Back in the 1950s, impresarios tried all sorts of upgrades to get people to stop watching free TV at home and pay to sit in a movie theater, such as color movies, widescreen formats, 3D, and Smell-o-Vision. That’s all coming back, although American theaters are lagging. One reason for those huge overseas boxoffice totals this summer is because more and more foreigners are paying premiums to to watch movies in new “immersive” theaters with power seats. So, two guys from Grantland go to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at Southern California’s first South Korea-style 4DX theater at LA Live downtown. Alex Pappademas reports back:
We paid $27 per person to be repeatedly rabbit-punched in the lumbar vertebrae by weapons-grade Brookstone technology. There was mist, there was stage fog. We were, I’m pretty sure, spritzed here and there with contextually appropriate chemical scents, although that aspect of the experience seems a little underdeveloped; I guess it’s hard to engineer a smell that can cut through the popcorn-funk that provides every multiplex theater with its olfactory bass line, at least for now.
This will probably be a pretty great way to watch stupid movies, and I’ll definitely see you at the 4DX for Into the Storm. But for me it was a pretty stupid way to watch a good movie. I found this supposedly immersive experience to be sort of the exact opposite of immersive, because whenever my seat would jerk to the side or rattle or blow a puff of air directly into my ear — a sensation that so creeps me out in life I’d normally pay $27 to avoid it for two hours — there would inevitably be this split-second lag as my brain tried to process how the physical sensations I was feeling corresponded to the action onscreen. That took me straight out of the movie, every single time. It was as if the theater itself was constantly elbowing us in the ribs, going “Did you see that? How about that, did you see that?” Andy Serkis and a small army of digital-effects artists have put staggering creative and technical effort into the verisimilitude of every last little ape face twitch in this movie, but the 4DX thing bulldozes all that nuance; it doesn’t trust that we’ll be enraptured by our first glimpse of the apes’ tree fort unless we’re also being spritzed with pine scent.