One of the biggest movies of 2015 may be one of the best things you will see at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – sort of. Featured in the wide-ranging, virtual reality-focused 1oth anniversary of the New Frontier sidebar, The Martian VR Experience takes you to the dangerous surface of the Red Planet and puts you way out there in outer space. But, honestly as skeptical and hype-weary as I was inclined to be, the real magic is how completely immersive it is in taking you inside the Ridley Scott-directed Oscar-nominated pic in what is a truly totally crafted, 360-degree experience.
“Ridley was involved at the very beginning with the development of the ideas,” Fox’s Features Post Production prez Ted Gagliano told me today at the New Frontiers space on Main Street. The development of The Marian VR Experience occurred on a parallel path to the postproduction of the movie itself, with elements of both informing each other. “He was also there for each iteration of the cut, going ‘Hmm, you’re missing a moment here’ or other insights.”
Scott is credited as producer on the approximately 40-minute The Martian VR Experience, which is directed by Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of Avatar and Alice In Wonderland and the director of last year’s Maleficent. Stromberg is also the founder of the Virtual Reality Company, which partnered with 20th Century Fox, Fox Innovation Lab and RSA Films on the project, which had its official debut at CES earlier this month. With Disney, WB and other studios getting their VR feet wet, this is actually the second big-screen VR effort from Fox, which had a shorter Wild experience last year. They also won an Emmy for a VR Sleepy Hollow experience.
Of course, many feel VR could end up being just another gimmicky fad: amusing today, annoying tomorrow. Not so, says the Fox gang.
“The real reason that VR is going to be successful now is what’s in your hand right now,” Fox’s in-house Futurist Ted Schilowitz said this morning. “We are now at the stage where we are ready to take the next step and go beyond this tiny screen and do all these wonderful interactive things but take it to a huge scope.” And that could be coming soon — while price has yet to be set, The Martian VR Experience will debut on Oculus, HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR later this year.
“Everybody thinks it has to do with technology getting cheaper and more accessible but that’s just a small part of what’s going to make VR a success,” Schilowitz added, motioning around the room full of VR artists and installations. “What’s going to make it a success is that you have a lot of really talented people starting to get involved in this new medium of storytelling.”
“Unlike previous iterations of VR, there are huge players involved in this,” said David Greenbaum, Innovation Lab director and Fox Searchlight EVP, in reference to Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus in 2014. Even with the big investments being made in VR, Greenbaum sees the future of VR content coming in some ways out of Sundance. “We look at New Frontier in particular as next generation of storytellers that the Fox Innovation lab want to support,” he said today.
“We look at the entire landscape both in terms of movies that we have coming down the pipeline as well as what’s happening in the virtual reality and augmented reality space,” Greenbaum added of future projects Fox has, some of which involved New Frontier alum. “The goal is to always be at the forefront of where the technology is going.”
From what I experienced, The Martian VR Experience is a great lift-off for that.