by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
If you’re old enough to remember when MIT had a virtual glove and Jaron Lanier threw together a little company called VPL, you’re probably ahead of the game. Suffice it to say, while READY PLAYER ONE (RP1) is the first big bang BO Hollywood VR blockbuster attempt, the weird road to virtual reality headsets and handsets began somewhere in the mid-80’s. Or you could peg Thomas Zimmerman in 1982 with a ‘wired glove’ patent which leads to Lanier’s freakish hand-contraption into a second non-sensory world we now take for granted as Virtual Reality. Zimmerman worked at ATARI with Lanier, and you can throw in NASA, USC, as well as MIT as the early VR hotspots for R&D. Basically a bunch of super-smart people were reaching around in the blind dark looking for applications for remote handling of non-existence things to simulate remote handling of existent things on space ventures and in the gaming world. “Controllers” is the catch-phrase that knits together this whole VR gambit. (Your 101 on VR follows below.)
This has nothing to do with the Ernest Cline book “Ready Player One,” adapted by Cline and Zak Penn, now directed by “cinematic game-changer” Steven Spielberg, a/k/a the most money-making human ever to have topped the Hollywood Food Chain. But, in order to get a grasp of why RP1 is so important, the backgrounder you’re about to get in two seconds is key.
For instance, as of May 2017, Google, a/k/a Alphabet, bought a little company called Owlchemy which is arguably the most successful company in VR *gaming* history, which came to life in 2010 on $5 million in start-up bucks from some huge name players: Qualcomm Ventures, HTC, Colopl VR Fund, The Venture Reality Fund and Capital Factory,
If you’re secretly saying, ‘hey, I just want to hear about the new movie’ to be unleashed from Warner Bros in March 2018, hold the smartphone a sec before you scroll. Google bought Owlchemy means VR is here, means RP1 is also product placement, means you’ll be wearing the equivalent of a thing as heavy as a lead-lined scuba face mask soon. Just wait, because HTC VIVE, HTC is a smartphone-maker, is the VR engine driving this project.
So, while there was major hoopla on July 22 when the RP1 footage was teased at Comic-Con in San Diego, wow, that’s just the tip of the sales and marketing iceberg coming to a Titanic wallet near you. This technology is no where near cheap yet, in fact a backpack for part of a system can cost $1999, almost two grand not counting all the ancillary items needed.
A good question, one handled by venerable The Guardian newspaper in the UK at the time of Cannes Film Festival in spring 2016, is: why would Spielberg sully his pristine worldview that movies are a stand-alone art form by mucking up the concept with VR? An astute reporter from Cannes covered Spielberg in the Guardian as first saying VR is “dangerous” to movie audiences because it shifts focus from the director’s control.
Yet now the Hollywood Legend who raised us on JAWS, ET, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, almost so familiar we can call him Uncle Spielberg, has cratered to the VR momentum? By getting onboard with READY PLAYER ONE and helming the book-adapt as a movie? But also a “VR Activities & Experiences” tie-in with HTC VIVE?
Obviously our biggest money-grosser of all time and all tentpoles has found a loophole in the VR world that allows him (Spielberg) to maintain creative control — and that would be? Control the whole tie-in experience with HTC VIVE and Warner Bros, of course.
RP1 leads are Olivia Cooke, Tye Sheridan, T. J. Miller, and Ben Mendelsohn. Nobody too famous, apart from Spielberg’s current favorite actor Oscar-winner Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg, are leads because this is about teaching us what VR is, how it can be integrated into society as an accepted activity like going to the movies, and there’s that darn headgear to learn. Here is where it actually gets fun, though.
Tomorrow’s Tom Sawyer, Or Spielberg Offers a New Shark in READY PLAYER ONE?
So the players in the VR hardware field are interesting. Oculus Rift, the Facebook entry is thought by some as reigning supreme because it is light and easy to wear; there’s PS (PlayStation) VR, but HTC VIVE has gone so wireless you can now walk around and “lunge” and dip and flip your lid without cramping the works. (Usually VR takes up about a six-foot by five-foot playing space.) But wait, there’s more.
