Architectures of Vision

Architectures of Vision PDF

Architectures of Vision: Neo-Baroque Optical Regimes and Contemporary Entertainment Media
by Angela Ndalianis
The Baroque Ocular Regime & The Limits Of The Frame

The last two decades have been host to a variety of entertainment media which are dependent upon special effects spectacles that aim at engulfing their audiences in their illusionistic displays. Indeed, late twentieth century entertainment spectacles like blockbuster effects films and theme park attractions are reliant upon a neo-baroque “ocular regime.” According to Martin Jay, the baroque ëscopic regime’ is one often associated with a delight in visual spectacle. The baroque is an order that calls upon systems of classical or Renaissance perspective in order to overturn, investigate, or complicate their rational, self-contained visual and narrative spaces.

The seventeenth and late twentieth centuries are epochs that reflect wide-scale baroque sensibilities which, while being the product of specific socio-historical and temporal conditions, reflect similar patterns and concerns on formal levels. Both epochs underwent radical cultural, perceptual, and technological shifts which manifested themselves in similar aesthetic forms. While specific historical conditions differ radically, a similar overall formal effect was achieved. Social crisis and change “created a climate from which the baroque emerged and nourished itself”. Through a comparison with seventeenth century manifestations of baroque spectacle, this essay explores ways in which a neo-baroque attitude to spectacle manifests itself in the contemporary media spaces of the 1980s and 90s. In particular, I want to introduce a central feature of baroque and neo-baroque ocular regimes in the context of seventeenth and late twentieth centuries’ shared fascination with spectacle, illusionism, and the baroque formal principle of the collapse of the frame.

The spatially invasive nature of baroque and neo-baroque spaces instigates participatory spectatorial positions through dynamic compositional arrangements. With borders continually being rewritten, neo-baroque vision provides optical models of perception that suggest worlds of infinity that lose the sense of a centre, which are associated with classically ordered space. Rather, the centre is now to be found in the position of the spectator, with the representational centre changing depending on the spectator’s focus. Given that neo-baroque spectacle provides polycentric and multiple shifting centres, the spectator, in a sense, remains the only element in the image/viewer scenario that remains centred and stable. It is now the audience’s perception and active engagement with the image that orders the illusion. The notion of the ëpassive spectator’ as voyeur collapses when media experiences immerse the viewer in spectacles that aim at perceptually removing the presence of the frame.

Deleuze’s analysis of baroque vision is an appropriate interpretative tool here. He suggests that the baroque offers an ëarchitecture of vision’ that situates the viewer in a spatial relationship to the representation. Rather than providing a statically ordered perspectival arrangement, the ëcentre’ continually shifts, the result being the articulation of complex spatial conditions.

Classical systems are characterised by closure. Such closed systems remain centred, ensuring narrative clarity and symmetry of organisation. Raphael’s mural decoration of the School of Athens (1509-11) reflects such a classical attitude to narrative and visual form. The architectural arrangement recedes into the background, centring the two key figures ñ Aristotle and Plato ñ while a series of other philosophers flank them on either side. The fresco is dedicated to Philosophy and, while each of the other philosophers ñ including Socrates, Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Heraclitus, Diogenes ñ are depicted in unified groups, “each group is tied to the whole by some detail that serves as a hyphen that relates the details, through compositional arrangement” to the central narrative concern focused around the figures of Aristotle and Plato.

Aided by the use of one-point perspective, the representation aims at perceptually extending the two-dimensional wall space through architectural and figural arrangements that lead the gaze of the spectator into the depth of the composition. The overriding sensation of the compositional and narrative arrangement is of the framing of the main protagonists within a closed and focused narrative and representational scenario, a feat achieved by the rigid, painted architectural framework.

Reflecting the capacity to “rationalize vision through mathematics” Raphael put into practise the Renaissance classical system that was later theorised by Alberti in his Della Pittura of 1435. The mathematical clarity of perspective was employed to “produce the illusion of a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface”. According to Ackerman, perspective, in combination with lighting and colour, became “the paradigmatic invention of the Renaissance, in that it literally brought all perceived space under rational control”. The effect is one of a representational reality that is contained within the frame. Depicting a represented reality that effaces its construction through rational means, the spectator looks into this space as if looking through a window beyond which another world exists.

