During my very first year working for the old Cash Box magazine, my boss sent me out to visit a documentary movie maker name of Morty Heilig. It was 1964, but I remember it pretty clearly because I was still a raw kid and nervous going on “a live assignment” outside the office. Morty let me into his apartment and ushered me into a room that sported something between an electric chair and one of those dryer hoods you see at a lady’s beauty shop. I don’t remember what he called the thing, but it was right out of Huxley’s Brave New World. For want of a better description, it was a virtual reality machine.
Morty had me sit down on it, peer into its binocular lenses and watch a belly dancer doing what all belly dancers do, with bangles and bells going “ching, ching, ching” along with the music, while the “Morty-rama” also blew her perfume at my nose. He asked me what I thought, and I told him it was great (I would have said “great” even if he’d flushed the toilet because I was nervous about the whole experience and wanted to hit the subway back to base camp).
Nothing ever happened with the machine, and one of the last things I remember about Morty Heilig was his idea to make a movie with absolutely no dialog. All the other sounds would be in it, but the people wouldn’t make a peep. He thought it might win an award. I thought it would send an alarm to the bomb squad. Mort did help me out when I made that infamous movie, Invasion of the Blood Farmers come 1972, but I haven’t heard from him since.
Okay, all this makes me one of the very first people to experience VR who’s still alive to talk about it. So, I’ll talk about it. Late this July, I took my two grandsons to the Glendale Galleria out by Pasadena. Right there on the concourse was VR360, one of today’s virtual reality companies with finished goods earning money on location. They had a nice, tight 2-seater with headset that didn’t spook me out and a price that seemed fair ($10/5 minutes) to “take a ride” on a magical, fantasy river replete with “massage music” and a seat that rumbled when my boat hit something in the movie that would make it rumble if this was all real.
If the other VR companies are producing goods as effective and fun as this, I have to tell you there’s a real future here for operators. Put an interactive game into that boat ride and I would have been even happier (the two hand grips have firing buttons, so guess what’s coming). Their mall guy Ryan Newton told me the company has pods at eleven locations, most in California, along with 50 “experiences” in the software can. So, when you see “VR” in a RePlay headline, better read it…even you route guys. It may be virtual, but it’s real entertainment.