February 12, 2007

Idea: Simultain-O-Vision

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.

Simultain-O-VisionYou 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.


The infrastructure is already in place, and fans of the movie will want to see it twice; once from each perspective. The DVD will use a feature that’s sorely underutilized, and the movie industry will see an innovation.


Hmm maybe it could work for battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedies too, with viewers choosing a male or female perspective..?

I’m sorry, but The Rock? Hardly a replacement for the good Mr. Piper.

What Joshua said. This is a great idea, for those who sympathize (heh heh) with the movie companies. It actually works better, though, as a pure DVD feature for two reasons:
1. In a theater, half the audience will be reacting at different times than the other half—with concomitant low-intensity spoiler background noise/movement.
2. The whole “crappy polarized lenses” problem simply isn’t a problem with DVD angles.

Another option would be to recreate the DVD experience by simply releasing two cuts of the movie in theaters—that way the whole audience will be sympathetic to the same side (plus you can up the number of sympathy options to as many as your budget allows). Of course, this requires confidence that you’ll be selling lots and lots of tickets. It would probably work better as a one time gimmick, but I guess that’s pretty much the assumption no matter how you do it.

Cool idea. An alternative solution (because I think the angles of the polarizers thing might be a dealbreaker) would be to have text messages or supplementary video sent to the phones of each of our hypothetical viewers during the movie, giving them inside information known only to the aliens or humans respectively.

Interesting idea, but even if you can get the technology ironed out, I doubt too many directors would jump at the idea. Wouldn’t you essentially have to shoot the movie twice? And editing together all the slightly-different takes could quickly become a nightmare.

But wait: James Cameron. Sounds like this would be right up his alley!

It’d be Rashomonsteriffic!

Another great idea! Are you patenting these?!

“Sympathise with the aliens”? I don’t think anyone is really going to sit there and enjoy THAT movie: The group you sympathise with goes around killing innocent humans, plus you never really see the movie from the “their” perspective as there can’t be any scenes which are “alien only” as the “human sympathisers” would hear what was going on, making it essentially the same movie.

UNLESS: There were alien only scenes, where the humans have been captured and one pair of glasses just sees it from the human point of view; Intelligible, scary aliens. The “alien” pair of glasses also gets to see subtitles for the alien language, so they know what is going on and being said.

Great idea, but unless you could factor in a similar thing for the sound (or get the subtitles idea to work), it would only really be a gimmick as you can’t tell two different stories with one audio track, unless there’s no real “character” scenes (ie. no hero)… which would make it hard to watch, I think.


A friend of mine actually worked on a pair of glasses that allowed a user to see entirely different information on a display than non-glasses-wearers. The project can be seen here:


At the time he showed me an amazing video of the glasses in action. You’d start out watching a scene from They Live (naturally) and then they’d move the glasses over the camera’s lens and you’d suddenly be seeing a video of a monkey or some such. It worked shockingly well.

Adam Elend must be publicly stoned for suggesting that moviegoers should leave their phones on in the theatre.

You don’t need polaroid filters, by the way, you could use shutter glasses as well. Of course those are more expensive, you’d need to take a deposit as security that you’ll get them back in one piece — way too much hassle.

But polaroid filters, on second thought, are pretty cool. You see, those glasses are just a flat cardboard shape that can be bent into spectacle-shape in two different ways. usually the filters are oriented in such a way that you can’t possibly put them on backwards. But what if you orient the filter from top left to bottom right? If you now put the glasses on backwards, the filter is orientd from top right to bottom left — i.e. _perpendicularly_! Now all you have to do is print a nice aliens motif on one side of the cardboard, and a nice predator motif on the other side, so people will know which is which. Or Batman/The Joker. Neo/Agent Smith. Gollum/Smeagol (OK maybe not). No need to hand out two different “glasses” to the audience. And now they can switch between the two “angles” like with a DVD.

Aaaaaaand the two designs on the “glasses” will be very reflective and different colours, and a camera above the silver screen measures the reflected, coloured light coming off the audience, so now you can do INTERACTIVE stuff! Before the feature starts, the left half of the auditorium can battle the right half, in PONG! Each half controls a paddle by holding the glasses in a hand and flipping it around, red for up and green for down. And everyone will look at the screen and see the commercials in the middle of it, instead of ignoring them as usual.

And pretty soon every larger theatre will have at least one screen that is digital, so you can make the movie interactive as well. One of the main characters will have to stay behind and trigger the nuke manually, because the automatic igniter is defective. Which one will it be? Girls, imagine telling your boyfriend: “Honeybunny, if you vote George Clooney out, no sex tonight.” What FUN!

Oh boy, I’m a genious.

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