'The Martian' Virtual Reality Spinoff to Debut at CES

The Martian VR Experience H - 2016
Courtesy of Fox

This story first appeared in the Jan. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

With 2016 shaping up as the year virtual reality finally hits the home, 20th Century Fox is using the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan. 6-9) to introduce a VR extravaganza based on its movie The Martian. Dubbed The Martian VR Experience, it will allow viewers to step into the shoes of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and explore Mars.

Hollywood’s interest in virtual reality isn’t surprising; the market for VR content is expected to reach $5.4 billion by 2025, according to Piper Jaffrey. But it’s still in its infancy, with such companies as Oculus and HTC expected to grab headlines at CES as they prepare to launch headsets this year. If VR goggles are to catch on, they’ll also need content.

"In order for this to be real, it needs to be commercialized," says Mike Dunn, president of Fox Home Entertainment. "We’re trying to commercialize this medium so it’s around for around 25 years, with a real VR experience that people will want to own and relive over and over again."

VR headsets place the viewer in a 360-degree environment. In the case of Martian VR, that includes a first-person guided narrative, to run about 20 to 30 minutes, as the viewer — stranded on Mars — is given such interactive tasks as driving a rover or preparing for liftoff to survive. The VR production also includes footage from Ridley Scott’s film to help tell the story. As tethered headsets like Oculus’ become available, Martian VR will be offered for download at VR content sites. Dunn declined to reveal the price, saying only it would be "accessible."

As part of the Martian VR Experience, the viewer sits behind the controls of a rover. (Courtesy of Fox)

Scott served as executive producer on the project, offering his input on the joint production of Fox, Fox Innovation Lab, Scott’s RSA Films and The VR Co. Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland and founder and chief creative officer of The VR Co. (whose board of advisers includes Steven Spielberg), directed the project, which was in production for seven months and involved about 20 animators.

"It’s a very interesting process," Scott tells THR of what amounts to helping invent a new medium. "One of the tricks is getting it to a level of experience where it’s like eyesight; they’re still working on the clarity." Stromberg sees Martian VR as taking its lead from the movie. "Part of the goal was to mirror the emotions," he says. "We wanted not only to convey the fear and danger of the surroundings, but we wanted the viewer to also have fun with it and retain the comedic aspect of the film."

The logo that will be used for Martian VR. (Courtesy of Fox)

Fox sees Martian VR as the start of a new business; in 2016, it plans to launch a second VR project based on a movie, in addition to some mobile VR content built around the studio’s television IP. “We’re looking at the entire slate and what actually translates well for VR,” says David Greenbaum, executive vp production at Fox Searchlight Pictures and one of the directors of the Fox Lab.

But the studio also is taking a conservative view of the bullish projections. “There are all kinds of figures that come from the investment world that are making vast predictions about how quickly this medium will get adopted,” notes Fox futurist Ted Schilowitz. “This is going to take some time, though there’s interest and desire.”