Combining Renaissance art’s reliance on one-point perspective with the more powerful mimetic system of photographic realism, classical Hollywood cinema has been viewed as producing a representational space that similarly attempts to be transparent “like a window onto the real”. Bazin viewed the photographic realism of the cinema as containing the “characteristics of the ripeness of a classical art”. In particular, Bazin focused on classical form and themes that were also highlighted by Alberti in his Della Pittura: an art that has perfect balance, narratives that stress dramatic and moral themes, and a realism that is self-effacing.

Baroque Form, And The Collapse Of The Limits Of The Frame

The baroque example of Pietro da Cortona’s ceiling painting of The Glorification of Urban VIII (Rome, 1633-9) in the Palazzo Barberini is, in many respects, a paragon of baroque attitudes to spectacle and illusionism. The single, immobile viewpoint of the classical spectator is transformed into a dynamic process that changes as a result of its three-dimensional capacity to actively engage the spectator in spatial terms. The Renaissance ideal of a perspectivally guided representation (evident in Raphael’s School of Athens) is replaced by a baroque concern with complex, dynamic motion and multiple perspectives that are dependent on the position of the viewer in relation to the work.

Henri Focillon views classical forms as remaining encased in a space that “keeps them intact”. Baroque forms, however,

pass into an undulating continuity where both beginning and end are carefully hiddenÖ [The baroque reveals] ëthe system of the series’ ñ a system composed of discontinuous elements sharply outlined, strongly rhythmical andÖ [that]eventually becomes ëthe system of the labyrinth’, which, by means of mobile synthesis, stretches itself out in a realm of glittering movement and color.

The baroque’s difference to classical systems lies in the refusal to respect the limits of the frame. Instead it “tend[s] to invade space in every direction, to perforate it, to become as one with all its possibilities”. The lack of respect for the limits of the frame is manifest with intense visual directness in baroque attitudes towards spectacle. The impact and meaning of Cortona’s ceiling painting depends on the interaction and combination of multiple, shifting view points and narrative perspectives ñ all of which operate to collapse the classical function of the frame. The frame is present so that its function can be undermined. Open systems typical of the neo-baroque permit a greater flow between the inside and outside, and operate according to a polycentric logic.

Rather than reflecting a classical concern for the static, closed and centralised, the neo-baroque system is dependent upon dynamic forces that expand, and often rupture borders. Differentiation, polycentrism and rhythm are central to neo-baroque storytelling strategies and, as with examples of seventeenth century baroque, neo-baroque entertainment media of the late twentieth century introduce “a taste for elliptical form provided with real centres and multiple potentials”.

Cortona’s ceiling painting reveals precisely such a polycentric organisation. Whereas Raphael contains his narrative by framing it within a hemispherical border that rigidly encloses the composition, Cortona uses the frame in order to escape its limits. Cortona has divided the vault of the ceiling into five parts, each dealing with separate narratives which are demarcated by painted stucco frames. A personification of Divine Providence floats in the central panel offering support for Pope Urban VIII’s worthiness of immortality. Despite the seemingly distinct narrative segments, Cortona is not concerned with a narrative limit such as that present in Raphael’s painting. In the cornice that intersects with Minerva and the Giants, for example, numerous figures and swirling clouds tumble and float in front of and behind the painted stucco frames with the result that the narrative from one panel literally spills into the narrative of another. In addition, the impression is such that, in order to spill into the next visual and narrative space, the figures and objects perceptually appear to enter our own space within the Palazzo Barberini. A classically ordered composition would have enclosed and kept discrete the separate narrative borders.

