Add virtual reality as one more reason to visit 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City this week, because The Mummy Zero Gravity Stunt VR Experience is being shown at The Shop at NBC Studios. Developed by NBCUniversal in partnership with technology company Positron, the VR experience is designed to promote The Mummy, which premieres on June 9 and stars Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys) and Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service; Star Trek: Beyond).
The pop-up experience, which runs from May 27 to June 11, is free and open to the public. In addition to getting up-close looks at some of the movie props, including a 10-foot sarcophagus (one of six) used in the movie and Princess Ahmanet’s (Sofia Boutella) dagger made to look like it’s made from a human spine, attendees are treated to a VR experience unlike any other.
Specifically, they are treated to a 360-degree behind-the-scenes look at how the iconic scene, where Tom Cruise and actress Annabelle Wallis are tumbling weightlessly inside a falling airplane, was shot. The scene was actually filmed inside a zero gravity airplane, so the actors and crew had to learn to perform while floating weightless in mid-air.
That feeling of weightlessness is conveyed to attendees using the Positron Voyager VR platform seats, which are essentially covered gyroscopic chairs. As the ten minute VR film progresses and gravity shifts for the actors, the chairs pivot to create a sense of weightlessness while built-in haptics simulate the steady rumble of an aircraft. The experience made its debut at SXSW earlier this year, where the theater was decorated to look like the inside of a cargo plane, complete with a replica sarcophagus among the Voyager seats.
AListDaily spoke with Thomas Cornillow, who manages over The Mummy Zero Gravity Stunt VR Experience, at the pop-up in Rockefeller Plaza. He explained that the experience was meant to give consumers and avid moviegoers a glimpse into the future of movie viewing, and that the best way to do that was to open the experience to the public.
“The New York experience is the first one to be free and open to the public,” said Cornillow. “The only other places this experience has been shown were at SXSW in Austin, Texas and CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nevada.” Both showings were badge holder events that attendees had to pre-register and pay for. The CinemaCon showing, in particular, was attended mostly by studio execs, VR owners and technology enthusiasts. Cornillow emphasized how this activation was a way for the public to not only get a taste of VR, but experience it in a new and exciting way.
“With the success at SXSW and CinemaCon,” Cornillow continued, “we thought it would be a very selfish move to not open the experience up to the public. The reception was so great that it was almost a no-brainer to open this up and let everyone experience it.”
NBCUniversal may have planned for a VR promotion during filming, but it couldn’t have thought of using the Positron Voyager chairs to enhance it. Mehul JD, a senior systems engineer at Positron, was on hand to explain how the Voyager VR platform came to be included in the experience. “NBCUniversal was looking for a platform to showcase its behind-the-scenes experience, and we happened to have shown them our platform a few months back,” said JD. “It turned out to really complement their content, since the whole scene was shot on a zero gravity plane.”
Tom Cruise narrates the VR experience, providing insight with each sequence, and states at the beginning that it was his idea to have the scene shot inside a falling plane for more realistic effects and a greater edge-of-their-seat experience for moviegoers. With that in mind, we asked Cornillow if he thought the actor was involved with the development of the VR experience. “If you’re familiar with Cruise’s work, then you know that he likes to have his hands in everything,” he replied. “He does his own stunts, he’s very insistent on his co-stars doing their own stunts, so there’s a very strong possibility that he had a hand in creating the VR experience—at least in approving parts of it.”
Although there is a VR video game called The Mummy Prodigium Strike currently in development by Starbreeze (which also made John Wick Chronicles) based on The Mummy, the game will have no connection to this experience. Going behind-the-scenes with the film is heavily tied in with the Voyager, and when Cornillow was asked if the film might be released onto the market as a straightforward VR experience, he replied, “Absolutely not. The chair makes the experience. You wouldn’t get the sense of zero gravity, movement or the haptic feedback. It all comes together as one with the chair and VR gear.”
While this experience could go a long way to turning up excitement for The Mummy when it launches this summer, Cornillow explained how it was just the start for a bigger Voyager-enhanced movie-going experience. “We like the general excitement of seeing people as they step off the experience, especially when they’ve never experienced it (VR) before,” said Cornillow. “But what I’m really excited for is the next step—the Positron Voyager VR Theater. It would be great to watch a Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or Fast & The Furious movie in VR. The technology would encourage multiple viewings for movies, and the possibilities are endless.”
Voyager-enhanced VR movie theaters may be close at hand. Positron is partnering to open VR theaters, and its first installation will be at the AMC CityWalk IMAX theater in Los Angeles. The theater will only feature a few chairs, but there may be more added in the future. The Positron Voyager can be upgraded with additional sensory experiences, such as fans (for the sensation of wind) and even scents, making for a truly immersive entertainment experience.
How quickly these VR theaters will grow throughout the year is still a matter of speculation. “The problem isn’t the technology; it’s the content availability,” JD explained. “There are big studios making content right now, and as soon as we have big VR films from studios like NBCUniversal, we will see theaters come up. We (Positron) want to enable the first VR cinema experience.”