CtrlMovie

During 20th Century Fox’s presentation at CinemaCon this morning in Las Vegas, the studio announced that they’re licensing something called CtrlMovie, an interactive technology that gives audiences “the opportunity to interact and collaborate with a story in a brand new way, actually allowing them to choose what happens next and see the consequences of those choices play out on the big screen.” The studio is developing a Choose Your Own Adventure movie that will use that technology. Read more about it below.

Despite the Fox executive on stage referring to this as “our latest innovation,” CtrlMovie is not new. In fact, it’s been around for years. You can visit their official website for more information, but this trailer for a project called Late Shift from 2016 gives us a good sense of how the Kino Industries technology works:

The studio announced that they’re developing a Choose Your Own Adventure film based on the wildly popular book series, and the movie will be produced by John Davis and John Fox at Davis Entertainment (The Predator, Game Night), Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter at Berlanti Productions (Green Lantern, Arrow, Supergirl) and Shannon Gilligan of Chooseco, the publishers of the books.

Remember, CinemaCon is a convention for theater owners and exhibitors. /Film’s Peter Sciretta was in the room during this presentation, and he tells us that the reaction from those owners was mixed and not exactly enthusiastic. That’s not too surprising, considering exhibitors are very resistant to change and this is such a drastic departure from the way audiences normally watch movies in theaters. To participate in these experiences, audiences will need to download an app and vote on options for the story as it progresses. It’s being pitched for all genres, from action films to dramas to rom-coms.

And again, despite this being hailed as an innovation, this technology was around long before CtrlMovie existed. In 1995, Back to the Future co-writer Bob Gale wrote and co-directed a movie called Mr. Payback, an interactive film that required audiences to vote for options in the story using joysticks that were attached to the armrests in the theater seats. Roger Ebert did not have kind things to say about it in his review:

I went to see “Mr. Payback” with an open mind. I knew it would not be a “movie” as I understand the word, because movies act on you and absorb you in their stories. An “interfilm,” as they call this new medium, is like a cross between a video game and a CD-ROM game, and according to Bob Bejan, president and CEO of Interfilm Inc., “suspension of disbelief comes when you begin to believe you’re in control.” I never believed I was in control. If I had been in control, I would have ended the projection and advised Bejan to go back to the drawing board. While an interactive movie might in theory be an entertaining experience, “Mr. Payback” was so offensive and yokel-brained that being raised in a barn might almost be required of its audiences.

It somehow seems inevitable that a major studio would attempt to incorporate this technology into the theatrical experience now. But as much as I don’t want to be the equivalent of the person who was shouting about the sanctity of silent pictures during the dawn of the “talkies,” there’s something about this concept that feels wrong. I don’t want to be on my phone when I’m sitting in a theater, messing with an app like I’m playing the world’s most boring video game. I want to watch a damn movie. Whatever Choose Your Own Adventure is or is going to be, it doesn’t sound like a movie.

Update: Since the original publication of this article, we received a press release that clarified some details that were murky in the actual CinemaCon presentation. Those clarifications are now reflected in the article.

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