It’s happened to all of us. You’re watching the movie, and you’re into it, and then... a character makes a catastrophic mistake. They run upstairs when they should go out the front door. They bring the Transformer back to life rather than leaving it in a dump where they found it. They break quarantine when they’ve been screaming for the last 20 minutes how now matter what happens, they can’t let the virus escape. And you sit there, squirming in your seat, because there’s nothing you can do about it.

Scenarios like this have fueled decades of experimentation into one of the still mostly unexplored frontiers of cinema: Interactive movies. Today The Hollywood Reporter says a new technology that will create “participative, ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ type motion pictures” that will be introduced next month at a tech conference. The company responsible, CtrlMovie, is readying their first film with the tech...

... titled Late Shift, [which] was written and directed by Tobias Weber, who also developed the technology and heads CtrlMovie. According to Kino, which plans to debut the film at the AT&T Shape conference, Late Shift is being developed to allow the audience to determine the course of action that the film takes via 180 decision points within a total of four hours of material, which then lead up to one of seven potential climaxes.

Supposedly, this technology could be used as part of theatrical releases as well as on “select platforms” including smartphones and video game consoles.

That makes sense, of course; the dream (or the nightmare, depending on your perspective) of an interactive movie has been discussed ever since video games rose to a place of major prominence in popular culture. Reading this news, I was instantly reminded of the segment from Siskel & Ebert 22 years ago, where the hosts tried out one of the first major attempts to bring interactive movies into the mainstream. They, um, they absolutely freaking hated it. (Watch below, starting at 9:49 of the clip:)

The kids liked Mister Payback almost as much as they liked Forrest Gump! <Faints.>

This new technology sounds much more advanced than Mister Payback, with many more potential story branches. (Back in 1995, the interactive choices were handled by laserdisc machines. Ask your parents what that was all about.) But the concept remains the same; audiences influencing the movie they’re watching.

Ebert in particular was open to the possibilities that interactive cinema possessed, he just hated its use in Mister Payback (which I never saw, but does look pretty awful). But Ebert also stressed that interactive movies are not movies; “You don’t want to interact with [a movie]; you want it to act on you,” he said. I think that’s right. They’re something else entirely, a medium that demands its own rules and structure, and requires artists who understand it. It’s been more than 20 years; has someone finally figured out how to make an interactive movie worthy of our time and money? If you think so, press 1 now.

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