen. For example, after the latest Star Wars movie is released, viewers will be able to explore the Death Star in all its glory.
But what about a full motion-picture VR experience? If it ever happens, will viewers want it? For many, it will be a case of Narrative vs Experience. Think about it, would you watch a virtual reality Taken? Me, I wouldn’t venture further than Liam Neeson’s character, as turning away from him would lose the narrative and make it pretty underwhelming. A Harry Potter VR experience, on the other hand, could show viewers the entire world where they could practice spells and explore Hogwarts, giving them extra content they can’t get with a standard 2D film.
VR has the potential to be amazing and even teach us something. At Sundance Film Festival, viewers in Utah were brought onto the streets of Syria in a journalistic way of showing the audience news that an article or video never could.
VR is still getting used to being the new kid on the block. Right now, a lot is being promised but Hollywood understandably needs to know its viewers will want to pay for extra content. The creativity, the ideas and financial backing are all there, and eventually a movie that we seem to live through will appear and take us by storm – I am confident of that. Gaming VR is so popular as it allows players to experience a story at the same time as their peers, and Hollywood can capture this success – it just needs to create an immersive wild head trip that doesn’t lose the narrative or leave the audience confused at where to look.
Who knows, maybe a VR headset will be as iconic to the 2020s as the tape recorder was to the 1980s?