Fox Innovation Lab Releases ‘The Martian VR Experience,’ Execs Promise Much More to Come

The Martian VR Experience
Courtesy of Fox Innovation Lab

Hollywood just got serious about virtual reality: 20th Century Fox’s Fox Innovation Lab released “The Martian VR Experience” from executive producer Ridley Scott and director Robert Stromberg for HTC Vive and PlayStation VR Monday.

“The Martian VR Experience” allows viewers to step into the world of “The “Martian” from the perspective of  astronaut Mark Watney, who was played by Matt Damon in the original movie. Stuck on Mars as Watney, viewers have to navigate machinery in the midst of a sand storm, drive a Mars rover, deal with highly explosive plutonium and more.

Fox Innovation Lab first previewed “The Martian VR Experience” at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. However, Fox Searchlight Pictures Co-Head of Production David Greenbaum told Variety that the demo shown to press and industry insiders in Las Vegas was really just a first cut. “There have been a lot of technical and narrative improvements,” he said.

“The Martian VR Experience” costs consumers $19.99, and it marks the first time for the studio to release a commercial title for the new medium. But 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Fox Innovation Lab President Mike Dunn told Variety that it isn’t meant to be a one-off. “This is our first swing at the plate,” he said. “Our intention from the moment we developed our business plan was to be in the commercial VR business.”

That’s notably different from the way many others in the entertainment industry have approached VR. Especially on the TV side, many studios have thus far only dipped their toes in the water with short 360-degree videos meant to promote existing TV shows.

20th Century Fox President of Post Production Ted Gagliano acknowledged that 360-degree video can be a gateway to VR, but also argued that it wasn’t enough to just do promotional clips: “That is selling virtual reality short.” This was echoed by Dunn: “We see VR as a new media opportunity, not just a promotional vehicle.”

But Dunn, Greenbaum and Gagliano also described their work on “The Martian VR Experience” as a learning experience that continues even after the release. VR remains uncharted territory, and the Fox Innovation Lab has been doubling as a kind of company-wide R&D lab. “We remain totally humble students to the technology,” said Greenbaum. “No one is an expert.” Added Gagliano: “We started as evangelists, now we are explorers.”

The trio didn’t want to reveal what’s next for Fox in VR, but they said that they look at each studio project to figure out what might work. And Dunn promised that there is going to be a lot more to come. “We have a slate against our tentpole films going forward and we are going to work with global partners to bring them to market,” he said. “It is going to be an exciting year.”