While the scene in the centre of the vault depicting the glorification of Urban VIII is important, the viewer is also invited to follow serial paths that lead to other representational centres. The depiction of each narrative suggests a dynamic space and open attitude, one that aims at and produces “an unlimited space continuum”. Indeed, baroque spectacle often serves a dual function. It operates on the principle of co-extensive space ñ a space that illusionistically connects with and infinitely extends from our own (as seen in the central panel of the Barberini ceiling where the solidity of the vault appears to be punctured and perceptually extends to the heavens); and it constructs a labyrinthine space that produces an expansive network of spatial formations that appear to interlink with our own. It therefore draws the gaze of the spectator “deep into the enigmatic depths and the infinite” and rhythmically recalls what Focillon labels the “system of the labyrinth”.

Neo-Baroque Architectures of Vision

Our own neo-baroque spectacles similarly parallel Deleuze’s articulation of the architectural dimension of sight. Two recent examples suggest the extent to which this dual articulation of the ëarchitecture of vision’ embodied by the infinite and the labyrinth has become ingrained in Hollywood effects cinema, primarily as a result of computer generated special effects.

The opening scene of Contact (Zemeckis, 1997) literally (at least, in visual terms) makes the spectator become ëlost in space’. Computer effects create the illusion of the longest zoom-out shot in the history of the cinema as the camera appears to travel ever outwards through infinite space, continually relocating its centre, from planet to planet, solar system to solar system. We are confronted by an infinite vision, one that ultimately deceives us as it shifts from outer space to inner space.

Event Horizon (Anderson 1997) again plunges the audience’s vision into an infinite zoom-out. In one sequence, the camera (or the computer effect mimicking a camera motion) centres on the view of a figure through a window. The figure seems to be hanging upside down but, as the camera pulls out it also rotates and recentres the spectator’s view to one that encompasses a larger view of a space station which includes further figures seen through windows situated at different angles to the original figure. Again, the camera zooms out and, as it rotates, provides an even longer shot of the station. So it continues, until this dizzying ëarchitecture of vision’ reveals the massive polycentric and labyrinthine structure that is the space station, which is itself situated within a boundless space. All the while, it is the spectator’s sight that centres these images.

A neo-baroque logic also pervades both scenes, one that turns traditional mono-directional perspective on its head. In the construction of a co-extensive and labyrinthine space, ëa’ centre is no longer present. The continual and multiplication of relocation of the centre creates a spatial disorientation that emphasises kinetic motion. In these instances, via the camera (and computer that produces the digital effects) our vision often appears to be violently thrust into the space and representation on the screen. In Event Horizon and Contact the combination of film and computer technology with the kinetic motions that inform the spectacle emphasises a more intense ocular regime concerned with movement and the “turning-eye”. Once the frame illusionistically collapses, traditional perspective which relies on the frame and a static view point also collapses. An illusion of infinity itself is placed before the spectator and an invitation is extended to engage with the spectacle in spatially and architecturally disorienting terms.
Theatre of the World and the Collapse of the Proscenium Arch

In her discussion of contemporary science fiction cinema, Sobchack suggests that Jameson’s articulation of postmodernist space finds expression in post-1977 science fiction films. Special effects spaces present themselves as “total spaces” that “stand for, and replace all other space”, the special effects environments of science fiction cinema also “celebrate hybrid expression, complexity, eclecticism, and ëvariable space with surprises'”. Above all, the special effects spaces of science fiction cinema ñ and, I would add, effects-driven cinema and theme park attractions ñ play on the neo-baroque concept of “great theatre of the world” where the world and theatre, reality and performance blur.

Contemporary entertainment spectacles greatly expand upon techniques of co-extensive space that drive the illusionistic traditions that dominate in the seventeenth century baroque ñ where the fictive and the real appear to merge. The art that emerged was concerned with escaping the limitations of two-dimensional space. In the words of Baur-Heinhold, “space had broken its bounds and become indeterminate”.

It is theme park rides like Star Tours at Disneyland, Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios, and the Terminator 2: 3D ride, also at Universal, that further expanded the potential for realising the collapse of the frame and spatial indeterminacy. Often using hydraulically powered motion simulators combined with film and digital technology, the participatory and invasive nature of these spectacles produce such an intense sense of an architecture of vision that many an audience member literally suffers the effects in the form of nausea.

