Humanity has always had a wonderful fascination with the stars and the universe around us, enamoured with the sheer vastness and danger that lays in wait as we learn and take ever deeper steps into the darkness of space. The subject makes for perfect virtual reality (VR) material, with some of my favourite content taking place in space, whether it’s educational like Overview or purely fictional and entertainment-based such as Downward Spiral: Horus Station. The latest to catch my eye was a VR experience – not a videogame – called Spheres.
Spheres isn’t one but three VR shorts all written and directed by Eliza McNitt, with each one featuring a different narrator. The first chapter, Chorus of the Cosmos, has the vocal talents of Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), the second chapter, Songs of Spacetime is narrated by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar) and the third, Pale Blue Dot, features American singer-songwriter Patti Smith.
It was thanks to Sphere’s debut during the Sundance Film Festival that helped to propel it into the spotlight, with CityLights purchasing the VR experience for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, breaking festival records. This was what drew my fascination for Spheres, could a VR short about the cosmos really be worth all that cash, because someone obviously thought so, and to that end is it worth spending $10 on.
I love that fact that VR content isn’t just about videogames. Titles like Allumette are just as enjoyable to sit back and watch as those with interactive elements such as Manifest 99. Spheres certainly falls into the latter category, giving just short moments where you can touch planets or alter sound waves. While these moments help you understand and further connect you to the content, it’s the visual and audible elements that truly amaze and inspire.
You don’t have to be a fan of astronomy to appreciate what McNitt and PROTOZOA Pictures have created, as all three pieces employ a viewpoint that unique and barely addressed in other titles, and that’s sound. This gives Spheres a mesmerising soundtrack that doesn’t solely rely on orchestras and traditional musical scores. It’s about the harmonics of life, from the beginning of the Big Bang to the way elements react together to form waves indiscernible by our own senses.
But Spheres is every bit as much a visual feast as it is an audible treat. The designs or the planets, solar system, galaxies, and black holes are a joy to behold. A personal favourite – and likely for many viewers – comes during Songs of Spacetime as part of the black hole sequence. I won’t spoil it too much but it was certainly worth a second watch straight after the first.
While the content isn’t overly long, for the production values and talent on offer I don’t see the price as being unreasonable. If you’re all about VR action then I’d probably give it a miss. Spheres is one of those titles that may entice the casual consumer but I can see it getting a far better reception as an interactive piece in a museum for example. If CityLights could get Spheres into places like the UK’s National Space Centre – which has plenty of school-friendly educational exhibits – then it’ll go down a storm.