Now, here is my first review of one of the virtual reality projects that have taken center stage at Sundance this year.
Alex McDowell’s virtual reality experience, the LEVIATHAN PROJECT, involves a combination of high technology and storytelling (script by Isabella Schloss and a team of writers) all designed to immerse the audience member in a 3-D virtual model of an airship attached to a flying whale. Beginning with an augmented reality experience where, utilizing a tablet, you see a whale fly out of the wall and over your head, you are then fitted with an immersive helmet over your head and eyes and with attachments on your hands, you find yourself riding on the airship and then visiting a lab onboard where you are invited to and assisted in creating a creature (the “Huxley”) which is basically a cute, flying jellyfish that mind melds with you so you can begin flying yourself before coming back down to a non-virtual earth.
Whimsically art directed (think delightful Jules Verne) and thoroughly conceived (backstories for all of the crew members and history of the ship and the project are detailed, including diaries and historical timelines), the LEVIATHAN PROJECT eases the less-informed or newbie to the VR world by giving them an immersive experience that inspires participation and curiosity about the limits of that world. It’s one thing to seek to test the limits of the technology, it’s quite another to be entertained and charmed enough so that you are effectively caught up a world that’s fascinating and enjoyable enough that forget to look for “the seams”.