The Rock’s infamous leap in Skyscraper might’ve been memed to death for being physically impossible, but a cinematic VR experience that accompanies the movie brings even more delightful confusion and total awe at the jump.
At New York Comic Con on Thursday, I had a chance to run through the brief Skyscraper: The Impossible Leap VR Experience, which simulates the Rock’s epic jump in VR. Skyscraper is perhaps best described as a family-friendly Die Hard, and the VR experience follows through on that. Within the experience, Dwayne Johnson called me on my in-game cell phone and talked me through the experience, desperately chattering about the safety of his family inside the burning building the entire time.
In Skyscraper, the Rock plays Will Sawyer, an ex-FBI negotiator and amputee who presently evaluates the security measures of new buildings. One such building in Hong Kong called The Pearl comes under terrorist attack and catches fire with Sawyer’s family trapped inside. He’s forced to avoid police and terrorists alike to make an insane jump from a crane into the building.
At the start of the VR experience, players have to learn the controls: pumping one’s arms forward and backward, effectively simulating running, increases running speed in whatever direction they’re looking. The same mechanic continues providing forward momentum even when the player is in the air. Players first go through an otherworldly obstacle course to get used to the controls, and then they materialize inside the crane’s elevator.
That’s when the Rock calls to ask for some help. He’s only just made the jump himself, but he needs your help in the building! So it’s your turn to make the jump.
After the player shuffles around the main area at the top of the crane for a minute, the same helicopter full of armed soldiers spots in the movie spots them. Then it’s time to run the entire length of the crane and continue pumping mid-air to jump through the big Rock-shaped hole in the side of The Pearl. Go too slow or aim in the wrong direction, and the player plunges into fiery hell below.
The entire experience is very quick, short enough that everyone gets three attempts. I watched one poor child jiggle his arms frantically each time without actually swinging his arms, all while ignoring the cries of the man running the booth who offered advice. “You’ve got to really swing your arms!” The boy plunged to his death three times in a row. I had to resist a cruel chuckle.
These kinds of locomotion VR systems seem very simple, but they really require that the player swing their arms in wider arcs. Smaller hand gestures don’t register on the controllers as well, and that’s more fault on the user than the hardware. Perhaps the boy’s frantic motions spoke to how immersive this experience really is? The graphics are top-notch, and especially because it’s a night scene set in a busy metropolis, it feels more real than many VR experiences. Between the dizzying heights, the huge spotlight shining on the player from the helicopter, and the imminent threat of gunfire, the experience really sells the feeling of urgency.
This is exactly the type of experience VR is meant for.
I stuck the landing on my very first try, probably because I’ve played with similar VR mechanics before. Once my VR body automatically leaped from the crane, all practical laws of gravity were suspended and I just sort of kept gliding forward as long as I looked upward and kept swinging my arms in wide arcs. There are a triumphant musical cue and a brief pep talk at the end as a reward, so it was impossible for me to resist a smile.
And no, I couldn’t look that kid in the eye after I took the headset off.
Created by Universal, AMC Theatres, RealD 3D and HP Inc.’s Virtual Reality Solutions, The Impossible Leap VR Experience was originally featured at various AMC theaters throughout North America when Skyscraper was released in July. It’s unclear whether or not this VR experience might ever become downloadable to the public, but I sincerely hope it does.
Skyscraper is available now on Digital and coming to Blu-ray and DVD on October 9, 2018.