From Jurassic Park to Tron, Sci-fi writers, directors and audiences love the escapism that immersive experiences have to offer. In this article I’m going to explore the standard tropes of these movies and think about what makes them so engaging.
The standard arc
Instead of being catapulted immediately into a foreign world, these stories usually begin in a world very much like our own. The main character, most often a teenage or single man, will be trying to escape from their everyday life. Maybe they have a terrible job, maybe they are being bullied, maybe they are offer a life beyond their wildest dreams, but what ever the reason once they have been shown the entrance to the rabbit hole they are more than happy to take the plunge into the unknown. We are waiting and ready to leap with them.
Transported into a strange parallel world, the character must quickly learn the rules of how this place works. Only then will they be able to take advantage of the situation, survive, gain power or escape. The immersive world building focuses on the key differences both large and small to quickly create a rich feeling. In Jurassic Park we see a huge herd of dinosaurs in one scene closely followed by a single, sickly, triceratops and a pile of poo in the next.
Pride come before a fall, just as the character feels like they are getting to grips with this new place there’s an unexpected event. The rise of a villain, an unfortunate accident, it’s not long before what should be a utopia for the lead character turns into a crumbling disaster.
The lead overcomes some form of adversity to save old friends, or perhaps newly made ones within this new world, hell they may even save their ‘real’ world from the terrors of this new one. Either way chances are we will return to a scene that mirrors the start of the film in some way. The hero prevails and is happier and stronger for the sum of their experiences.
We all want to escape something, so of course it’s easy to sympathise with the main character. But what is specific to these films is that upon leaving the cinema the discussions are about the immersive worlds and not the characters. We can so truly imagine joys of exploring a island inhabited with dinosaurs, of having near limitless power of the realisation we are in the Matrix, of being able to live a new life as a cowboy in Westworld.
It’s a constant of these films that you are left wanting to visit those worlds again in our reality.
Life finds a way as famed archaeologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are among visitors to experience the dinosaur theme park. Based on the book by Michael Crichton it set the mould for 90s blockbusters.
Thomas A. Anderson has a dead end office job and so when offered the chance to learn the truth about the world he is inhabiting it’s no surprise he takes the red pill. The film that launched a million stoner conversations about how all life could be a virtual reality.
In a theme park inhabited by a robotic cast you are able to play out your wildest fantasies. But just be aware, this story is based on another Michael Crichton book, so of course the robot you’ve just wronged will gain a destructive A.I.
What’s your favourite immersive film? Please comment below…