Virtual Sex with Tera Patrick Review
The standard definition of the difference between erotica and pornography is that the former uses a feather, while the latter uses the whole chicken. The former approach is taken by films like Wong Kar-Wai's exquisitely subtle In the Mood for Love, in which a brief shot of a hand brushing another creates an erotic thrill that outdoes anything to be found in the entire Vivid or Private catalogue, while Virtual Sex with Tera Patrick… well, it's not so much the whole chicken as a weird battery-farmed mutant that's undergone all sorts of genetic permutations.
It's undeniably fascinating to watch, not least because this is something that simply wouldn't work in a format other than DVD (I suppose CD-ROM at a pinch, but certainly not film, video or TV), but the end result looks as though it would be happier in the Hayward Gallery's recent exhibition of anatomical art. I think you'd have to be either unhealthily obsessed with Ms Patrick or seriously sex-starved to get much more than an hour or so's use out of it (the DVD claims to feature two hours of footage, and I don't dispute this, but much of it will consist of alternate takes: you can actually get a pretty good idea of the whole thing in just five or ten minutes).
So what do you actually see on screen? Well, when you load the DVD, you get a brief intro with a few scantily-clad women pouting at you, and then Ms Patrick swaying sensuously (this is rather well looped) in front of four menu options: 'Strip', 'Story', 'Foreplay' and 'Sex'. The first two are pretty much what you'd expect: a slow and surprisingly subtly filmed striptease - in stark contrast to what's to come, the camera never lingers on particular details, and frequent dissolves and very effective Dolby Digital 5.1 music mean this sequence actually creates a certain erotic tension notably lacking elsewhere. It lasts three minutes, and a nice touch is that when you return to the menu, she's completely naked.
'Story' is less effective, largely because it's stylistically out of step with the rest of the DVD - she's shown writhing in front of a flaming backdrop while her voice-over tells us about a fantasy of having sex with a group of firemen. At one-and-a-half minutes, too, it's also a little too brief to be especially effective.
With 'Foreplay', the disc's major selling point comes into play. This and the subsequent 'Sex' section place Ms Patrick centre-stage, usually lying on her back with her legs spread wide, either in a medium-shot that reveals the rest of her body or in an extreme gynaecological close-up. The viewer has two methods of telling her what to do: beginners will doubtless prefer the on-screen menus, while those who are more familiar with the DVD have a series of remote control short cuts that remove these visual distractions. The only "narrative" concerns what you want to do with (or to) her - there's no right or wrong way to go about this.
For the purposes of this review, I'll stick to the on-screen menu option - on the left-hand side, there are icons of a hand or a dildo, which are fairly self-explanatory (at least up to a point: we're talking fingers rather than fists), and on the right there are options labelled 'ORL', 'ORG', 'SEX' and 'I/N', which need more explanation. 'SEX' is simply a short-cut to the next section, which I describe below. 'ORL' is supposed to simulate cunnilingus, though we don't see any tongues in action: you either get a shot of her body cropped just above the waistline or an extreme close-up of her masturbating, while pressing 'ORG' at any point brings her to orgasm from whichever point you might happen to be at when you select it (this isn't especially seamless, but it works reasonably well). You'll have to take the orgasms on trust, incidentally, since there's no physical evidence, even in the extreme close-ups.
Each of these sections effectively has four options in terms of what you actually see on screen. The 'I/N' option stands for 'Innocent/Nasty', and is used to adjust the speed and intensity level - for instance, in the 'ORL' section, she uses just one hand when 'innocent' and both when 'nasty'. And these options are doubled by the use of the Angle button, which switches between medium shot and extreme close-up.
And so to the final section, 'Sex', which runs along similar lines. Here, the right-hand menu is identical - 'FPLY' replacing 'SEX' - but the left-hand one features four hieroglyphics that look like spiders at first glance but on closer examination turn out to be diagrams of sexual positions (the inlay card labels them as 'Missionary', 'Doggy', 'Top' and 'Reverse Top', though in fact she's on top in every case, either leaning back and letting you see her whole body, or leaning towards the viewer, breasts swaying just beneath his nose). Once again, the Angle and 'I/N' options vary the angle and intensity. Very little is seen of her partner - he's mostly just an erect penis, though there's also a glimpse of a rather hairy paunch that must be a little off-putting to viewers who don't necessarily share that physical attribute.
This time round, 'ORL' concentrates on her pleasuring her partner, and 'ORG' brings him to orgasm - though this leads to one of the disc's most bizarre features, in that only one of these orgasms looks genuine, while the rest feature such prodigious quantities of what Victorian pornographers coyly referred to as "spending" that I was sure that some fakery much have been involved.
And, sure enough, if you select the second angle of the fourth position and bring him to climax, you can actually see a tell-tale length of rubber tubing running down the side of his penis, suggesting nothing so much as an awkward and embarrassing medical problem (though it reflects well on Ms Patrick that she's not in any way put off by it). To be fair to Digital Playground, I can understand why they did this, given the sheer number of ejaculation shots required to fit each angle: you'd either need an implausibly long shooting schedule or a biological freak of nature, but you'd have thought the editor might have spotted it!
Virtual Sex with Tera Patrick is pornography in its purest form. There's no sense of a person at all (even the fantasy she describes as an hors d'oeuvre is carefully calculated to appeal to the male viewer rather than give any real insight into her own feelings) and when the interactive features start, she's reduced to little more than a gaping vagina. Shy gynaecology students will doubtless find this to be an immensely useful study aid, but there's precious little that's especially erotic about it, at least not if you're the kind of person who regards women as individual human beings as opposed to just fleshy holes. And I suspect even men of more Neanderthal persuasions might get bored with this pretty quickly - the range of options is ultimately fairly limited.
I presume the original material was shot on high-definition digital video, because the picture quality is as near flawless as makes no difference at all: a razor-sharp picture with not a trace of any visual blemish anywhere to be seen. The picture is non-anamorphic 4:3, which is understandable given that it's a US disc and most American DVD owners still have 4:3 sets. The lighting is highly professional and… well, there's not much else to say, given that 95% of this DVD consists of a naked woman against a black background! But rest assured that short of an anamorphic picture this is as good as anyone could realistically expect.
The sound is genuine Dolby Digital 5.1, though this only really comes into its own during the 'Strip' sequence right at the beginning, which is accompanied by some superbly recorded music that's light years ahead of the old oompah brass band cliché. But the sound side of the interactive elements is entirely devoted to Ms Patrick verbally urging you on: I suppose music wouldn't have been a particularly good idea because of the impossibility of seamlessly linking the segments given that you can switch from one to the other at any time. But the technical quality of the recording is as impeccable as the picture, so there's no good reason for not giving it the maximum rating.
And that's pretty much it, since there are no extras whatsoever. This a little disappointing given the relative skimpiness of the main feature - it might have been nice to have trailers for some of Digital Playground's other titles, and it seems a bit of a missed opportunity for them not to plug other titles in the Virtual Sex with… series.
As I said at the beginning, this DVD is weirdly fascinating to watch, at least initially, but it's ultimately joyless and dispiriting: the hi-tech equivalent of a blow-up sex doll (probably because the various options come in bite-sized chunks, none of them longer than a couple of minutes, there's a certain plastic, processed feel about it all). But it is unquestionably the most genuinely interactive DVD I've seen to date, and so purely on the curiosity front it deserves a cautious recommendation.