Shown as part of Franco-German ARTE TV’s special programming devoted to Philip K. Dick, I, Philip is a 12-minute immersive short fiction shot in stereoscopic 3D that takes the viewer inside the digital mind of one of the greatest writers of science-fiction of the 20th century.
Dick’s conspiracy and paranoia-driven stories – some of which inspired Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report – and visionary imagination laid ground for our digitally-obsessed society. During the course of his life, he finally accepted that reality was nothing but a perfect illusion fooling his senses. What if his peers were robots? What if he was living in an alternate reality?
The film opens inside a three-dimensional cube. I am floating weightless inside a huge digital library, in a pixelated space reminiscent of Tron and Interstellar. The color, light and depth are gripping, in spite of the rather low resolution of the mobile screen. Spectral voices start blasting inside my headset, building a peculiar soundscape for my new environment.
Once the visuals have settled, I find myself inside the mind of Philip K. Dick, or to be more precise inside the head of Phil, an android recreation of the writer designed in 2005 by robotics engineer David Hanson. Sitting on the stage of an auditorium, I am attending a conference about me. The initial suprise of the experience soon wears off, leaving me with the question that keeps haunting audiences in immersive environments: “What am I doing here?”. I have to admit I don’t have the slightest clue. I’m listening to the chatter, waiting for the next scene.
The choice of telling a story from the point of view of an avatar is true to Dick’s spirit, while also revealing the limitations of a non-interactive first person perspective. I wish I could move around with the camera, and interact with this small world, get some piece of the action. I am inside a bubble, like a museum artifact. The frustration also comes from the fact I am answering questions without ever having control over my body.
With a budget close to $500,000 and four months of post-production, I, Philip is an ambitious piece of work that opens up interesting perspectives for immersive fiction. Driven by great production design and an original score by electronic artist Rone, the film is a constant feat for the eyes, but I find it hard to get carried away by the story.
Distracted by the possibilities opened up by the 360° point of view, I start losing my focus and wander around. The actors are obviously talking to me, but I’m not listening, feeling the urge to turn my head around and explore the scenery, spot a character passing behind me or look down to get a glimpse of my feet.
What is left once the headset comes off? The feeling of having tried a new, exhilarating experience that implicitly shows the current narrative limitations of the 360° medium – and of the viewer, for whom this kind of freedom of movement feels like an unnecessary distraction, pulling him away from the story. For lack of a proven narrative grammar, I, Philip still delivers on the experiential side, and it is worth acknowledging the pioneering work from ARTE and Okio Studio in the nascent field of cinematic VR.
The short film is available for viwing on ARTE Creative and inside the ARTE360 mobile app. It will be available for download this week from Oculus Store and Steam VR. A version featuring spatialized sound will be available upon the commercial release of the Oculus Rift.
- COMFORT/USER EXPERIENCE6