This is the realm of baroque spectacle as theatre of the world: once invited beyond the proscenium, and beyond the frame, the frame perceptually disintegrates embroiling the viewer in a series of baroque folds that present the possibility of a limitless scope of vision. The outside becomes inside and the inside out. The baroque phenomenon of border-crossing is best expressed by Deleuze:

If the Baroque establishes a total art or a unity of the arts, it does so first of all in extension, each art tending to be prolonged and even to be prolonged into the next art, which exceeds the one before. We have remarked that the Baroque often confines painting to retables, but it does so because the painting exceeds its frame and is realized in polychrome marble sculpture; and sculpture goes beyond itself by being achieved in architecture; and in turn, architecture discovers a frame in a façade, but the frame itself becomes detached from the inside, and establishes relations with the surroundingsÖ We witness the prodigious development of a continuity in the arts, in breadth or in extension: an interlocking of frames of which each is exceeded by a matter that moves through it.

Theme park attractions (which stand at the centre of the most ëcutting edge’ developments in the entertainment industry) take to new limits the ëunity of the arts’. While played out overtly in contemporary blockbuster effects films, the polycentrism inherent in neo-baroque architectures of vision finds its most literal form of expression in contemporary theme park attractions. Where blockbuster effects cinema interweaves the represented frames of computer generated, filmic and architectural realities, theme park attractions often take the ambiguity of the frame further still. Insides and outsides are continually rewritten, and multiple media and lived realities are continually reframed. The proscenium that demarcates audience space from the performance is blurred, and the audience becomes a participant in an enveloping entertainment spectacle.

Terminator 2: 3D Battle Across Time

In Terminator 2: 3D Battle Across Time, a multi-media attraction at Universal Studios, Florida, Schwarzenegger, Hamilton, Furlong and Patrick reprise their roles under the direction of James Cameron. Screen action using computer, video and film technology combines with live action within the theatre to produce an exhilarating, participatory entertainment experience. The unsuspecting group of adventurers enter the “Cyberdyne Complex” at Universal Studios, and the tour of the installation begins. The audience is to be present at the unveiling of the latest Cyberdyne innovation: the T-70 cyborg (a primitive 1997 version of the T-800). While the Cyberdyne host introduces the crowd to the company’s ëcybotic’ vision through a video being projected on multiple television screens, the video control room is invaded by Sarah and John Connor who warn the audience (via video screens) of the dire need to escape. After Sarah refreshes the group’s memories about the events that took place in Terminator 2 by narrating and showing them brief scenes from the film (and as the reality of the audience’s presence at Universal melds with the fiction of the Terminator universe), Cyberdyne once again takes control of transmission, and an embarrassed host warns everyone to ignore the wild ramblings of the Connor rebels. The audience is then ushered into a theatre, and the presentation continues. Sitting dumbstruck and surrounded by ëlive’ T-70s who flank the audience on either side of the auditorium, the audience’s state of awe continues as they are treated to the sight of Sarah’s and John’s invasion of the theatre, this time as ëreal’ actors in the audience’s space. Suddenly the crowd finds itself thrust into the centre of a live action battle ground.

Meanwhile, behind the Cyberdyne representative on stage the Cyberdyne logo appears projected onto a 23 x 50 foot screen. Amidst the battle chaos (and armed with 3D glasses) the attraction participants are seemingly caught in the cross-fire of bullets fired at the Connors by the T-70s; some of the bullet shots fired in the auditorium hit the Cyberdyne logo on the screen. With appropriate sound effects booming out of the 159 speakers, the audience looks on in horror as the bullet holes embedded in the logo melt and ëmorph’ into the T-1000. As his liquid, blob-shape ëmorphs’ into ëchrome man’ guise, the T-1000’s head begins to fill the 23 foot screen, then lunges forward, seemingly escaping the confines of the screen space as it thrusts towards the audience, some of whom parallel the motion by screaming and reaching out to protect their faces from the coming onslaught. The T-1000 then ëmoves back’ into screen space (his 3D form flattening back into the more two-dimensional nature of the ëflat’ screen format), ëmorphing’ into liquid-metal form and slipping down to the lower part of the screen where, in search of his prey, he then transforms into a live actor (as policeman form of the T-1000) on stage. Moments later, a time portal opens up in the screen and a ëlive’ T-800 (a Schwarzenegger look-alike) arrives on stage on a Harley-Davidson Fatboy, calling out a repeat performance of his famous one-liner to John: “Come with me if you want to live”. Both then enter the screen reality (leaving Sarah behind to deal with our present reality), and the next stage of the story begins: a 7 minute film that dramatises John and the T-800 trying to destroy the Cyberdyne computer mainframe in the year 2029.

