A new film looks to do for movies what hypertext fiction tried to do for print in the 1990s. The film, “The Onyx Project,” tells the story of a special operations mission in Afghanistan, typical military fare. What makes the film interesting is that the viewer is presented with clickable options at the end of each scene that determine the direction the film takes. In some cases, a link is highlighted to encourage viewers to go in a certain direction, and there is also a shuffle feature that randomly selects the next scene.
The film is available on DVD today and stars Oscar-winner David Strathairn. The disc contains almost five hours of footage, guaranteeing that–at least for a few run-throughs–each viewing experience will be unique.
This reminds me of Michael Joyce’s afternoon, which followed the same basic idea in “print”–for lack of a better term. What difference does nonlinear reading make when it is transformed into the visual world? What do we gain by it, or lose by it?
We gain a sense of control over the film, but at this time I do not think it is more than a novelty. Nonlinear storytelling in movies will not catch on any more than it has in print. This is chiefly because movies are social events. Watching a movie alone is a rare thing. This technology places the viewer in front of a computer screen rather than on a couch with friends. And while watching “The Onyx Project” as a group might provoke some interesting discussions over where the viewing should go, for the most part I see it as a solitary activity.
Does hypertext (hypermedia) gain something in this visual genre? It is certainly an extension of the visual focus that Bolter writes about in Writing Space, and I think he would see it as a natural extension of where the World Wide Web is headed: towards multimedia exhibitions. It is interesting that the filmmakers chose to use text links rather than thumbnail images of the following scenes. I think that could produce more intense debate within the reader over where the story should go. The entire film is an odd mixture of different media.
There is a privileged order to the film, hence the highlighted links, but the user has the choice in the end. The viewing can either follow the favored path or blaze new trails. In that way it is transitional. It gives the viewer the opportunity to treat this film like any old movie or take it to another level by using its hypertextual features. If we are aiming at a move into the hypertextual realm, then this is certainly the way to do it–a picture perfect representation of Bolter’s remediation. It recombines elements of old media and merges them with new media.
None of this hangs together or makes sense, I’m sure. I’ll likely revisit it in the future.