Those of us who grew up in the 70s or 80s may remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Instead of reading the book straight through, from cover to cover, at the bottom of each page you were presented with a choice like, “If you decide to open the treasure chest, turn to page 24 / If you decide to go farther into the cave, turn to page 32.” Interactive movies follow the same model, except the viewer’s choices result in seeing different scenes instead of reading different pages. While such films have been around since the invention of video disc players, a new one from Israel uniquely incorporates today’s technology.
The film, called Turbulence, recently won a technical innovation award at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival. It was created by Tel Aviv University's Prof. Nitzan Ben Shaul and centers around three Israeli friends who reunite by chance in Manhattan, 20 years after going their separate ways. At key points in the story line, certain “action items” will glow on the screen – in one scene, for example, a character is contemplating sending a text message, so his cell phone glows. If viewers want him to send the message, they touch the glowing phone on their touch screen.
Not only do viewers decide how the plot progresses, but they can also search back through the various forks-in-the-road, and change their earlier choices. Without any viewer interaction, the film runs 83 minutes. With interaction, however, it lasts anywhere from one to two hours.
While Turbulence can be viewed and navigated on a traditional mouse-equipped computer, it is intended more for mobile touch screen devices such as iPads, or personal airplane movie players.
"Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run inspired me. They make you think about options in life, but they don't let you experience what responsibility feels like at crucial decision points," said Ben Shaul. "In our film you decide where the character should go, and you can decide to return to the point where the plot flipped. It's gripping."
Interactive movies have never really taken off in the past. This could partly be due to the slower technology of the 80s and 90s, although some critics have stated that they’re too much of a compromise between movies and video games – you don’t get the well-written story of a movie, while you also don’t get anywhere near the amount of control offered by a game.
Time will only tell if this version of the technology fares any better.