Wanna know what it feels like to walk on a wire between two buildings over 100 stories off the ground?
Before I put on the VR headset and prepare to virtually walk on a wire between the Twin Towers as Philippe Petit, circa 1974, the dude operating it tells me that most of the people who attempt it take one step and then quit. I feel my stomach drop slightly -- partly because I'm now a wee bit scared of this particular VR experience, and partly because I don't want to look like a scaredy-cat in front of the huge line waiting to try this sucker out.
So I take a deep breath, throw the headset on and what followed might just be the most visceral, all-encompassing movie-related VR experience I've ever had.
But let's back up.
In case you haven't heard, virtual reality is now a thing. And it's becoming an even bigger thing with each passing week. I've written about it several times before -- as a fan of the evolving technology, I'm always on the hunt for VR setups that enhance the experience of watching a movie. While a lot of attention is being given to what the virtual reality technology will do for the gaming industry, I'm a movie guy -- I wanna know what it's gonna do for movies.
Last week we brought news of the first Netflix app in virtual reality, as well as an upcoming VR headset that's priced at only $99, becoming the most affordable and accessible one on the market to date. Meanwhile, movie studios continue to play with virtual reality when it comes to their films, creating little add-on experiences that tour at film festivals, in movie theaters and some that have their own downloadable apps for those equipped with VR headsets to play with at home.
To date I've tried VR experiences for movies like Wild (my personal favorite thus far prior to The Walk), Pacific Rim, Into the Storm, Insurgent and, most recently, The Walk.
The Walk tells the real-life story of Philippe Petit, who in the mid-1970s attempted to walk on a wire between the Twin Towers as construction on the giant buildings was wrapping up (you may already be familiar with this story via the award-winning doc Man on Wire). This was of course illegal, and Petit had to orchestrate a death-defying Ocean's 11-style caper in order to pull it off.
Although the first two-thirds of the movie are a little light on character depth and story, the final 45 minutes or so -- when Petit and his crew attempt to set up the wire and go through with the walk -- are some of the most exhilarating minutes I've ever watched in IMAX 3D. What director Robert Zemeckis accomplishes with those scenes is extraordinary, and it'll quite literally leave you breathless.
And here's where the virtual reality comes in, as the studio -- via CreateVR -- was wise enough to want to extend the experience of watching The Walk by offering audience members a chance to feel what it'd be like to take the walk for real. Or, well, virtually real.
Here's where you can still experience The Walk VR.
The setup consisted of a wire taped to the ground and a cardboard cutout that showed off various angles from the top of the Twin Towers. And while this image does not do it justice in any way, this is sort of what it's like (that's not me, by the way -- he has a lot more hair).
You put on the headset, walk out a few feet and suddenly you're on a wire on top of the Twin Towers -- and though your mind is telling you you're in a theater lobby, every other ounce of you is fully immersed in the experience -- and I was so into it, I kept putting out my arms for balance because I thought I was gonna fall off the side of a building, despite the chuckling I could hear behind me from onlookers.
With the headset on you hear Philippe Petit's voice reciting lines from this moment in the movie. You hear the sounds of New York City below -- the air, the police sirens, the distant chatter -- and when you look out in all directions you see New York -- albeit a 1970s New York -- and it's pretty magical. Scary? Without a doubt. Will your heart race? Heck yeah.
But that's the point.
And does it add to the experience of watching the movie? Yes. A thousand times... yes.
Something like this won't work for every single film that hits theaters. But movies that rely heavily on pushing your sensory boundaries, either through captivating 3D or hellish scares, definitely benefit from extending the story through virtual reality.
And if The Walk VR is any indication, the moviegoing experience is about to get real interesting from here on out.
The Walk hits limited IMAX theaters on September 30, and is everywhere on October 9.
Watch my 15-second review of the film below.