Can virtual reality replace traditional films?

Imagine a world where you can put on a headset and be thrown into the middle of a scene from Jurassic Park or Star Wars, walking amongst dinosaurs and Jedi.

This may be more achievable than ever. Since virtual reality video game technology started hitting the stands on major consoles, directors such as Steven Spielberg are considering adapting VR into their films.

While VR seems like the next step for cinema, many directors, professors and film critics in Fredericton say VR films will never replace the classic cinematic experience.

Stewart Donovan, Irish film professor at St. Thomas University, said incorporating VR in filmmaking does not pose any threat to cinema as we know it. Donovan said virtual reality is its own medium that can’t be compared to the medium of cinema.

“Virtual reality is more about isolationism than the interior and private self. Directors who are using VR technology are more interested in individualism than a collective experience, which I believe is closer to the video game community,” Donovan said.

While Donovan does believe VR has some entertainment value, it cannot take away the artistic value found within cinema.

“It’s so focused on high realism, where young audiences would be more focused on explosions that you can’t really get the great storytelling that is found in modern film,” said Donovan.

Nicholas Antworth, a former University New Brunswick student and aspiring filmmaker in Fredericton, agrees that virtual reality can’t achieve the level of storytelling found within non-VR films.

“It almost takes away from the art of the director,” said Antworth. “Although it sounds extremely intricate, there’s a certain magic to film: Telling a story with the eye of the director and how he wants to show the story.”

Antworth is also concerned by how basic elements found within films would translate into the VR headset.

“I don’t know how you could show the important close-ups and the important features of people with VR. The only genre I could see translating easily to VR would be horror.”

Anthony Bryan, a fourth-year student at St. Thomas and aspiring screenwriter has his own critiques of virtual reality.

Bryan drew a comparison between video games and virtual reality, saying there was little difference between a VR film and a virtual reality video game.

“You know how documentary is the meat between journalism and film, virtual reality to me seems like the meat between video games and film,” Bryan said. “I think it’s another gimmick to sell tickets. My thing with film isn’t how well I could use the technology to immerse somebody, it was how the film itself could immerse someone.”

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