Patty Jenkins Isn’t Convinced VR is the Future of Storytelling

New technologies are on the rise, and they could change the way we consume stories forever. Just over the past few days we’ve seen the release of Steven Soderbergh’s new choose-your-own-adventure-esque app Mosaic, and Alejandro González Iñárritu won a special achievement Oscar for his VR experience Carne y Arena. Not too long ago these platforms were on the outermost fringes of entertainment; now, serious filmmakers are putting them to the test.

But are altered reality experiences like Carne y Arena the future of storytelling? Not everyone’s convinced. The history of entertainment is littered, after all, with ideas that excited people for a moment but ended up being just temporary fads. People thought 3D was going to become ubiquitous in the wake of Avatar’s success, but that vision has so far failed to become a reality. Who’s to say the same won’t be the case for these new altered reality platforms?

One filmmaker who remains unconvinced by the prospects of these platforms is Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins. Last Friday night, Jenkins was hosted in Los Angeles by AFI Fest for a discussion about her career. Hosted by actress Bryce Dallas Howard, the hourlong discussion was an interesting and wide-ranging exploration of Jenkins’ inspirations and philosophies as an artist.

Towards the end of the evening, Howard turned the conversation to the future, asking Jenkins what she thought of the new technologies currently on the rise. Here was Jenkins’ response:

I’m not all that thoughtful so far about alternate experiences. I feel like it’s gonna be further down the road before I’m virtual reality filmmaking…and the reason is this: I think for now, the history of story that you take in…I find being immersed in the story extremely distracting. I’m like, “that’s not what anybody’s ever wanted.” Thousands of years we’ve had the stage, and people don’t wanna get up on it with you. They wanna watch it, you know?

And I constantly—every time I sit in the theater and I hear stuff too loud behind me, I’m like, “nobody wants that.” [points forward] The attention is there…if you slow it down, put it in front of you, you disappear into it…So I actually don’t believe in it. I think there are gimmicks that are distracting in [the] moment, whereas there’s thousands of years of storytelling of escaping into something that’s escapable into, versus thinking you might get hit by a wave right now in this chair. So I am very skeptical about a lot of those things.

I’ve gotta say, as eager as I am to get my hands on tickets to Carne y Arena before it leave Los Angeles, I tend to agree with Jenkins when it comes to the mainstream prospects of technology like VR. The way she describes how you can fall into the screen watching a movie is a perfect description of the power of cinema. The medium is already plenty immersive, VR is a step too far in my opinion.

Obviously, the technology isn’t going away; too many companies are sending too much money on it to give up. And if artists of such high caliber as

Iñárritu are giving them a shot then there are going to be experiences worth checking out. But like Jenkins, I don’t see it supplanting traditional forms of storytelling anytime soon.

What do you think? Is VR or some other developing technology the future of entertainment? Sound off in the comments.

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