The next seat-wobbling, smell-o-rific frontier in movie-watching has arrived, just outside Boston.
The Showcase Cinema De Lux in Revere last week premiered its new MX4D Motion EFX technology – the first of its kind on the East Coast—which executives hope will help them compete with online streaming services and the many ways to be entertained at home.
The official debut was on Thursday night. I couldn’t pass up the unusual invitation we got to try it out, so I went.
Through a back-door VIP entrance, there was a ritzy roll-out event stocked with free champagne, a massive ice sculpture and bite-size Beef Wellington.
“The next evolution in cinema,” proclaimed a promotional video on loop next to the open bar.
That’s where I met Dan Jamele, vice president and chief technology officer for Mediamation, the Californian company that outfitted the Showcase theatre with the mechanical pieces, tubes and blasters that make up the cinema’s fourth dimensional motion, water and smells.
A team of six Mediamation engineers adds the effects, he told me. They churn out 4D programming for about one movie a week. The workload is highest during the summer blockbuster season, he said.
Which makes sense, I offered. The fourth dimension would probably add little to romantic comedies, the Oscar faves or dramatic book adaptations.
“You’re not going to see ‘50 Shades of Grey’ in 4D,” he said.
The investment is the latest in the theatre chain’s moves to up-the-ante in their multiplexes. It recently replaced its standard theatre seats with luxury recliners and installed an “X-plus” widescreen theatre.
“We put a lot of money into this theatre,” said Tony Pungitore, director of operations for National Amusements. “We spent a lot of money on technology and will continue to do so.”
(No one would tell me exactly how much it cost to 4D-ify the Revere theatre, but Jamele said the pricetag usually ranges between $300,000 and $1 million.)
And with tickets for consumers priced at $16.50-$22.50, a lot of cash is being spent on the promise of the technology.
What it’s like
The demo film Showcase rolled out for the premiere was, of course, Jurassic World, the loud, stomping-and-chomping blockbuster that dominated the box office this summer.
The movie starts out slowly, and the first thing you notice about 4D is how it amplifies the boredom of the scene-setting first half hour or so. You get the sense that programmers add effects to the slow parts, just because.
At one point, during B-roll of a plane leaving an airport, the seats lean back to simulate takeoff. Then the protagonists are on a ferry, and the seats list from side-to-side, as if on waves. Elevator doors close and for some reason your 4D seat buzzes.
Some of the features are a little clunky—the air fan, for example, seems to have two settings: in-your-face and off.
It’s also not clear what the rules are on perspective. Are you, in the eyes of 4D programmers, inside the helicopter, swaying with it side to side, or watching it from afar?
When the action really gets going, though, the system shines.
All the extra stimulation during the violent scenes is actually terrifying, and the anticipation of waiting for whatever wacky thing your seat will do next adds something weird and exciting to the moviegoing experience.
There are “leg ticklers” that lightly thwack your calves. This happens during an in-forest T-rex attack to simulate swirling leaves, and the effect really does amp up the anxiety.
There are unsettling—but not painful—punches in the back, which work as sympathy pains when people get hurt, like when some park henchmen get tossed around and crack their spines against trees, or when they fall from a catwalk two stories up.
There are the gross-out moments, like when the characters wash up on a boggy shore and the audience gets blasted with mud-smell, or when water mist blasters simulate a dino’s damp snort. At one point, some of the mist hit me in the mouth.
A lot of fun, basically.
Maybe MX4D is the future of the movies, and maybe it isn’t.
Is it worth trying? Yes.