Like many of the effects films and attractions that preceded it, the Terminator 2:3D attraction has pushed film technology and computer graphics to new limits, while simultaneously acknowledging its dependence on film technology of the past ñ in this instance, of the 50s ñ itself an era of entertainment media reflecting neo-baroque sensibilities. Indeed, the attraction remediates and provides and alternate technological and media dimension to baroque spectacles familiar to audiences since the seventeenth century. At one stage in the ëfilm’, the 23 x 50 foot screen expands to 180o and is flanked by two additional screens of identical size – changing the dimensions of the screen to 23 X 150 feet of enveloping spectacle.

However, true to baroque virtuosity, while harking back to the 50’s era of Cinerama (as well as 3D cinema), Cameron and the effects crew of Digital Domain also take this technology further. The 70mm projected film no longer reveals the graininess of 50’s Cinerama; film quality combines with digital effects to produce a crystal clear depiction of an alternative reality that invades the reality of the audience. Digital technology also rejuvenates 50’s 3D cinema ñ as does the new screen which is coated with high-gain material allowing for the best possible 3D imagery. ëMorphed’ beings are now placed within a 3D context, and the illusionistic outcome is not only technologically ground-breaking but phenomenologically new. Audience members sit in their seats, wondering how these illusions are possible. Likewise, the surround sound systems that widescreen cinema first introduced as a five speaker format in the 50s (and which were given new life with the release of Star Wars and the era of surround-sound entertainment cinema that followed) are now replaced with new digital audio effects by Soundelux that comprise 45,620 watts of sound blaring through 159 speakers. Furthermore, simulation ride technology works on a grand scale in this attraction: the norm of approximately 6-40 seats per ride found in attractions such as Back to the Future (Universal Studios) and Star Tours (Walt Disney World) is now expanded to accommodate approximately seven hundred vibrating seats. At one stage during the attraction, the auditorium floor moves and the audience has the sensation of going down an elevator into the depths of Cyberdyne with Schwarzenegger and Furlong. The combined effort of all of these innovative effects makes the experience seem real, and the audience feels as if they are placed in the middle of the action. Adding to the sensation of the collapse of illusion into reality is the theatrical addition of sprays of water and smoke that integrate us with the action on the screen and in the theatre. State of the art digital effects, the digital sound system, and simulation ride technology combine with “older” technologies of widescreen and 3D cinema to produce an immersive and sensorially entertaining experience.

Extending the baroque spatial dimension of sight, the neo-baroque employs computer and film technology to produce virtual trompe l’oeil effects. Introducing motion, sound, and other sensorial experiences to visual spectacle, the neo-baroque articulates the perceptual collapse of the frame more powerfully, and in ways not witnessed before. In the words of Schwarzenegger: “The topography of motion pictures continues to change at the speed of light, becoming more and more interactive with audiences across the globe… What we have created with Terminator 2: 3D is the quintessential sight and sound experience for the 21st century, and that’s why I’m back”. The effects illusions in Terminator 2: 3D are indicative of the accelerated pace in which entertainment industries are transforming as a result of new computer technologies.

