Last September, I was at the Ottawa Animation Festival, which is the main thing that happens in Canada’s capitol aside from government bureaucracy, and on the last day I was there, there was a long gap between screenings, so I went down to the Arts Center where some events I hadn’t noticed before were still going on, and I when I got there, I saw that there was a long, long line.
This was for Pearl, a 360° short film released as part of Google’s Spotlight Stories project. Now what this thing was, was not one of those 3D things where you need special glasses for, but something more important: A narrative Virtual Reality experience.
It blew me away. This is the future of cinema. It told a story (about a guy, his kid, and their car), and it did what VR was supposed to do, put you in the middle of the action. You had to put on the goggles and headphones to see it, and that’s fine, it’s the way we’re going to watch movies in the ’30s and ’40s. We have to start somewhere.
In the early 1930s, a two-reeler called La Cucaracha got an Oscar for Best Short. It wasn’t very good in and of itself, but it was the first film to use 3-strip Technicolor, and as such looked gorgeous. So it was, for the time, a technical marvel.
Pearl is that sort of film. Not something that will thrill viewers 30 years from now. But something like, Dire Straits’ music video Money for Nothing back in the ‘80s, something that was really cool and somewhat visionary at the time, but soon become dated. That thing looked kind of primitive when it came out. So did FDR’s television from 1939. State of the Art doesn’t seem “state of the art” for very long.
And thus it is for Pearl. The first successful experiment of something that would show the world the possibilities of the next phase in the evolution of the art form.
The people who make the nominations pretty much all saw the 360° version, and yes, that version deserved all the accolades it can get. But here’s the rub. The nominees have to be seen on the silver screen, which means the people who voted on the Oscar itself won’t see it. They will see a “cinematic” cut down version that’s nowhere near as good, and these people will wonder how this nice, but by no means exceptional, little film earned a nomination in the Best Animated Short category.
So it will lose. Which is sad.