Since the rise of computers in the public eye people have been speculating about the next step. VR has been featured in visual media for decades. This list brings together some of the best examples of media where VR isn’t relegated to the background.
A few things before we get started. We did not include movies or shows that utilized holograms, imagination, or dreams. So now, without further ado:
We start with one of the more obscure films written, produced, and directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome). Cronenberg films may not be for everyone, since they are usually in the body-horror genre. However, if you can get past the impressive (and sometimes disturbing) practical effects, you will find a compelling story about the moral implications of body modifications, fear of technology, and the nature of reality itself.
The actual story follows a game designer on the run after an assassination attempt while playing her newest game. In eXistenZ games are played by connecting a system directly into the spine. Moving multiple layers deep, this film will have you questioning what was real as often as the characters themselves. Fans of movies like Inception and a favorite of mine, Dark City, will love the reality-warping nature of the narrative. Unlike some of Cronenberg’s more widely known films, eXistenZ is more of a thriller/ mystery that makes you guess who is who and, by the end, what just happened.
4. The Lawnmower Man
The Lawnmower Man is not a great film. Some would consider it a bad film. However, it does touch on topics like the mistreatment of people with “disabilities”, the loss of humanity, and how power corrupts. It also brings up some interesting implications of technology when applied to the way our brains work. Originally called Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man (after a short story by King) the movie has absolutely nothing in common with the short story other than a yard and a lawnmower.
The film is centered on a scientist who decides to experiment on a disabled gardener to increase his intelligence. What follows is the inevitable creator losing control of his creation dynamic.
Now, if you haven’t read Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man short story, take a few minutes and look it up. While I do like the movie, and it certainly asks some important questions in regard to the use of technology on the human mind, I have to admit, I would love an adaptation of King’s actual material. Speaking of the effects of technology on the human mind…
3. The Cell
Easily the most visually stunning entry on this list, The Cell is a detective thriller starring Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D’Onofrio. Utilizing incredible practical effects, costuming, make-up, and one of the best performances D’Onofrio has ever done, The Cell is a treat for the eyes.
D’Onofrio plays a serial killer who was just apprehended, however, he is now comatose. Unable to find his last victim, they enlist a doctor (Lopez) using experimental technology to enter the mind of the killer. As the story progresses, a sort of relationship develops between the doctor and the killer, and a mental game of cat and mouse ensues. If this sounds familiar (*cough* Silence of the Lambs *cough*) then you aren’t the only one to observe this. However, where the plot may be recognizable, the impressive visual style and unbelievable performance by D’Onofrio will make you forget about any similarities.
2. Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online has been a massive success for anime worldwide. It is a well-known name and has been a series, movie, several video games, and manga. However, there are still those who refuse to give it a chance. Whether they refuse to check it out because it’s popular, tried a few episodes and couldn’t get into it, or just don’t like anime in general, there are many who have not seen this amazing show.
Sword Art Online or SAO loosely follows our main character, Kirito, as he tries to take on the game, and live life as best he can in this new world. Kirito’s mistakes get people he cares about killed. And in this game death is real and permanent. It’s this event that becomes the driving force for Kirito moving forward. He wrestles with whether the time they shared was “real” or not, and whether he could have done something differently, and his reluctance to trust anyone else for fear of the past repeating itself. As he finds a partner in a skilled fighter, Asuna, together they start to find that what is “real” is more of a fluid definition than they originally thought. And that’s before they meet Yui. I highly recommend the first season of SAO at the very least, but watch with an open mind.
1. Ready Player One
Ready Player One is possibly the most 80’s/90 pop culture nostalgia-filled movie in recent history. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, VR is heavily used. As incredible as this movie is, some haven’t seen it because it deviates a bit from the source material. Others have passed on it because they assumed it was a “video game movie”. While VR does play a major role in Ready Player One, it isn’t the point.
Ready Player One takes place in an increasingly believable future. Due to population growth and poverty, most people escape to a virtual world known as Oasis. When the movie starts, the creator of the Oasis has recently passed away, and he has left a massive prize somewhere in the game, accessed by 3 keys found somewhere throughout Oasis.
However, for those who pay attention, the true themes of the story come across. Touching on freedom, class systems, love, and regrets, this film offers a deeper story for those willing to look past the incredible visuals and impressive CGI. Also, if deep messages about lost loves and financial woes aren’t your thing, please check out the hundreds of easter eggs and background details that even the most eagle-eyed viewer won’t be able to catch the first time around.