Google or shadow overlord company Alphabet (sorry Google, hate the Alpha-name) has introduced a concept VR project happily named “Daydream” whereby they plan to plant your Pixel phone, which they make, onto a headset for instant VR readiness. The Pixel, Samsung phone, also Motorola and others will be snap-in ready when they get this show on the road. “Experience Daydream standalone headsets built with our partners HTC VIVE, a leader in VR, and Lenovo, a leader in mobile & computing innovation,” Alphabet engineers coo, as if life itself has just taken a backseat to the future of digital emptiness dressed for a party. Digression, true, but RP1 is on deck as the thought leader dressed as a Hollywood blockbuster which crosses the psychological Maginot Line for movies.
Okay, enough about that, RP1 stars Olivia Cooke, Tye Sheridan, J. T. Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg as mentioned. It’s a narrative-heavy, feel-good quasi coming-of-age story set in an overcrowded dystopia where everyone escapes into a digital facsimile mysteriously called The Oasis. Ernest Cline really had his game on when writing this book, as it seems to have been shiny enough to hook Spielberg back into the director’s chair in a direction he had been so reluctant to venture. Warner Bros is set to release it March, 2018.
Here’s a Second Look, Since It Debuted at Comic-Con
Best Boilerplate in the History of Boilerplate from HTC VIVE
“The virtual reality world within Ready Player One is extremely advanced, sophisticated and engaging, and with Vive, we chose the best system to represent the future of VR. Vive is the perfect partner to bring that to life and also has the broadest reach to global markets for the use of VR in home, mobile and offline channels,” said Blair Rich, President, Worldwide Marketing, Warner Bros. Pictures. “We’re delighted that HTC Vive will be partnering with Ready Player One and very excited to work with them leading up the movie’s release in Spring 2018.”
“Ready Player One is one of the most anticipated movies in the world, and has tremendous potential to engage and entertain the worldwide market, showcasing the transformative nature of VR, and what it can and will be,” said Rikard Steiber, President, Viveport. “Vive is delivering on the promise of VR and continues to be the most advanced and immersive VR experience available to consumers, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Warner Bros. to bring these experiences to consumers, on all platforms, around the globe.”
411 on Ready Player One
Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) directed Ready Player One, starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn and T.J. Miller, with Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance. Zak Penn and Ernest Cline wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Cline. The film is produced by Spielberg, Donald De Line, Dan Farah and Kristie Macosko Krieger, with Adam Somner, Daniel Lupi, Chris DeFaria and Bruce Berman serving as executive producers. Ready Player One is a presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and Amblin Partners, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures. An Amblin Production, A De Line Pictures Production, A Steven Spielberg Film, Ready Player One will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.
BONUS POINTS: Immerse Yourself in the Coming VR Revolution, Your Absolutely FREE 101
Click archive here from MIT Tech Review to here to http://www.jaronlanier.com. Skip over to “VR’s Long Weird History” from Polygon. Next read up on Alpha-threat, oops, Alphabet’s possible dominance of the VR world with this from TechCrunch.
Then on to DayDream where platforms include HTC Vive, PS VR and Oculus Rift. Jump to phone-ready VR, as in snap the smartphone into a headset, in other words… look for your model here. And Ernest Cline’s book can be found here.
Warner Bros Spins the Prose on RP1
This is how Warner Bros is positioning RP1: “From cinematic game changer Steven Spielberg comes Ernest Cline’s holy grail of pop culture. Ready Player One” – In Theaters March 30, 2018.
Seems like a lot of extra frosting on the tagline with that Holy Grail thing, ps very Monty Python unintended, but everyone has high hopes Uncle Spielberg leads Hollywood into a non-oppostional and relatively seamless paradigm-shifted, digital-embracing, techno-hip future. [Editor’s Note: Hyphen police have been notified…]
READY PLAYER ONE can be found here.
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