Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Jul. 30th
The other day I got to check out Oculus’ newest VR cinema short Henry. It’s about a hedgehog who loves to hug, and doesn’t have any friends. This piece isn’t about that (no, that’s this piece, over here) this is about the event that Oculus held.
What you’re seeing here are some of the images I snapped at the event space. A very posh mansion in the actual hills of Beverly Hills. The location data on said mansion was played very close to the vest, and out of respect for that I won’t even name the place. Besides, it’s not the name you need.
I mean, holy cats.
Look, it’s a reporter’s job to not be impressed by the surroundings. Indeed, the venue was there as much to be the premier party for Henry as to serve as the press preview. It might have even been a bit much. After all, the thing that VR cinema chases is a sense of presence, which can be awe inspiring when you go from a bland conference room into an enchanted forest, zombie infested hospital, or cartoon character’s den.
But when you go from a marble floored hallway adorned with Damien Hirst art?
Yeah. Maybe a slight miscalculation. I was still impressed by Henry, but it’s not every day I get to roam around a mansion that’s decked out like the bloody MOMA. If anything it might have dampened my enthusiasm for the spatial transformation of the Rift.
What’s more interesting, however, is that this is how Oculus is rolling out their VR cinema pieces. The first took its bow at Sundance, and for Henry reporters from NPR, Indiewire, and The Daily Beast were in attendance along with prominent games vloggers and VR press outfits which had flown in from abroad.
Oculus really, truly, wants us to believe that virtual reality is not only the future, but that it fits squarely into the Hollywood paradigm of glitzy premieres and garden parties.
Now I might be predisposed to believe that VR is going to be a massive new medium. Oh, who am I kidding? I so totally do. Yet at this point I—and guys and gals like me—are not the people who need convincing.
The narrative arc on commercial VR has been long, interminably so if we count the failure-to-launch history in the 1990s. Even if we don’t the tech press is used to a PR cycle that can be measured in weeks from product announcement to launch. The nature of Oculus’ crowdfunded origins put us onto a different timescale entirely. On some days it’s easy to see that the tech press has gotten jaded about VR… and how the healthy skepticism of the mainstream press could turn into boredom. (Jadedness on the part of journalists isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, ya dig?) One way to overcome jadedness? Overwhelm the senses. That’s the long-held theory, anyway. Sometimes it even actually works.
So we can expect some more glitz and glamour coming our way. Maybe even an escalation as the PR war begins in earnest between the various platforms that are due to come out in the next twelve months.
Let’s just hope that the work is allowed to speak for itself and doesn’t get swallowed up by a cacophony of sugary buzz. Because that work? It’s good, in some cases it’s great, and it would be a damn shame to see it overshadowed by its own hype machine.