With the DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT release, we were given the opportunity to experience the world of dystopian Chicago through the Oculus Rift and have our reality shattered.
For those who have yet to be assimilated into the world of DIVERGENT, here’s a quick 101: throughout the films, much of what happens takes place in a simulated world inside the characters’ heads. It was only fitting, then, that something as futuristic – and mind-blowingly awesome – as the Oculus Rift be used for a simulation experience like this.
Approaching an ominous, dentist examination chair set-up in the foyer of the BFI IMAX Waterloo, we were sat down and given the Oculus Rift glasses and over-ear headphones, completely blocking out everything else. Before this goes any further, it has to be said: if you suffer from vertigo, don’t put yourself through the INSURGENT simulation…
At first, you’re in a lab. Well, more accurately, you are a rat in a lab. Jeanine, evil and poised, on the other side of the glass, is detailing the simulation you’re about to experience. Looking up, you’ll see cables snaking out of a hole in the ceiling, and inject themselves into your arms, legs, and stomach.
You’re a level deeper now (INCEPTION anyone?), and it’s not quite clear where you are. The simulation starts, and all of a sudden, you’re transported to the rooftop of a crumbling building in the ruins of Chicago. It takes a moment to adjust, but once you embrace the reality of this utterly unreal situation, you start to look around. Obviously, there’s still a ways away to go in the Rift technology, but being able to look down and see an entire city at your feet, then look behind you and see a whole landscape and then turn back around and have crows circling and flying straight towards you (that bit isn’t so exciting) that are, in all actuality, little more than pixels on a screen – it goes without saying that this is undoubtedly the most exciting technological advancement to come out of the 21st century.
There’s a split second when you start to think you may have to stand up and jump off in order to progress to the next stage of the simulation – and this is where you decide to sit there, motionless, in an obstinate hope that you won’t have to actually do that to yourself – before you’re suddenly flung back through the expanse of the city and onto a train track.
Yes. Immobile, on a train track. A train track where a freight train is briskly approaching.
Now, awaiting the imminent collision, you should really take a moment to appreciate the detail of your surroundings. The sky is blue – well, blue enough for a dystopian reality – there are birds flying by, wind blowing in the trees, and you’re waiting for the inevitable moment when a train is going to hit you at a murderous velocity – as if a train hitting you at any other speed isn’t deadly.
After the collision, suddenly you’re back In that lab with Jeanine, complete with ominous whispering about you, the subject. You, the subject, who is in fact, a divergent.
After taking off the Oculus Rift equipment and coming back to the real world, there’s a split second where the adjustment of experiencing a very life or death world is embraced. One can only hope for more of this virtual reality with the release of the next flick in the series, because being encompassed into the world of a film in a cinema is one thing, but virtual reality is a wholly different ballgame.
Maybe this kind of technology is the future of film – who knows, maybe a decade or two from now, cinemas will be obsolete, and we’ll be living the worlds of our favourite characters right along with them. But, for now, let’s sit back and relax for the jaw-clenching, nail biting fun that is THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT.
INSURGENT is out now in cinemas, starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Miles Teller, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet. It’s directed by Robert Schwentke and adapted from the book by Veronica Roth.