SIX FILMS ABOUT VIRTUAL REALITY SYSTEMS: FROM WORST TO BEST
There’s a school of thought that you should not take your work home with you. And, yet, after a long day creating MATERIA.ONE, we found it hard to switch off from thinking about VR. And so our thoughts recently turned to what movies were out there about VR.
Given that this technology is so cutting-edge, it’s surprising to find that it’s been a common theme in science fiction movies for the last thirty years. It’s weird to watch one of these, expecting to see a virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift or something similar, but then realising that these films predate that device by at least twenty years.
There have been too many VR movies about the subject to list all of them but here’s a smattering of a few that have stood out, even if they haven’t stood the test of time.
VIRTUOSITY 1 (1995)
This is a film that should be skipped over if you ever want to see how Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe would look like onscreen together.
It’s about a former Los Angeles lieutenant who is sprung from jail with the task of tracking down—outside of a virtual world—the amalgamated personalities of the worst, most-violent serial killers in history. That gestalt was being used within a virtual environment to help train police before it escaped.
Like The Lawnmower Man, the film has a low score on Rotten Tomatoes3—33 per cent, with an audience score of 32 per cent. And it scores just 39 out of 100 on Metacritic4.
Watch American Gangster2 instead.
THE LAWNMOWER MAN5 (1992)
To call this ‘loosely based’ on the Stephen King short story6 from Night Shift would be an understatement; the famed author sued to have his name taken off the adaptation. In fact, the original story contains no reference to a VR world or VR-type technology and the film is a combination of an unrelated script called Cyber God7 and a few elements of King’s story
The Lawnmower Man is not a good film. Not only did Stephen King hate it, but it received a critical drubbing. Rotten Tomatoes shows that The Lawnmower Man has a 34 per cent rating on Tomatometer, with an audience score of 31 per cent. The film site Metacritic gives it a score of 42 out of 100.
A modest financial hit, the film spawned a sequel called Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace9—and two video games—The Lawnmower Man and Cyberwar. While the sequel’s reviews were terrible—11 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes—, the games fared slightly better, although they are not remembered fondly.
Made by Canadian film great David Cronenberg, eXistenZ11 is a film that imagines the conflict between the reality experience and a VR system as one of opposing sides that are prone to violence.
The film begins with game designer Allegra Geller demonstrating her new VR game, the eXistenZ of the title. After a violent attack during the demonstration, Geller finds herself on the run. The film plays with ideas of what is real and what isn’t, with an ending12 that strongly prefigures that of Inception13 over a decade later.
It’s a good-but-not-great film, which its creators felt was overshadowed the same year by The Matrix. But the critical consensus wasn’t too shabby—74 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes14, with an audience score of 69 per cent, and 68 out of 100 on Metacritic15.
READY PLAYER ONE16 (2018)
Steven Spielberg’s epic sci-fi blockbuster about a virtual environment came out last year but its mind was firmly in the past, with references through the reality systems to games and popular culture of the 1980s. Based on the bestselling novel by Ernest Cline17, the movie sees protagonist Wade Watts strapping on a VR headset and entering a computer-generated world known as OASIS to find an Easter egg left there by its deceased creator.
Reviews for Ready Player One18 were good, but lower than expected for a film from the director of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Rotten Tomatoes scores were 72 per cent on the Tomatometer and an audience score of 77 per cent.
THE MATRIX19,20,21 (1999)
A pop-culture phenomenon that spawned two sequels, a series of animated films, graphic novels, three computer games, and a proposed reboot, The Matrix is often hailed as one of the most-influential action films of all time.
After a blazing start, The Matrix phenomenon petered out quickly. The sequels were relative disappointments and the games Enter the Matrix and The Matrix Online were panned. A collected series of animated films, The Animatrix22, did score better reviews, but the poor performance of the third film put the kibosh on any hope of continuing the franchise. Still, there’s always the reboot23.
The first film, though, has an 88 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes24, with an audience score of 85 per cent. The reviews on Metacritic25, though, were more critical, with the film currently having a score of 73 out of 100. However, modern takes on The Matrix have found it to be badly dated26.
UNCANNY VALLEY (2015)
Undoubtedly, the best film about VR is an Argentine short from 2015 called Uncanny Valley. It would be lazy to go over the plot of this less-than-nine-minutes-long film so why not go and watch it now on YouTube? Trust us—it’s awesome!
Is there anything we’ve left off? There’s a few we didn’t mention--Strange Days, The Thirteenth Floor, Vanilla Sky. Well, come and talk about them in the forum!
1 Virtuosity, The Internet Movie Database
2 American Gangster trailer, YouTube
3 Virtuosity, Rotten Tomatoes
4 Virtuosity, Metacritic
5 The Lawnmower Man, The Internet Movie Database
6 The Lawnmower Man, Wikipedia
7 Cyber God - The Making of The Lawnmower Man
8 The Lawnmower Man, Rotten Tomatoes
9 Lawnmower Man II: Beyond Cyberspace, Rotten Tomatoes
10 eXistenZ, The Internet Movie Database
11 eXistenZ trailer, YouTube
12 Ending of eXistenZ, YouTube
13 Ending of Inception, YouTube
14 eXistenZ, Rotten Tomatoes
15 eXistenZ, Metacritic
16 Ready Player One, The Internet Movie Database
17 Official homepage of Ernest Cline
18 Ready Player One, Rotten Tomatoes
19 The Matrix, The Internet Movie Database
20 The Matrix Reloaded, The Internet Movie Database
21 The Matrix Revolutions, The Internet Movie Database
22 The Animatrix, Wikipedia
23 ‘The Matrix Rebooted: 10 Rumors About The New Movie That May Be True (And 10 That Are Glitches’, CBR)
24 The Matrix, Rotten Tomatoes
25 The Matrix, Metacritic
26 ‘The Matrix’s male power fantasy has dated badly’, BBC