by Thomas Kuster, CMI exec. dir.
Jesus has now been portrayed in virtual reality. Jesus VR: the Story of Christ was filmed in Italy in 2016 and released in 2017, directed by the Canadian Dave Hansen and featuring Tim Fellingham as Jesus. Its producers are veterans of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
In these early days of virtual reality technology, while many people are still working out what it is really good for, there is much about it that reminds us of Dr. Johnson’s comment about a dog walking on its hind legs: it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all. Some reviews suggest this could be a verdict on Jesus VR, the first full-length film about the life of Jesus in virtual reality.
Or more precisely, in 360-degree video, which I have previously noted [see VR5] is a step short of full virtual reality. In this movie, you can see the divine Baby in the manger and then turn around and see a cow – but then, why would you? Still, you can’t walk over and stroke the cow’s forehead, nor can you discuss their journey with the Wise Men who arrive there (even though in real history the Wise Men were not present at the manger).
So already in this one scene we encounter both the strength and limit of portraying the Bible in VR. You can get the feel of actually “being there” in new and powerful ways, and yet the “there” you are experiencing is not necessarily what actually happened.
You can get your own initial impression of this VR experience at the following links.
As for reviews, early viewers at a Venice Film Festival showing were enthusiastic. But Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian presents a not-too-impressed review. And David Sexton, writing in Go London, was even more underwhelmed (“God save us from a virtual mess”).
IMDb as usual provides production details.
There is enough here to raise again fundamental questions. Is trying to recreate Bible experiences in VR worth doing? Is it wise? I don’t believe that an expensive failure like Jesus VR necessarily leads to a “no” answer to these questions. But at least it reminds us that all our efforts using technology to spread the Gospel must aspire to the highest quality, to be worthy of the message.