Theatres exploring 4D technology

People watch a 3D movie at the newly opened Minglar cinema in Yangon April 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

HOLLYWOOD — with moviegoing on a monumental roll this season (The Avengers, amazing Spider-Man, Madagascar 3, Ted), theatre owners are understandably anxious to keep the overpriced popcorn popping.

Of course, the best way to make that happen is if Hollywood continues to give people what they want, but as we’ve learned from not-so-buoyant years, there are no guarantees.

So what might they do to provide a little added incentive, just in case next year’s offering may not be quite as boffo?

Get ready for … 4D.

Yep, now that the novelty is off those now ubiquitous 3D glasses and the promise of stuff seemingly floating right under your nose is no longer a surefire seat-filler, movie exhibitors have been scrambling to usher audiences into the next dimension.

And, CJ Group, a South Korean multiplex outfit, believes it holds the golden ticket to the next big thing: 4DX.

A full-throttle assault on the senses that combines motion-simulator seats (like the kind you find at theme parks) that heave, roll, pitch or just plain vibrate, with atmospheric effects and smells, 4DX touts “the most immersive” movie-viewing experience available.

So far it’s only available in specially-equipped theatres in Mexico and Thailand in addition to South Korea, but the company is in the process of finalizing a deal with a U.S. chain that will see a couple of hundred 4DX theatres spring up over the next five years, starting with the New York and L.a. markets.

Technically, this isn’t the first time North American multiplexes have been dabbling in the 4D experience.

When Universal’s fast & Furious opened in 2009, a number of theatres installed rows of special premium motion seats manufactured by the Canadian firm D-Box Technologies which reacted in tandem with the onscreen action.

Last year, with the arrival of Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, audiences were provided with Aroma-Scope cards that allowed them to scratch and sniff their way through the proceedings.

But 4DX purports to do it all in one self-contained, back-tickling package, whether that means dispensing bubbles, wind, fog or mist throughout the theatre or saturating the nasal passages with the scent of fresh-cut grass or just-brewed morning coffee.

Obviously, while the various delivery systems are all state-of-the-art, the concept goes back well before the Spy Kids and fast & Furious franchises.

John Waters notoriously went the scratch-and-sniff route when he presented 1981’s Polyester in ODORAMA (don’t even ask about Number 2), while the 1977 disaster flick, Rollercoaster was first shown in theatres rigged with seat-vibrating Sensurround.

So far, audiences in those overseas test theatres have been responding enthusiastically to 4DX editions of Prometheus and last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On stranger Tides (complete with the billowing fog and gentle ocean breezes), but it will remain to be seen whether audiences here will cheerfully plunk down another (estimated) eight bucks for the sensory onslaught.

If so, it would be pretty easy to figure out which filmmakers and stars would happily jump aboard the 4DX bandwagon.

Michael Bay and will Smith — quite likely. Terrence Malick and Dame Judi Dench — not so much.

Michael Rechtshaffen is a Canadian entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.

Theatres exploring 4D technology

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