Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On Your Head

From a recent article in the Los Angeles Times:

“A South Korean Company aiming to transform the way Americans experience movies at the multiplex is bringing its ‘4-D’ technology to Los Angeles.”

What’s 4-D? The technology is actually called 4DX, and instead of just picture and sound it adds, as needed, moving and vibrating seats, wind, strobe lights, fog, rain, and scents, all of them supporting what’s happening on the screen. Just think, as you watch Noah, you can enjoy that fun deluge. Raincoats or umbrellas will be optional, of course, though I don’t think they plan to actually drench the audience—or have a carnival of animals parading two-by-two down the aisles! As for a movie like Frozen, they haven’t mentioned ice and snow—yet.

But there’s nothing new under the sun, just more sophisticated ways of doing things. I recall as a kid experiencing a documentary in AromaRama. When they cut open an orange, the citrus smell wafted through the theater (they didn’t try it with an onion!). When the scene moved to a Chinese harbor, a cacophony of smells (yuck) assaulted your nose. (I had no idea at the time, but this process was apparently embroiled in an intense but brief competition with Smell-O-Vision, though neither won—not even by a nose). In stage play performances of the musical Little Shop of Horrors, green vines dropped from the ceiling of the theater at the climax. Then there was The Tingler; don’t get me started…

Moving and vibrating seats, of course, are familiar to home theater fans. For a price you can have them at home, though their use in theaters is new. Recently I saw The Lego Movie in an AMC Prime theater, which had just installed reclining seats equipped for motion. Fortunately, the motion was either turned off or didn’t work that night. They probably hadn’t yet received their airsick bags.

But if you think 4DX is a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan, you might be surprised to learn that it has already been installed in theaters in Japan, Taiwan, Poland, Columbia, the Czech Republic, the United Arab Emirates, and more—overall, 91 theaters in 23 countries. This summer will see its first U.S. installation at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live multiplex in downtown Los Angeles.

A movie as a theme-park ride is a growing trend. It all started with IMAX, then expanded to include 3D. (Though you could say that three-projector Cinerama and the first 3D craze—both in the early 50s—were actually to blame, or even Abel Gance's silent, wide-screen Napoleon.) Whether or not audiences will accept even further immersion into the experience is an open question—particularly as it will inevitably involve even higher ticket prices. On a visit to London twenty or so years ago, I was appalled to pay the equivalent of (as I recall) $13 to see a movie at a first-run West-End theater. But the prices at my local multiplex are now pushing $20 a head for a 3D presentation in its IMAX auditorium.

No wonder people are watching movies more and more at home today. A good home theater, particularly with a good projector and screen (increasingly affordable though hardly cheap) can rival the theatrical experience or, in some cases, exceed it. You control the volume and can pause the film when nature, or the refrigerator, calls. You can also install moving seats if you want, and there was even a trial run of scratch and sniff cards to accompany the action a few years back, though it never caught on. As far as rain goes, however, I don’t think soggy carpets will be a sought after, featured attraction any time soon.