In one Toronto cinema’s lobby, booths let people immerse themselves briefly in movie experiences.
“On your left, Mr. Wick. Excellent shot,” intones Lance Reddick’s voice as my submachine-gun does its business, cutting down an assassin who would surely do worse to me. There are plenty more where he came from.
Despite the rules clearly articulated in the John Wick movies about conducting business there, I am on the roof of the Continental Hotel, eliminating waves of baddies in the John Wick Chronicles, while the disembodied voice of the dog-sitting front-desk clerk cheers me on. Or that’s how it feels. In actuality, I am in one of the new virtual-reality experiences available at the new Imax VR, a series of 10 booths located in the lobby of the Scotiabank Theatre Toronto.
The first Imax VR station in Canada — and fourth in the world — are a partnership with Cineplex and will feature experiences that tie into movies: along with the mayhem of the Wicksimulator there are several Justice League VR experiences and a Star Trek bridge simulation games, as well as other video-game experiences.
“The thing that VR has in common (with our big screen business) is that it’s immersive,” says Imax Theatres president Mark Welton. “This correlates well with the movie industry, especially when you have something like Justice League — you go upstairs, buy a ticket to a Cineplex or Imax movie, then you come downstairs and drive the Batmobile and really get into the movie.”
Company executives stress the fact that unlike most home-based VR set-ups, this is a much more communal, social experience. While there are a few solo VR adventures here, many are for two or up to four people.
“It’s such a social activity, it’s a very different experience when you are alone in your rec room at home,” says Cineplex vice-president of communications Pat Marshall. “Even if you aren’t in the pod, there are people take photos or posting to social media. It’s just such a different energy being in an environment like this.”
One thing that might intrigue the passing moviegoer: unlike several of the VR lounges that are popping up, which generally charge an hourly rate, the Imax VR booths have a set cost per experience. Most are about 10 minutes and cost between $10 and $15, for now: Welton admits those things are still being worked out.
“We’re going to experiment with our partners and test in the next year and test different concepts and see what works,” he says “Here is a different experience with general admission; at other locations, we are doing timed admissions.”
From that perspective, people wanting to try out VR might get more bang for their buck at this location. But the goal is eventually to offer combination tickets that let patrons see the movie and try out the VR experience afterward.
In terms of the technology, the majority of the headsets are HTC Vives, but there is also the higher-fidelity StarVR rig from Starbreeze. Patrons have to be at least 7 years old, and there are a few family-friendly games including Life of Us, which is based on evolution, and Eagle Flight, a flying capture-the-flag type of game created by Ubisoft.
There are also a variety of seated and standing experiences — in the case of Justice League, you are seated while playing and driving the Batmobile, whereas the Wonder Woman adventure requires the player to stand.
Marshall says the future for the technology might be quite different than what’s on display at the Scotiabank: “people think that it is what it’s going to be (but) 9t really is just in it infancy right now, and is only going to get better.”