With the advent of virtual reality comes its application to cinema. Films are a primarily passive medium, meaning that virtual reality has the potential to provide interaction within something inherently static. With Invasion! there is a glimmer of possibility, but the ultimate challenge of turning viewers into cinematographers still seems a difficult feat to accomplish.
Featuring the voice talent of Ethan Hawke as the Voice of the Cosmos, Invasion! takes viewers to a remote location on Earth where an alien space ship is about to meet a rabbit that is not all that impressed. Only six minutes long, the short does manage to bring quite a bit of quirk and humor in such a small amount of time. Hanging its hat on the interactions between the aliens and the rabbits (one of which is you), there’s actually quite a bit of fun to be had. Unfortunately, it’s when you realize how much better the film would be without virtual reality that makes it obvious film is not ready for the transition.
The problem largely resides in the importance of direction. A camera isn’t just a plaything, and it isn’t something that should be given to others unless there is a reason. The short exemplifies why giving the camera to the viewer requires constant spectacle. The only time I felt the need to follow the action of the short was in the opening shot when a spaceship moved around me. But once I was on Earth and watching interactions between the aliens and my rabbit friend, I realized how inconsequential VR was to the experience. He would cower behind me, but I only knew that by looking behind me. You can’t feel the rabbit’s presence. There’s no indication he’s cowering.
This is due to the action happening in front of you. VR removes subtlety from the equation because viewers will naturally follow the spectacle. So when Invasion! decides to have things happen behind the viewer, it means it can’t have things happen in front of you. Otherwise, it needs to indicate to turn around. But then what’s the point of giving the camera to the viewer? Just back it up and make it stationary. Removing key components of film like editing, and also not having any interactivity, essentially makes Invasion! a waste of resources.
There is a little bit of fun to be had, and there’s plenty of cuteness too. The rabbit’s introduction is cute and its conflict with the aliens is kind of adorable. The aliens themselves run into a lot of hijinks just trying to understand Earth, but this is really just a short for comedic effect. There’s an idea of the meek standing up to defend the Earth, as narrated by Ethan Hawke. But it isn’t really a message that’s conveyed that effectively. This is mainly because I never got a sense the rabbit was aware of its actions, and felt more like it was just messing with the aliens. But this is why things like a soundtrack or editing matter to film. It conveys actions in a different light.
Invasion! isn’t a bad short, but it works against film as a medium. It accentuates the issues with bringing viewer control to film. There are glimpses of director Eric Darnell understanding the need for action so viewers know where to look and when, but it still means the film loses any subtlety – a component that is crucial to any character building. It’s worth the six minutes, but Invasion! is ultimately just an example of why VR is still miles from being a suitable medium for film.