On bringing virtual reality to the movies

An AMC film theater.

The history of film is full of efforts to enhance the narrative experience. In 1960, the film Scent of Mystery featured the first use of the infamous “Smell-ovision” technology. It also was the last.

At the time, the New York Times film reviewer wrote, “As theatrical exhibitionism, it is gaudy, sprawling and full of sound. But as an attempt at a considerable motion picture it has to be classified as bunk.”

The first wave of 3D films in the 1950s had a similarly short time in the sun before being dismissed as a gimmick, and today’s revival of the format has proven controversial among critics.

Now, Oculus Rift, the virtual reality company purchased by Facebook, is pitching its technology to studios. As the TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, Matt Zoller Seitz thinks a lot about entertainment and its potential to evolve.

Seitz argues that virtual reality is incongruous with what we see a film as today, and that simply inserting the capability into film would not be useful to the audience.

“I honestly can’t see how this can enhance narrative as we know it,” he says.

In his view, the value in virtual reality for films would be in exploring the environment without the tether of the narrative.

“The point of a story is that you surrender to it,” he says, pointing out that the point of a video game or virtual reality is the perception of uninhibited exploration of the virtual world. 

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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