Show business has had a long-standing tradition with the gimmick. Cemented in the 1959 musical Gypsy – “you gotta have a gimmick, if you wanna have a chance,” the song could have easily been describing the attempt to get folks back in cinemas when television came into play. Moviegoers were being lured back to the big screen by a number of gimmicks, from 3D to Cinemascope and Stereophonic Sound.
Today, the widescreen of Scope remains, but ironically still lingering is the option of nearly every major blockbuster in 3D, not to mention the upgrade to Imax.
Arguably, the most immersive experience you can get in today’s cinemas comes in the form of South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX’s 4DX technology. Initially rolling out in cinemas in Asia, Mexico, Russia, and parts of the Middle East, in recent years the option to experience select films in 4DX has made its way to North America in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles.
4DX is an augmented viewing experience that combines seat motion, wind, water, fog, lighting, and, because why not, scents. All of this is programmed specifically to the events unfolding on the screen, enhancing the standard video and audio settings of the film itself. Seats are grouped into units of four, to allow for more natural movement wherever you’re located in the audience.
Besides the constant movement of seats, 4DX also features occasional air cannons to simulate passing bullets or explosions, vibrating seats to enhance bass, and some fairly harmless thumps to your back during fight scenes. That’s of course provided you don’t cover the back of your chair with your winter coat.
My first foray into 4DX accompanied Ron Howard’s Inferno last year. It made an otherwise insufferable snooze-fest a giddy, over-the-top thrill ride. Oh, yeah, and randomly Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts) sat to my left during the mid-afternoon screening, hooting and hollering back at the screen with equal delight.
After having tested it out on Inferno, I convinced some friends to see Rogue One in 4DX opening weekend. A film more suited to the experience, the Star Wars story’s crescendo of space-set dogfights was a wild ride. It’s not the same sophisticated level of tech in Star Tours at the Disney Parks, but the motion-matching of 4DX to on-screen tilts and pans is effective.
I’ve always tried to balance my slight issue of motion sickness, and I’ve found myself unable to handle some amusement rides as my equilibrium zonks out of norm with age. So, for me, twice seemed to be enough to claim my “been-there-done-that” stance on 4DX.
As mentioned on the latest episode of our podcast Oh No They Didn’t, I was given a ticket to experience 4DX with Justice League. Luckily, the third time’s a charm, and it may or may not have inflated my review of the film.
By my third 4DX film, I hold to my initial theory about two things…
It’s way better with the water turned off (an option on your hand-rest that you’ll thank me later for). Some of the water effects are so literally splashy that you’ll get enough drops from your neighbor. Combined with 3D, you’ll need to dry your glasses to continue watching in focus.
Secondly, and this applies to everyone, it takes a good 20 minutes to really get used to 4DX. It’s an initially distracting experience that grows with you. Granted, the three films I’ve seen in 4DX have great finales that match with the full-throttle use of all effects, but they’re more merged with your senses by the end.
So, is this all worth the additional price tag?
I say yes, especially since you’re guaranteed that rare movie-going experience where some care has gone into the presentation. But consider the film you’re seeing. Films like Geostorm or Kong: Skull Island are natural matches with 4DX, and the majority of programming goes along with blockbuster Action releases from major studios.
Personally, I’d love to see some classic films in 4DX, such as The Poseidon Adventure or even Jurassic Park.
Perhaps even 1974’s Earthquake, initially designed in the literally disastrous Sensurround by Universal, can at last be experienced without actual damage to the theater.