Is virtual reality's first scripted dramatic series really making the best use of its technology?

October 6, 2016 by Kris Ligman

Edge of Tomorrow and Bourne Identity director Doug Liman wants to turn heads with VR series Invisible.

Virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR are premised mainly on offering interactive experiences, even if we don't call them games per se. They can be anything from sci-fi shooters to microgravity sims to a tour of Chernobyl, but one series is aiming to add dramatic storytelling to the list: a shot-for-VR serial called Invisible.

Directed by Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Bourne Identity), Invisible is an opportunity to do some, if you'll forgive the technical term, highly experimental shit. Using 360° cameras to capture the entire horizontal plane of a scene, this six-episode scripted drama follows the reclusive Ashland family, some of whom  (as the title implies) have the power to turn invisible. You can expect blood, death, and a generous few scares, and because the field of view follows your own, the whole thing feels appropriately creepy and voyeuristic. One shot in the reveal trailer has you looking up from a freshly-dug grave.

In short, there's a lot of potential here, even if it doesn't catch on in the mainstream. The history of cinema is full of technologies which never quite took off, from Cinerama's ultra wide and curved projection screens to all the countless early experiments with synchronous sound, and even if fictional dramas for VR go the same route, it feels kind of special, getting to watch the first fledgling efforts of something that might one day end up in a film student's textbook.

That said, Invisible's trailer is... not great. Though the scenes are shot in 360°, and you can pan around in it even without the benefit of a VR headset, most of the action stays in the same default view you start in. Panning around left or right mostly just rewards you with shots of walls or out-of-focus background characters. We do get a few additional glimpses of the titular invisible characters everyone else is screaming at, but that's about it.

Mind, directing the viewer's gaze is a persistent problem in 3D movies, and those issues only get multiplied a thousandfold when the viewer can be looking literally anywhere at a given moment, but the footage here doesn't even seem to make an attempt to make use of the extra space. Why go to the trouble of shooting on sets that look good from any angle -- well lit; no crew or equipment in the shot -- and then stick pretty much all the action in one corner?

It's possible that Invisible will make better use of its format than what we're seeing here, but if that's so, why not showcase more of that in the trailer?

Invisible is expected to debut "soon" on Samsung's Milk VR platform and via JauntVR's iOS and Android app.

(h/t Wired.)