Movies & TV

Virtual reality hits cinemas in Spielberg’s latest

Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke in a scene from Spielberg's "Ready Player One." Photo Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

LOS ANGELES: In Steven Spielberg’s new movie “Ready Player One,” disgruntled citizens in the year 2045 don virtual reality headsets to enter a digital universe where they can dance at hot clubs or race fancy cars through the streets of New York. Back in the real world in 2018, VR enthusiasts hope the fast-paced action movie heading to worldwide theaters this week will spark new interest in the technology and help boost what is now a niche market.

Based on a novel by Ernest Cline, “Ready Player One” features a group of teenagers who spend their days in VR goggles, suits and gloves to maneuver their avatars through a computerized wonderland called The Oasis. It’s filled with infinite possibilities for working, learning and socializing.

“You have a choice to spend all your time there or make connections in the real world with real people, real eye contact,” Spielberg told Reuters in an interview. “In a way, our story is a cautionary tale as well as a great adventure.”

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) visits The Oasis to escape his miserable life in an Ohio trailer park.

As his refuge comes under threat, Watts joins other avatars in a contest that could give them the power to protect the virtual world.

Existing VR capabilities are far more limited than what is portrayed in the film. For entertainment, VR’s most prevalent use is in gaming.

Spielberg was among VR’s early adopters. He had been toying with a headset at home before he made “Ready Player One” and he incorporated the technology behind the scenes. To appear in The Oasis, the actors had to perform in a nearly empty white room wearing motion-capture outfits so their movements could be transferred to digitally created sets. Spielberg had The Oasis sets rebuilt in VR.

“Everybody had a chance to put on the headsets, and suddenly, wow, there you are in the set itself,” he said. “It gave a kind of orientation so they weren’t just acting in the abstract.”

The film is shown on a traditional movie screen, no headset required.

“Ready Player One” is filled with special effects and backed by an upbeat 1980s rock soundtrack, which VR supporters hope will thrill audiences and pique their curiosity.

Several related VR experiences, such as a trip inside the movie’s dance club, will be offered on the HTC Vive headset through an official partnership with the film.

Actress Lena Waithe, who plays an auto mechanic in The Oasis, said she enjoys VR but encouraged limits to time spent in a virtual world.

“It’s fascinating, but it can be a little dangerous if you play in it too much,” she said. “There needs to be a bit of balance. I think that’s the message we are trying to get through with the film.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2018, on page 12.

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