Empty Theaters and False Hopes: The Reality of VR Film

VR film buffs are still trying to crack the code of blockbuster flicks, even now that the hype and cash have left.

Li Yaqin is buckled into an egg-shaped chair with a pair of clunky goggles strapped on his head. All of a sudden, the chair starts to spin and vibrate. He leans back and grasps the chair, letting out a yelp: “Oh, it’s happening.”

About 15 minutes later, he takes off the headset and wobbles away. “That was so cool, but it made me dizzy,” the 25-year-old Li said after watching a virtual reality (VR) rendition of Japanese anime “Ghost in the Shell.” “[It’s] cool — but I won’t watch it a second time.”

Li is one of four customers at the nine-seat VR theater X-Cube in the bustling Yaohan department store one Sunday night in July. Business is lackluster, but the VR entertainment center X-Cube doesn’t have the best location: It’s on the top floor at the back of the building, next to two karaoke booths and a row of massage chairs. Once in a while, curious shoppers check an LED kiosk advertising the available movies, prompting an eager attendant to emerge and try to bring them in for a 10-minute VR film.

A man watches a movie at X-Cube VR theater in Shanghai, March 2018. From X-Cube’s Weibo account

Once inside the theater, moviegoers are greeted by blue neon lighting, a large red “X” branded on the wall, and spacecraft-like interior designs. For a price of 30 to 70 yuan ($4 to $10), moviegoers can temporarily retreat from reality and float in space, dive into the deep dark ocean — or even witness a spider viciously killing a ladybug.

But the promise of otherworldly experiences hasn’t been enough to fill China’s VR theaters. Learn more and read the full article here.


– This is original content by Sixth Tone and has been republished with permission.