ROME — If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have been there when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, or to have stood next to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross, then a new feature-length virtual reality film of the life of Christ may give you the chance.
“Jesus VR – The Story of Christ,” is a 90-minute long visual and auditory experience – a lot like watching a movie – except that the viewer feels like he or she is there, including being able to look 360 degrees around and 180 degrees up and down.
The film’s tag line: “Closer than you’ve ever been.”
Mostly developed for video games so far, Virtual Reality (VR) is a relatively new computer technology which (usually) uses software-generated images and sounds to give the user the experience of feeling like he or she is actually “inside” the game.
What makes Jesus VR the first media of its kind, is that it uses interactive live-action film to portray the story of Jesus – from his birth in Bethlehem to his Ascension, stated Paul Lauer, president of Motive Entertainment, which is working on the marketing and distribution of the movie.
In a traditional movie-watching experience, the film’s editors control what part of a scene the viewer sees at any moment, but in Jesus VR, “you become the editor,” Lauer told CNA.
Motive Entertainment, which aims to connect the faith community and Hollywood, and has worked on films such as the latest adaptation of Ben-Hur (2016) and The Passion of the Christ (2004), was really excited to work on the project, Lauer said, particularly because “it wasn’t just another movie.”
Ever since The Passion was made, there has been a “Renaissance of faith-based movies,” Lauer explained. He hopes this will be a tool for evangelization, and is marketing the new media toward churches, youth groups and more.
“Jesus VR is a new medium to convey the message,” Lauer said. The message being the Gospel. According to Lauer, Jesus VR utilizes what is “cutting edge technology” to go “where the young people are.”
Demoed at the Venice Film Festival Aug. 31-Sept. 10, 2016, Jesus VR was filmed in Matera, Italy, a location frequently used for Biblically-themed films because of its likeness to Jerusalem.
The technology doesn’t require as much fancy equipment as one might imagine. In fact, you only really need two things, Lauer said: a smartphone and the special goggles the viewer wears. The goggles come in several different models and with different price tags, some costing more than $100.
They knew this would be cost-prohibitive for many, especially church and youth groups, which is why Motive Entertainment also developed a mass market version made out of cardboard, which can even be personalized with the name of the church.
To view Jesus VR, you pay to download it to your smartphone and then either play the audio through headphones or a speaker. There is an option to watch it all in one sitting or, if desired, to select by scene.
The project has strong credits, including director David Hansen and executive producer Enzo Sisti, a native of Rome, Italy, who was executive producer of The Passion of the Christ.
This wouldn’t be appropriate to use at a Catholic Mass, of course, Lauer noted, but for other Christian churches which do sometimes use screens at their services and during their preaching, Lauer sees Jesus VR as something that “should aid the pastor,” not replace them.
The media is very detailed, aiming to be true to how it really would have been, Lauer said. At the Sermon on the Mount for example, “there was still normal life… kids hungry and crying – real life was happening.”
In a scene which depicts Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, there are details which you’ll only see if you look around or behind you, such as some people watching nearby who end up walking away.
Because we’re so busy, it can be easy to “miss Jesus manifesting in our lives,” Lauer said. They’ve worked even these little details into the film because it “makes for great reflection, for great teaching.”
Jesus VR is scheduled to be released in time for Christmas on the main virtual reality platforms, including Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear, Oculurs Rift, Playstation VR and HTC Vive.
“What’s most exciting for me is we’re taking a message of antiquity that’s being delivered in the most modern technology,” Lauer said. “It’s a message of yesterday, today – but actually, it’s a message of today too.”
For Lauer, Jesus Virtual Reality is another way of living out St. Pope John Paul II’s call for the “New Evangelization.” As Lauer pointed out, “It can’t get more new than Virtual Reality.”