The purpose of this article is to highlight a few stylistic and aesthetic principles, common to the genre of the travel film (both documentary and fictional), as employed by immersive media and devices from the twentieth century – such as the Hale’s Tours of the World, Todd-AO, and Cinerama – up to today’s digital systems like Virtual Reality and 4D Cinema. I will discuss how the different experiences of simulated travels, proffered by those media, are all related to a broader aesthetic tendency in creating what I label as enveloping tactile images. Such images are programmed to surround the viewer from every side, thus increasing their spectacular dimension, but at the same time they strive to temper and weaken the haptic solicitations aroused in the viewer by the immersive apparatus itself. In this sense I propose that the spectator of immersive travelogue films is ‘immersed, yet distant’: she is tangled in the illusion of traversing an enveloping visual space, but the position she occupies is nonetheless a metaphysical one, not different from that of Renaissance perspective, because even if she can see everything, the possibility to interact with the images is denied, in order to preserve the realistic illusion. By analysing the stylistic techniques employed to foster the viewer’s condition of non-interactive immersion in the enveloping world presented by the medium, I will consequently address the topic of the conflict that such immersive aesthetics establish with traditional forms of audiovisual storytelling.
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