Perceptions of Realism

In the late twentieth century entertainment forms like this theme park attraction are now engaged in a complex level of interaction that makes it increasingly difficult to untangle one media form from another. Does Terminator 2: 3D Battle Across Time, for example, belong to the realm of the cinema, television, computer technology, the theatre, or the theme park attraction? Where does the theatrical experience end and the film begin? Where does the film end and the attraction begin? The total unity of the arts that Deleuze discusses occurs through extension, invoking the motion of the fold: like the ëmorphing effects’ and the fluid media and figural transformations of Cortona’s Barberini ceiling, one space extends into another, one medium into the next, the spectator into the spectacle, and the spectacle into the spectator.

The classical paradigm, and its associations with narrativity and the ëpassive’ spectator, no longer seems viable given new entertainment experiences concerned with spectacle and active audience address and participation. Spectacle engulfs the audience in invasive, spatial, and theatrical terms, producing a participatory experience. Like baroque quadratura and trompe l’oeil paintings, these diverse media effects, in many respects, encapsulate the logic of baroque illusionism: special effects create illusions that seem to perceptually transform into reality, and reality itself often appears to merge with the effects illusion. In turn, this obfuscation of boundaries affects audience/screen relations. The theoretical structure that supports the model of the classic realist text collapses.

A central feature of spectatorship and contemporary effects film and theme park attractions lies in the spectator’s state of uncertainty while in the midst of a game of perception is about “seeing something which was impossible, and yet looked completely photorealistic”. A neo-baroque ambivalence lies beneath the spectacle. The traditions of quadratura illusions and computer and film generated effects, share a baroque concern in making the fantastic appear photorealistic. The tricks have always been there, but the technology has now changed. The dynamic aspects of the neo-baroque are evident especially in the interchange that exists between spectator and representation. The special effects illusion ñ whether it be a morphing cyborg, a computer generated dinosaur, a 3D T-Meg, or a digitally processed 70mm surround image and sound fx ñ merges with the audience in the way it invites us to embrace its illusionistic universe in such real terms.

Film theory fails to account for the paradox that, while images may be perceptually realistic, they are referentially unreal. Contemporary entertainment forms employ a variety of technological means to achieve this shift in perception. In the process, 90s effects cinema and theme park attractions also perform and compete with prior effects traditions, continually attempting to technically out-perform previous effects technology ñ and, along with it, the perceptions of reality these technologies delivered. The culmination ñ or, perhaps the beginning ñ of such perceptions is experienced in entertainment technologies that engage in an architecture of vision that confuses the distinction between that which is perceptually realistic and that which is referentially unreal. By seeking to collapse the proscenium arch, current entertainment spectacles, and the technology that drives them attempt to disguise the paradox that exists between the perceptually real and the referentially unreal.

Terminator 2: 3D reflects the way contemporary entertainment media attempt to make perceptually real illusions appear referentially real. The attraction lures the audience into various levels of reality by displaying a variety of technologically conjured effects ñ in the process, setting itself up as a new kind of techno-spatial experience. Participatory techniques are taken to excess. Not only are there wider screens, greater digital surround sound systems, state of the art digital effects, and a 3D technology never witnessed before, but all these technologies combine to produce an assaultive sensation that integrates the audience into the illusion. Terminator 2: 3D lures the spectator-as-participant into its levels of reality, thus plunging him/her into a realm of spatial ambiguity. This is achieved both through an illusory invasion of the audience’s space (through 3D), and through an illusion that plunges the audience into the spectacle’s space (through widescreen). Unlike the 1950’s spectacle counterpart, in the 90s, computer graphics control every level of production, ensuring the successful, hyperreal articulation of this illusion as reality. Throughout the entire attraction, the audience’s sense of their phenomenological reality redefines itself as they accommodate the various games of perception that envelop them in their illusionistic spaces.

When the T-1000 makes his first ëmorphed’, 3D appearance, not only does his screen form, as the Cyberdyne logo, ëmorph’ into the chrome man, but the digital metamorphosis also slips into a theatrical metamorphosis: liquid metal, computer generated effect on the screen, slides into a live theatrical effect involving a live actor on stage ñ then back again to digital film effect on the screen. The audience is taken on a journey through different possibilities of illusions of reality. The theatrical space of the audience/Cyberdyne complex, the actors, and T-70 cybots performing live in the auditorium, interweave with the filmed, videoed and digitised realities of widescreen, 3D, television and computer images.

