Okay, imagine this. You go to a movie with your friend Pete. It’s an alien invasion movie about some lizard creatures from another planet who kill and oppress Earthlings. For the sake of our example, let’s just say it’s a remake of the 1988 movie They Live, and that it stars former wrestler The Rock. When you pick up your ticket at the box office, you’re asked if you sympathize with the aliens or the humans. You decide to sympathize with the humans, and you’re given a special pair of sunglasses. Pete picks the aliens, and he’s given a different pair of sunglasses.
You sit down and watch the movie, each of you with your glasses on. A few minutes into the movie, there’s a scene with a couple sitting on their couch watching TV. As you watch, you hear the sounds of the TV show they’re watching. It’s a nature program. They make some comments to each other about the show. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, two aliens jump in and attack, killing the humans.
Meanwhile, Pete has been sitting next to you with his pair of glasses, watching the same screen. But he’s seeing a very different visual. He’s seeing the scene from the aliens’ perspective. He still hears what you hear — the TV on, the couple’s comments to each other — but he sees the aliens climb in through the window, sneak up on the couple, and finally jump in and attack, killing the humans.
Later on in the movie, the aliens begin putting subliminal messages on billboards that only their fellow aliens can plainly see. You, with your human-sympathizing sunglasses on, see billboards advertising computers and such. But Pete, sitting next to you and watching the same scenes, sees the word “OBEY” on the billboard. He sympathizes with the aliens, so he gets to see what they see.
As The Rock wanders through the film, passing average citizens of his fair city, little does he know that some of them are actually aliens. You of course have no idea, either. But Pete, sitting next to you with his special glasses, is able to see which people are really aliens because they have hideous alien faces.
At some point in the film, The Rock gets his very own pair of Alien Sunglasses, and he’s able to see for himself who the aliens are and who the humans are. Action ensues, and The Rock saves the day.
How does it work? Rather simply. It uses the same technology as 3-D movies, but in a different way. In a traditional 3-D movie, two slightly different images — each representing what your right or left eye would see — are projected onto one screen through different filters. To avoid being too technical, we’ll just call them filter A and filter B. To get the 3-D effect, your right eye needs to see only what’s projected through filter A, and your left eye needs to see only what’s projected through filter B. So you wear special sunglasses with different lenses over each eye which filter the corresponding images. Filter A over your right eye makes sure it only sees what’s projected through a “A” filter. Filter B over your left eye makes sure it only sees what’s projected through an “B” filter.
In Simultain-O-Vision (that’s what I call it), there are two different images projected on the screen, only this time they are not representing what each eye sees. They are representing what each Sympathizer sees. Human Sympathizers get sunglasses with two “A” filters and no “B” filters. So they will only see the image projected through an “A” filter. Alien Sympathizers get sunglasses with just “B” filters. So they will only see the images projected through a “B” filter.
In practice, the “A” and “B” filters are actually polarized lenses set at certain angles. This means that if an audience member tilts his head even a little bit — or if the glasses aren’t made to an exacting standard — the angle of the lenses isn’t quite right, and he will see both visuals simultaneously and probably get a nasty headache. But some people will have more problems than others.
As a bonus, the “Sympathizer” aspect of the movie can be retained when the movie comes out on DVD. It can take advantage of the rarely-used “angle” button on your remote control so you can switch back and forth between Human and Alien perspectives while you’re watching the movie.