At the Garden State Plaza Mall, my good friend Jared Benjamin and I embarked to see AMC’s latest innovation, a fully immersed virtual reality (VR) movie. AMC has partnered with Dreamscape, an entertainment company founded by Walter Parkes, a DreamWorks legend and Hollywood producer of blockbusters including “Men in Black” (1997) and “Minority Report” (2002). Together they created several 20-minute features that completely immerse viewers in a seemingly new dimension using a combination of VR, full-body tracking and haptic feedback technology. We went to see the flick “Curse of the Lost Pearl: A Magic Projector Adventure.”
The Dreamscape experience can be found on the left of the entrance of AMC Theatres, before scanning your ticket. You will see a large “Now Boarding” sign at the Dreamscape’s entrance. The lobby is very nicely designed with comfortable couches, futuristically lit signs and a souvenir shop. At the front desk, we scanned our Dreamscape tickets and selected our avatars for the upcoming escapade. There were over 10 unique avatars to choose from for each VR show.
To start our journey, a guide beckoned us forward to a display in the center of the lobby. He gave us a quick backstory on what the movie was about and showed us several items such as the original VR goggles (which supposedly Thomas Edison’s daughter had designed), a giant Aztec doubloon, a map to the location of the lost pearl, a few black-and-white photographs, some sketches and a notebook. Basically, all you need in your typical Indiana Jones-style adventure pack.
The guide then took Jared and me to the fitting room where we put on our gear. We first put the body trackers on our hands and ankles. Then we put on a vest that had the VR headset attached. We were then taken into the next room for our movie.
The theatre was nearly pitch black with some scattered blue lights on the floors and walls. The guide told us to put our headsets on. I put mine on and could no longer see my surroundings. It looked as though everything had become a white light, while some spots, which must have been coated in VR technology, lit up bright red. I looked at Jared, only it was no longer Jared. I was staring at his avatar, dressed up as an explorer. His avatar was waving his arms and jumping frantically. I looked down at my arms which now mirrored my avatar’s arms, and when I waved my arms around, the avatar’s arms copied my exact motion.
Footprints lit up bright red on the floor, signaling us to step on them. We did and then our surroundings transformed into an old-fashioned movie theatre. An early-model movie projector began playing a black-and-white movie and a narrator told us a story of the “Curse of the Lost Pearl.” After a minute, the narrator told us to step forward into the movie. Jared and I hesitantly walked forward and stepped through the movie screen.
At first, our surroundings were in black-and-white like the movie, but slowly we watched the color unfold in the world around us. It felt like the scene from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) when Dorothy steps out of her black-and-white house into the colorful world of Oz. Jared and I were on top of a mountain overlooking a jungle around us. Birds flew over our heads, a huge Aztec temple stood tall behind us, and rivers flowed beneath us. It was beautiful and the video quality exceeded my expectations. It felt like we were actually there.
The narrator told us through our headset to enter a maze to get inside the temple where the pearl would be. As we entered the maze, a wall came crashing down, separating Jared and me. We were on our own.
Up ahead I saw a torch and picked it up. In actuality, it was just a stick, but with the VR technology, it looked like a real torch. For the next few minutes, I carefully made my way through the maze, trying to avoid booby traps such as spikes coming at me and the floor collapsing underneath my feet. The coolest part was burning virtual spiderwebs with my torch and then a hoard of spiders would come at me. It was very scary!
After a few minutes, Jared and I made our way through the maze and reunited at the location of the coveted pearl. I told Jared to pick it up and he did. As it happens in all good adventure films, that set off even more booby traps. The floor below us began falling down into a lava pit, and in real life, the actual platform we were standing on was being lowered.
At last, we reached the bottom of the pit and the narrator guided us forwards to a minecart. I pulled the lever and the minecart jolted to life. The next few minutes we were on what felt like a high-speed roller coaster escaping through the temple, which was filling up with lava behind us. Our cart reached the exit where a plane hooked on to us and carried us away to safety.
The credits began to roll in 3-D, and of course, the cast featured the story’s heroes—US! We saw our names fly past us and when we turned around, we were able to still see our names flying away with the letters backwards. I thought that was a super-neat trick.
Overall, I would give the experience an 8 out of 10. It was a little bit pricey being over $20 for a pretty short event. Also, while the website advertises a 20-minute movie, ours took around 15 minutes, which is proportionally a 25% decrease. However, the quality of the VR and added elements such as moving platforms really made this a one-of-a-kind expedition. I have never experienced VR to that scale, and I was highly impressed with its execution and exciting story that featured me as the main character.
Jared and I also went specifically on a Tuesday night because that is AMC’s discount Tuesday night. Right after our VR movie finished, we bought cheap tickets (for roughly $6.50) to see a different regular movie, after which was a great way to cap off the night and make us feel like we got our money’s worth.
I hope to go again sometime soon to see the other two films: “Alien Zoo” and “How to Train Your Dragon”. Some select theatres even have a “Men in Black” VR movie and another flick called “The Blu: Deep Rescue.” Hope to see you at the next show!
Price: $19.99 per person plus $1.99 convenience fee (waived for AMC Stubs holders) plus tax
Number of People: Up to five
Location: Outside AMC Theatres at Garden State Plaza Mall
Unique Feature: Only five Dreamscape locations on the planet!
If you have any recommendations of fun places for me to cover, please email me at [email protected].