When a lot of us think of virtual reality, sci-fi films with implausible high tech may be the first thing that springs to mind. In this article, we’ll look at four interesting examples of films that derive their narrative from virtual reality’s unique nature.
Getting Virtually Stuck
Perhaps one of the earliest works to convey the high-tech ‘cyber reality’ we often associate with VR of the future, TRON is a Disney sci-fi film directed by Steven Lisberger.
The original film follows Kevin Flynn, a vengeful software engineer who used to work for tech conglomerate ENCOM until his colleague Ed Dillinger stole his video game creations and claimed them as his own, eventually being promoted to vice-president of the company. To prove to the world that Dillinger is nothing more than a plagiarist, Flynn attempts to hack into ENCOM’s mainframe system to gather evidence, but the Master Control Program thwarts his progress and traps him in cyberspace. With the help of TRON, an anthropomorphic security software, Flynn strives to destroy the MCP and return to the real world.TRON wasn’t exactly a box office bomb, but it didn’t make quite as much profit as Disney had hoped. Nonetheless, the futuristic visuals and virtual reality themes were groundbreaking at the time. The film also garnered a cult following. A sequel film, TRON: Legacy, launched in 2010.
The Matrix (1999)
Created by sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix is considered one of the best sci-fi films of all time and was followed up by two sequels, with a third scheduled for a release at the end of 2021. It draws from an eclectic variety of influences, from religion and psychology to Hong Kong martial arts films.
The first film centres around ‘Neo’, a computer programmer who meets a mysterious man by the name of Morpheus after what he believes to be a bad dream. Morpheus offers him two pills: a red pill to learn the truth about the much-rumoured “Matrix”, and a blue pill to live his normal life in ignorance. Opting for the red pill, he finds himself trapped in a pod. He discovers the dystopian world he lives in is one where self-aware machines rule the roost. Their human creators tried to fight back, blocking out sunlight to cut them off from their power source…but the machines’ artificial intelligence was just too advanced: they eventually imprisoned humans within a simulated reality to use their bodies as fuel.
When You Didn’t Read The Terms
Abre los ojos (1997) and Vanilla Sky (2001)
Abre los ojos (“Open Your Eyes” in English) is a 1997 Spanish film where the lines between dreaming, reality and virtual life are blurry and confusing.
The film’s main protagonist is Cesar, a 25-year-old Madridian man. When his obsessive ex-girlfriend Nuria offers him a lift but deliberately crashes the car, he is left disfigured beyond hope of repair. Since the incident, he starts experiencing some strange events. For example, he watches his girlfriend Sofia physically transform into Nuria, prompting him to murder her and get jailed for it. However, everyone else believes the girl he killed was actually Sofia…It turns out that Cesar actually signed a contract with a cryonics company while drunk, preserving his mind in a state of lucid, VR-like dreaming…In 2001, American filmmaker Cameron Crowe created an English-language adaptation of the film: Vanilla Sky. Crowe relocated the story’s setting to the US, renamed most of the characters (e.g. Cesar became ‘David’) and altered the ending, but Vanilla Sky was otherwise relatively faithful to the original.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
A sequel to the original Jumanji film, this instalment focuses around a video game adaptation of the eponymous board game.
Twenty one years after the events of the 1995 film, a group of high school students discover a discarded games console after being sent to clean the school’s basement as punishment. When they begin to play the game, they find themselves sucked inside as their chosen avatars (who are not necessarily as you may expect!). There, the group discover that the world of Jumanji has been cursed by corrupt archaeologist Russell Van Pelt, and their goal is to put an end to it by retrieving a magical jewel he had stolen. The high-schoolers also meet the avatar of a player who had been stranded in the game world since the 90s,More light-hearted in tone than its predecessors, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes a comedic approach to playing with the concept of VR gaming in its storytelling.
The greatest thing about VR in films? It’s now much more than a featured technology, VR is creating the next generation of films, media, content and digital settings. The Metaverse is coming alive thanks to VR offering inspiring amounts of opportunity to save costs, work more productively, enable human senses and ultimately create new workflows to engage and enjoy our 360, HD, VR formats in all their glory.