Every winter, film and tech magazines alike release their run downs of the best that year’s Sundance has to offer. Every time we see a list of virtual reality-based films: claims that VR will change the world of cinema as we know it. But we’re yet to see a truly successful VR film outside these experimental playgrounds.
“A VR film makes us question what makes a movie experience truly great”
The reason this is so exciting is because the territory is still being explored. A VR film makes us question what makes a movie experience truly great. For instance, you can’t have a VR film screening like you would a typical film – how would that work? And would these films simply grant us control of the camera (as an interactive trailer might) or would the project blur the line between film and game?
Technology has its place in cinema, and there’s no doubt it can sell a film. James Cameron’s Avatar sold on the premise of its technological innovation alone. But there’s a difference between Cameron’s Avatar and, say, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness (a VR experience accompanying Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s bio-pic Notes on Blindness).
Avatar promised breath-taking visuals, an experience where everyone would stare up at Cameron’s vision in awe. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness grants you control of a handful of moments designed to complement the feature film – you can navigate scenes at your own pace, choosing to look and focus on what draws our attention.
The sense of togetherness we get when watching a film – that connection with a group of friends, or even with a group of strangers in a theatre – is completely altered. Each VR experience has the potential to be entirely unique. Sharing a film might become an exchange of individual experiences – how you approached a scene might differ to your friend’s attempt. With a VR film, we aren’t brought together under a director’s vision or by a writer’s screenplay. That’s placed in our hands. We’re brought together by a desire to share stories.
The growing popularity of these films forces us to ask what happens to the director when we become our own cinematographers?