At Universal City Walk in Los Angeles, a group of movie goers wait with excitement to be loaded up in what looks like a glorified convention booth and theater seat combo. Comfortable red chairs sit on different levels, surrounded by metal rigging and a sign advertising the new Christopher Nolan film Interstellar. Three people at a time sit with the Oculus Development Kit apparatus strapped to their faces, completed with a set of noise cancelling headphones.
Oculus is a company founded by Palmer Lucky and located in Irvine, CA. Known for their virtual reality system known as the Oculus Rift, they first made their name with wearable 3-D stereoscopic headpieces that allowed gamers to feel like they were actually part of the game with a 360 Degree experience. Last year’s Game of Thrones experience was released to wide acclaim. This year, Oculus looked to the stars with Nolan’s new film, Interstellar. It took about 20 people to painstakingly recreate the ship ‘The Endurance’ from Interstellar for this experience. Partnering with AMC and Interstellar, Oculus began touring the United States with the Interstellar Experience to show movie goers what the future of movies just might be.
Stepping forward, I am greeted by a smiling young woman who encourages me to sit down in the chair and get comfortable. She places the rectangular face mask over my eyes and encourages me to adjust the straps that fit over my head. Even as I move my head to adjust, I see the items on the screen before me move as my head moves. She places the headphones over my ears and we are off. Though the experience itself is only a few minutes, it is hard not to get lost in the space ship Endurance. Like an astronaut traveling through space, the experience allows the viewer to turn their head in all directions and see not only just what is in front of them, but what is to the side and behind as well. This is a far cry from the video game experiences of the early 1990’s. The audio indicates that gravity will be removed, and as your seat drops for a few moments it is hard not to let your brain feel tricked into weightlessness. I find myself reaching forward to grab a pen that isn’t there and more than once I reach for the control panel. The feeling is incredible and I sigh sadly when I have to exit the experience and allow someone else to take my seat. It is possible to understand how someone could get lost using the Oculus Development Kit.
Oculus is, however, not without it’s challenges for the movie theater audience at large. For the
gentleman that accompanied me, being blind in one eye meant that he had to turn his head farther than most and left with a sore neck. For the a gentleman who needed glasses to see, he found himself able to set them aside for a moment and enjoy the experience. If you have motion sickness or difficulty moving you head, you might as well forget about it.
At $350 a pop, the Oculus Development Kit is certainly not a cheap addition to a movie theater. The cost alone to implement would require an even more expensive theater ticket. There is the concern of what would happen if the item is dropped or treated harshly, as anyone who as worked at theater knows the equipment already is.
The Oculus Interstellar Experience runs until October 27 at AMC Universal City Walk in Los Angeles. The AMC theater that has the most presold tickets for the film between now and the 7th will win a chance to have their theater upgraded to the Oculus system.
Interstellar opens in theaters everywhere November 7.