You make the movie.
From Digital Circus Entertainment, a Vancouver based studio specializing in interactive entertainment, comes Point of View, or POV as it is also called, a film thriller in which you decide the direction the story takes. While the idea isn't totally new (adventure books have taken this path before), this is the most comprehensive attempt to bring the concept to feature film, and is worth a look on that basis alone. The film turns out to be quite interesting in its own right, however, which is even better.
Facts of the Case
Jane is a beautiful but troubled woman, kept in seclusion by her own fears and trauma, but watches people outside her window. One of those people she watches is Frank, a musician who works part-time as a newspaper vendor. Frank happens to live across the street and has no drapes, so Jane watches him a lot, and develops a reluctant attraction to him. From here it is hard to tell the story, because there are several options and shady characters Jane can interact with. Will Frank be a good man or a bad one? Will Jane be an innocent victim of trauma or be someone who can't be trusted? What about the other people that come into her life? Whichever way the story goes, the answers you give to the chapter questions will determine the fate of Jane and Frank, along with the others.
Certainly this is an interesting idea; a film whose plot and direction you influence yourself. At the end of each of the film's twelve "chapters" you answer questions about what you thought of the characters you had just seen, and then questions about yourself and your views. Your answers may well decide who the bad guy or the good guy will turn out to be, and what happens with the other side characters as well. There are three possible endings to the film, but the path that gets you to each has many possibilities.
You have more tools than just the film itself to aid in your decision making. At each chapter there is an exploration option that lets you snoop around in the personal belongings of the characters. A lot of extra exposition is available through this option. Even more is offered through the "Encounters" option, where you can pick a character and they will tell you what they are thinking, as if they stopped filming in the middle of the scene and addressed the camera. You can also review any of the chapters you have previously seen before making your choices of answers. Finally you give your answers and the film progresses.
It can be quite interesting going through this process. The story is set up as a mystery thriller, and I was always anxious to see how things turned out. For my first try through the film I tried giving provocative answers that didn't agree with my own outlook; trying to see just how wild I could make the film turn out. Later I gave more truthful ones. The film took a different path to a similar end in both cases, but I know there are many options I did not explore. Many hours could be devoted to trying all the different possibilities.
From what I can tell you about the story and the characters, I was impressed. The cast is largely based of unknowns, but the actors did a fine job. The story was interesting as well; finding out who Jane is and why she is such a recluse kept my attention, and certainly wading through the red herrings to discover who would be the bad guy was interesting.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are technical limitations and problems with this approach to a film. One of the primary limitations is with the DVD player itself. A set-top DVD player only has 16 bytes (that's bytes, not kilobytes or megabytes) of memory. To save off the movie in progress or to enter a code to watch the film again (once you've made your choices all the way through you can see the uninterrupted version of the film) is a tedious process of many steps. The resulting code has to be entered one character at a time, and takes an inordinate amount of time. Certainly if this were done for a computer alone the process could be more streamlined. Those same limitations also cause some tedium during the film itself. It took me approximately four hours to go through the film when you add in all the time you spend listening to encounters and doing the exploration, along with answering all the questions. There is only so much time in the day to devote to this endeavor, especially if you're a busy DVD reviewer.
Certainly a lot of footage had to be shot for all the possible pathways the story can take, and the footage is pieced together according to your answers. This is not a perfect system. There were a couple of encounters and a couple pieces of scenes that didn't quite fit into my version of the film, but would have fit better in an alternate version. Until I realized this I was confused for a moment or two. One character makes a reference to having an affair with another character, but in my version they didn't get together, as one example.
The film was shot by Digital Circus in Vancouver, Canada. They used digital tape throughout, and the look is decent but not perfect. Sometimes a great deal of grain creeps in during night shots (almost no external lighting was used), and even when the picture looks sharp it looks more like video than film. The sound is more problematic than the video; sometimes there is a great deal of "wind noise" in the background of the dialogue. It would have likely taken more money than the project had to get the background noise out of the soundtrack. The extra content is a high point on the disc, however. Besides all the little extras during the film to help you make your choices, there is a nice documentary on the making of Point of View as well. Watching it will provide spoilers for versions of the film you have not seen, so it is best left un-watched until you are finished playing with the possibilities.
I'm not certain how much of a market there is for this type of fare. Movie-watching is often a communal activity, and you have to answer questions, some of them quite personal, as the film goes along. You can all get together and decide what to answer, but the film is really trying to get you to go deep inside yourself and make decisions that will influence the film for your own point of view. Hence the title. The limitations of the set-top DVD player also lessen the fun factor of exploring the disc; the computer would be an easier way to interact with the film and DVD.
However, I have to applaud the effort and willingness to try something innovative with the format. The story is interesting, even compelling at times, even if its low budget origins are easily recognizable. If you're willing to invest a bit of time and effort yourself, the movie will meet you halfway. Give it a rental if you want to just give it the once-over, or purchase it to explore all the possibilities.
Director David Wheeler and Digital Circus are released with no charges; in fact the court would like to thank them for taking a different path and way of making a film and bringing it to my attention. Unfortunately I can't bring charges against the bad guy in the film, as he might be the good guy next time.
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