Furthermore, the filmed realities contain within them further layers that reflect on different constructions of perceived realities. The result is that an interplay occurs between film and digital traditions, one that suggests that the incorporation of the digital into film has “improved” or “advanced” the audience’s understanding of a perceptual reality (especially in relation to the perceptions provided by traditional film viewing experiences).

The attempted disguise of the paradox inherent in the interplay between perceptual and referential realities returns us to the principle of neo-baroque virtuosity. Underlying Terminator 2: 3D is a virtuoso concern, one that results from its flawless articulation of an illusion that invades the audience’s space in such deceptively real terms. Like other neo-baroque examples, Terminator 2: 3D frames itself within its own historicity. The single 23 x 50 foot screen (which suggests more conventional cinematic viewing), transforms to also display the ëmorphing’ effects of the T-1000. For the first time in film history, 3D technology integrates with computer technology to expand the audience’s perception of screen space collapsing into theatre space. The screen expands to triple its length, but the traditional widescreen, Cinerama experience also introduces another computer generated spectacle ñ the T-Meg; this liquid metal, insect-like creature fills the 180o space (which encompasses the spectator’s peripheral vision, thus creating the illusion that we have entered representational space), then lunges at the audience to further invade the auditorium space.

The neo-baroque fold informs the logic of the spectacle as all of these multimedia ërealities’ intermingle with one another: actors from within the screen enter into the space of the audience; the space of the audience appears to become one with the space of the screen; effects on the screen thrust themselves forcefully into the audience’s space (due to the combination of 3D and morphing effects, and through theatrical effects such as the sprays of water that hit the crowd when the T-Meg splatters into millions of pieces as it comes straight at us). 3D, computer graphics, and widescreen technologies combine to construct the illusion of a breakdown of spatial boundaries that separate the audience’s reality from the representation, perceptually collapsing the theatrical frame of the stage.

Throughout the entire attraction, the spectacle maintains an undeniable sense that this convincingly real representational space is also being displayed in order that the audience may admire it as a multi-technological feat of illusionism. But unlike the ëcompetition’ 3D attractions at Disneyworld (Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3D), Terminator 2: 3D does not round off its performance with the theatrical closure of the stage curtains. This attraction signals its difference by presenting a performance that is about the removal of the curtain ñ the removal of the barrier that separates the audience from the special effects fabrication. Yet the fact that it achieves this so masterfully sets up an invisible curtain, one that is drawn to signal closure in the minds of the audience ñ a closure experienced during those moments of stunned silence and amazement that accompany the literally explosive end of the film. The attraction/film literally ends with a bang as the T-800 blasts the Cyberdyne Complex of 2029 to smithereens. The effects of this explosion are not merely felt perceptually (while remaining contained by the frame of the screen); they are also felt in quite real (yet theatrical) terms through the vibrations felt under the audience’s seats, through the heat that warms their bodies, and through the sea of smoke that veils their vision as it drifts through the auditorium. This silence is soon followed by the audience’s tumultuous applause as the technological performance is acknowledged.

The visual and sensory games that entertainment technologies articulate flaunt their capacity for making a reality out of an illusion. Increasingly, and through their own media-specific methods, entertainment spectacles strive to obliterate the frame that demarcates a distance between reality and representation. The cinema relies on widescreen formats, computer-generated special effects, and surround sound experiences. Computer games immerse the player into their representational spaces through audience interaction. Theme park attractions draw upon a variety of methods including Imax and Omnimax screen formats, widescreen images, simulation rides, and theatrical experiences to sensorially assault the spectator, inviting them to believe that the illusion they witness is perceptually real. As Gunning observes in relation to the pre-cinema: “These optical entertainments exemplify the state of suspended disbelief that Octave Mannoni describes as ëI know very well, and all the sameÖ’ In a new realm of visual entertainment this psychic state might best be described as ëI know very well, and yet I seeÖ'”


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