Marshall From Detroit: VR Story Review

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Image from Felix and Paul Studios

As a longtime fan of the Rap music genre, I decided to take a look at a VR documentary on world-renowned rapper Marshall Mathers, professionally known as Eminem. Eminem is a multiple time Grammy Award-winning artist and one of music’s most influential and prolific individuals; according to Rolling Stone, he’s even regarded as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time.

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Image from Felix and Paul Studios

This piece was curated by the great minds of Felix & Paul Studios. Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël are filmmakers and visual artist. Before teaming up, Felix worked as a director of film, commercials, and immersive-video installations where Paul’s passions lied with cinematic storytelling, visual effects, and technology; together they’ve developed multiple award-winning stereoscopic 3-D films and large-scale multimedia installations. The pair collaborated with film editor and director Caleb Swain to help bring Eminem’s story to life.

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Image from Flickr

Marshall from Detroit is a full 21-minute VR experience. The short film originally premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibition but shortly after became available on Oculus platforms. This experience takes the viewer on a winter’s night ride around Detroit alongside Eminem and journalist/interviewer Sway Calloway. Throughout the ride, you are taken to scenes whithin the city while Sway and Em discucuss significant events and changes to eminem and Detroit as time has gone by.

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Image from VRScout

If you take this documentary at face value, you see the biggest appeal with this story being the chance to feel as though you are in a car with Eminem; you’d be pleasantly surprised to find out that the details of this story go beyond a one-dimensional immersive experience.

The story uses the same narrative structure throughout. Sway is asking Eminem a series of interview questions about Detroit and about Eminem’s life as they cruise through the streets of Detroit. As the viewer, you are provided shots within and on top of the vehicle, and a select few special scenes that truly need to be witnessed within VR to be fully appreciated. One element of production that adds to the immersive feel is the use of 3D audio. When you turn your head in the car to look out the window you hear Eminem talking beside you; when you turn to look directly at him or Sway it feels like you personally are right back in the conversation.

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Image from VRFocus
Image from VRFocus

The most compelling thing about this documentary was not any particular segment, but just how well the entire project was put together. Video quality is stellar; it really feels like the subjects are in the room with you with details being as sharp as can be for consumer VR. The story was not only appropriate for VR, but it became exposed as a story that needed VR to best be told. Seeing the scenery of Detroit coupled with the accompanying sounds make the viewer feel like they are more so a part of the story than being told one. The emotional impact of Eminem’s responses was enhanced by the images and sounds provided along with them. The flow was heavily driven by both the location and the story which is something that all experiences strive for but don’t always achieve. In conclusion, I have to recommend this film for reasons that go beyond the story itself. The use of VR techniques alone and the premium storytelling elements make this a worthwhile time investment. This serves as a great example of a VR story done well.

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