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Movie viewing vs. Movie Experience

Have you seen the latest mega-blockbuster Avatar yet?

A preview last month introduced me to the basic storyline, but I haven’t viewed the movie yet. Having seen other James Cameron films, including Terminator and Titanic, I’m familiar with his method of simple storytelling enhanced by amazing cutting-edge graphics and special effects. As with a number of recent films, Avatar is also available in 3D and large-screen format (IMAX).

Once upon a time, my husband managed an IMAX theater, so I’ve seen my fair share of 3D IMAX movies. Armed with this background, the reported complaints of headache, dizziness, nausea and blurry eyesight from watching Avatar does not come as any surprise. If you consider it, the main point behind IMAX and other large format 3D movies (and ridefilm simulators) is to trick the brain into believing you are no longer sitting safely in a theater, but to physically feel like you are actually there– flying into the movie. Disney has an incredible IMAX film ride (Soarin’) dedicated to the sensation, in addition to multiple simulation rides like Star Tours and Mission: Space. Some people are more easily affected by this technique than others and all of these ride attractions come with the legal litany of warnings.

From what I’m hearing, Cameron might be using Avatar as the breakthrough that evolves us from “movie-viewing” to a more intense “movie-experience” that will one day require viewer warnings before the movie begins. Last week the news reported that a hypertensive 42-yr old man died from a stroke his doctors claim was “likely triggered by over-excitement from watching the blockbuster Avatar in 3D.”

I’m also fascinated by how much we continue to push the envelope in our attempt to immerse ourselves completely in fiction, to the point of disengaging ourselves from reality. Even before the internet provided unending opportunities for immersion via fan sites & forums, my parents used to worry about me reading too many fantasy novels.

James Cameron may have succeeded in achieving that disengagement with this movie experience. CNN reported that some movie viewers actually experience depression and even suicidal thoughts after seeing Avatar. Apparently the overwhelming 3D visual effects, among other reasons, have rendered them unable to separate their minds from the fictional utopia presented in the movie. Some actually experience feelings of disgust with the human race and find themselves wanting to live in the fantasy rather than the real world.

What do you think? Are we on the brink of a cultural shift from movie viewing to immersion in the movie experience? Can we trick our minds into believing the story over the reality?

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