The Weathered Underground
Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

As far back as the manufacture of the laserdisc-based arcade game Dragon’s Lair in 1983, my interest has been piqued by the idea of a user-directed storyline.  As far back as 1983, my intrigue has been deflated.

In my latest go-around with the notion—this time a DVD-based experiential film called The Weathered Underground—I have been more disappointed than before.  Here’s a bit from the self-congratulatory press release I received about the film:

A Groundbreaking interactive DVD that plays like a video version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” as the story follows 21 Year old Eric (the character whom the audience makes choices for) as he deals with a skull crunching breakup. Eric is a struggling musician who works a side job and just broke up with the greatest love of his life, the somewhat insane yet adorable Liz (Brea Grant, Heroes, H2). Now you, the viewer, must guide Eric through one insane evening with Criminals, Drugs and Damsels while deciding whether Eric will win back the love of his life or crumble into Moral Decay… His fate is now in your hands…

The Weathered Underground allows the viewer via remote control or mouse (online) to control the story ultimately choosing a story of redemption or debauchery. Featuring over 30 different endings and 1,000 choices. The film can be played/viewed for up to four hours, over and over without getting the same plot line!

The box art even carries an endorsement from James Cameron.  Wow.  But which James Cameron?

At various junctures in the film, the central protagonist (who, by the way, is very male) stops and spins while cartoon-caption text prompts the viewer to make decisions about what will happen next.  The central narrative involves a twenty-something’s night on the town following a fight with his girlfriend and/or an unpleasant event at work.  And/or perhaps another crisis or two.  “Instructions” for the viewer advise that the story will take on the characteristics of the viewer’s choices—so, if you have the protagonist make “safe” or “sensible” choices, the story will be more of a drama or sentimental romance.  If you go the other direction, well, think Quentin Tarantino or Joe Carnahan.

I don’t think so.

As much as the project wants to be hip and edgy, I just found it annoying—mostly due to the visual style, which melds a low-def video source with rough-hewn quasi-animation to produce compact video that imitates, after a fashion, comic-book art.  It’s really just murky and cheap-looking, so I found myself making choices that would just end things quickly—and succeeded wonderfully, my own ending coming after a scant 35 minutes.  Whew!  I was really fearing I’d end up in the four-hour version.

Those who are searching out something new for newness’ sake might be interested in this release; but claims that The Weathered Underground will change the way we think of interactive video are simply wrong.  I’m just as bummed as I was in 1983.

The Weathered Underground is unrated.  But I have little doubt that, if you made a certain sequence of choices, you’d probably wind up with a pretty hard-R tale.  Please don’t bring this DVD into a home with inquisitive children.

Courtesy of the films producers, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Weathered Underground.