Last month a slew of Cannes-attending journalists and critics raved about Alejandro G. Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezski‘s Carne y Arena, a virtual reality Mexican immigrant experience. It happened inside a hangar at the Cannes Mandelieu airport. Here’s my reaction piece, posted on 5.18.17. Everyone said the same things — immersive, visceral, jolting, head-turning, thought-provoking, unforgettable, etc.
The basic drill is “you’re really there” in the sense that you’re not watching but living it on your feet…feeling the vibe, smelling the fear, grappling with the trauma of getting busted and pushed around deep down. Border guards yelling and pointing guns as you stand barefoot on the cool desert sand at dawn, and then you drop to your knees with your hands on your head.
A longterm engagement of the exact same experience will debut at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art three days hence — i.e., Sunday, 7.2. It’ll cost $45 a pop if you’re not a LACMA member, student or senior. But in sharp contrast to the celebrated Cannes installation, there’s been zero promotion behind the LACMA thing. I’m guessing this is because the LACMA installation can only accommodate one person at a time (the experience lasts 6 1/2 minutes), and that the costs of presenting it will far outweigh whatever income might result so no one wants to spend too lavishly.
I understand that, but I wanted to experience it a second time and this time bring Tatyana, whom I tried to escort to the Cannes installation before being told by the IDPR guys that there was a strict “no friends or partners, only credentialed journos” policy in place. Alas, I was just told by the IDPR guys yesterday that there’ll be no assistance in visiting the LACMA thing, and if I want to catch it again I should just fork over the $45 ($90 for two of us) like anyone else. Okay, fine, but how about allowing me to see it sooner rather than later, without having to arrange my own visit from the back of the line like the rest of the citizens? Nope — you’re on your own, I was essentially told. Okay, fine. But in retrospect I wish they hadn’t been so strict in Cannes about not letting journos bring girlfriends.
From my 5.18.17 review: “Carne y Arena is a six-and-a-half-minute virtual reality trip that simulates with all-encompassing realism what Mexican immigrants often go through while attempting to cross the United States border in the Southwestern desert region. It’s an all-CG creation but sourced from actual footage with real actors. It was easily the most immersive, head-turning viewing I’ve ever sampled, tasted, felt and touched. And yet it also delivered in emotional terms, prompting me to feel compassion for immigrants all over. So yes, I now know a little bit about what it’s like to go through something like this for real. I felt intimidated, fearful. But I have to say that I simply loved the primal juice of it. I especially liked walking around that big desert sandbox barefoot.”
Incidental press release received this morning at 10:23 am: “Fans of the Transformers movie franchise will finally know what it’s like to battle a Decepticon up close and personal, as film director Michael Bay takes VR to the next level with Transformers: The Last Knight VR Experience, on Friday, 6.30 for a limited time, free of charge and only in the IMAX VR centres at AMC Kips Bay 15 in New York City and across from The Grove in Los Angeles and in select AMC Theatres lobbies.
“’I wanted to do something special for fans, to let them feel what it’s like to be in the middle of intense Transformers action,’ commented Mr. Bay. ‘ILMxLAB was a great partner in delivering this experience, and pushing the envelope of what VR can do.’
“The five-minute virtual reality game was produced by Mr. Bay in collaboration with the team from San Francisco-based ILMxLAB, in cooperation with Paramount Pictures, and provides the HTC Headset single-player experience of actually joining the hero Autobots and facing off against the Decepticons in a fast-paced shooter game. The result is a VR showdown putting fans right into the intense action of the Transformers movie franchise.”