Most cinematic VR experiences that I have enjoyed are for promo VR experiences for The Avengers and The Strain. Both contain amazing visuals, impressive sound effects, and overall great entertainment. Yet, both experiences stories are as memorable as Pirates of the Caribbean. As memorable as Pirates of the Caribbean the ride at The Magic Kingdom; not as in the movie franchise based on the ride.
Most cinematic VR experiences contain storylines that resemble a ride at Disney World more than a resemble a feature film. A great ride at Disney World is judged by
- the speed and motions of the ride
- the visual
- the sounds and music
Rarely, do we remember the story behind the ride. I enjoyed the ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, much more than the films based on the ride. Yet, I do remember characters like Jack Sparrow from the movie more than the characters from the ride. The characters from the ride seem to be more like narrators that are desperately trying to make the audience part of the story. As opposed to in a real movie where we observe the characters.
Almost all VR filmmakers I have met want to create an experience for the viewer. Whether it be an experience that makes one jump out of fear (example: Paranormal Activity VR Game) or makes one concerned about a world issue (example: RYOT style documentary). Yet, it seems almost impossible to have a great story when a filmmaker prioritizes experience before story. Kind of like being impossible to make a great movie when box-office receipts are prioritized before making a quality film.
For a VR film to feel more truly cinematic the story cannot make the headset wearer a central character of the story. There must be a way to immerse the headset wearer in a way where he/she is observing the story and not as central character in the story. I feel a lot of VR filmmakers can learn from the Oscar-winning movie, Birdman.
Besides winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015, Birdman lack strong visual effects, had no CGI, and had no fancy sound effects. The film contained almost no background music and most of the sound effects were through drum beats by characters actually playing drums in the film. The film appears as if it was made in one shot. The camera moves in motion similar to the speed at which a person walks. The story is explained through listening to the conversations between the characters as opposed to listening to a narrator.
By observing everything with natural sound effects and being filmed in one shot it created a new level of immersion for me I have never experienced within a film. I am very eager to see this film inside a VR headset. Great movies do not try to put the movie goer inside the story. They aim to create a vicarious experience where movie goers can relate to the main characters on an emotional level. Whether it be through laughter, crying, or curiosity about how the story will end. As opposed to “wow, that is so cool”, and curiosity of the fancy visuals within the virtual environment.