Enter the 4th dimension

We check out the latest attempt to create truly immersive cinema.

by Luke Shaw

4DX seats all ready for the ride
4DX seats all ready for the ride Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson

I’ve watched movies in all sorts of ways over the last 20 or so years. IMAX, 3D, laptops, phones, tablets, old 15” TVs with terrible tuning, the works. 4DX is the latest in a long line of technologies developed to inject something else into cinema, presumably for people who need more stimulus than a screen the size of a double decker bus and a speaker system that rattles the ribcage.

Developed by the CJ Group, a South Korean holdings company that has its fingers in as many pies as there are pies available, 4DX is a new, immersive cinema experience. Glasgow Cineworld has undergone a huge revamp. Its new 4DX screen is now the third of its kind in the UK and had its official opening last night with a screening of Suicide Squad.

The premise is this: the seats move, and there are extra effects, like the old motion master rides that popped up in provincial theme parks such as the American Adventure. Water sprays in your face when water splashes in people’s faces - every cut to a rainy scene in Suicide Squad was followed up with a spritz - and high powered lights mimic thunder and flashbulbs. Fans and mechanical jerking fatten up chase and fight sequences, and jets of air from beside your head represent bullets and fast moving objects, with ‘ticklers’ in the seat back thumping you when an impact occurs on screen.

The effects are programmed over the top of the existing footage, a process that takes approximately a month, with degrees of subtlety a possibility - seats aren’t locked to whiplash shunts, they can lean slowly to emulate crane shots with ease. For a film like Suicide Squad, the appeal is apparent: with lots of motion and effects on screen, the interpretation of the physical adds to the experience.

What 4DX is supposed to make you feel like
What 4DX is supposed to make you feel like Photo: CJ 4DPLEX GLOBAL

For me however, it was just a distraction. Even with the water sprays turned off on my seat, and the one next to me, I was still getting splashed in the face. The jolts and thumps aren’t particularly comfortable, and don’t really improve on the experience of just watching a film. It wasn’t all bad news - the 3D for the film was well done, and inventive, and the moving seats didn’t ruin this part of the spectacle.

Before the event there was a vox pop reel full of people saying that they wouldn’t see a film any other way, that this was the most definitive immersive experience. This is clearly what chain cinemas want, with games and Netflix and other experiences chewing away at their profit margins, but it just isn't cinema for me. I don’t begrudge those that will get something out of the experience - the novelty is certainly there - but I see a limit to how far we can push the silver screen.

In my eyes, 3D is a step too far, and anything else that hampers the purity is only going to work if it is showing films and events tailor made for the experience. Regardless of the nuance, the panoply of effects that they can muster, it will only amount to bluster if it is tracked on top of a standard film print, and after 100 years of success I doubt the structure of the medium will bend to the will of the gimmick.

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