4DX: Is it worth it?

I've experienced 4DX with two different movies in two different theaters in two different cities in two different countries over the past two months and had two very different experiences.  For those wanting to skip reading the rest of this post, suffice to say that 4DX can either add to or detract from the movie watching experience depending on the camera techniques used and the decisions of the 4DX experience designer for that film. 

"Stunning" and "Realistic" are not guaranteed.
For those note familiar, 4DX is an immersive movie theater experience developed by the South Korean theater chain CJ CGV.  Similar to virtual amusement park rides like the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios, 4DX offers physical effects that are kept in sync with the video being shown on screen.  The seats are actuated for pitch, roll, yaw, heave (vertical bumps), and multiple kinds of vibrations.  Built into the chairs or into effects bars that rest in front of each row of seats are mechanisms that may subject the audience member to blasts or air, blasts of scent, or mists.  Fans installed in the theater may generate winds within the theater.  Overhead water sprays simulate rain during pertinent scenes.  In addition, other apparatus installed in some theaters can blow bubbles, generate simulated snow, create low levels of fog, or flash lightning.

4DX is nearing its tenth year of existence, but it is still not very widespread.  The theater I visited in Toronto claimed it had the only 4DX experience in all of Canada.  The theater I visited in Washington, DC was recently remodeled and didn't possess 4DX until that work was done.  But it appears that, with many theaters retooling to staunch the decline in business they've experienced recently, 4DX is a major element of their plans to attract either more audience or more dollars per audience member.

Seriously, what's up with you, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa?

My first 4DX experience was at the Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in downtown Toronto, watching Ready Player One.  I was unsure of what to expect and a little put off by the price (though the fact that it was in Canadian dollars helped offset that, especially since I had just gotten off a plane from Europe and those very unwelcoming exchange rates), but the showing fit my schedule exactly, and I was game for a new experience.

I won't get into what I thought of either of the movies I saw in terms of how they rate as films, because that would be a post in and of itself (each).  So instead of doing a review of Ready Player One, let me talk about how well it translates to the 4DX.  Bottom line, it was a great introduction to the 4DX experience.

Steven Spielberg's style seems perfect for a theater filled with moving chairs.  Spielberg uses lots of long takes featuring complex camera movement combining tracking and panning shots with the periodic follow shot and dolly zoom.  This tends to put the viewer into the action because the camera maintains a consistent perspective throughout.  Syncing that motion with the movement of the theater seats just ramps up that sensation.  The smooth motion of the seats pivoting and dipping as, for example, the camera follows Wade as he climbs around the stacks during opening minutes of the film, really makes the illusion seem real.  The other effects are used sparingly, with wind gusts during chase scenes, periodic rain, and bumps and shakes during collisions, keeping the distractions minimal.  The result is a highly engrossing experience that helps elevate the movie-watching experience.  I came away from that viewing a fan of 4DX.

The woman in lap effect is not included as part of 4DX.

My next opportunity to experience 4DX was watching Avengers Infinity War at the Regal Cinemas Gallery Place.  I'd not planned to specifically see that in 4DX, but it turns out that tickets were difficult to come by even for a Monday night, and the higher price of the 4DX showings resulted in more seats being available than in the other showings.  The pressure was on with this one, because I was introducing a friend to 4DX.  Unfortunately, neither of us came out wowed by the experience.

The Russo Brothers have come under fire by many for their heavy (over)use of shaky cam, and Infinity War doesn't provide much of a break from that.  The seats would often be synchronized with this, and, when added to the sheer number of explosions in the movie, shakes the audience nearly nonstop at times.  In addition, the synchronization of seat rumbles with significant punches in the action tends to annoy.  Snow is used within the effects, but 4DX still hasn't figured out how to make that effective.  And lightning effects are included as well, but flipping on the lights in the theater, even momentarily, just reminds the audience that they're in a movie theater.  The overarching 4DX experience detracts from the movie watching rather than enhancing it and creates the sensation of watching the movie while riding in a car over a road filled with potholes.  Looking around the Web, it appears we were far from alone.

Not that Infinity War presented the worst 4DX experience.  Prior to the film, the theater ran an extended ad for the 4DX experience in which the effects were not synchronized with the video, creating a significant sensory conflict.  Some of the people around us reported that they were starting to feel sick.  Thankfully, this was fixed prior to Infinity War starting itself.

Obviously, your mileage may vary.  But if you want to try it out, make sure you are going to see a director who uses highly effective camera work over long takes.  I think filmmaker technique I'll go see a 4DX showing of a Spielberg film anytime.  I'd also imagine Scorsese, Zemeckis, Woo, Cameron, Cuaron, Shyamalan, and Inarittu would produce films that lend themselves well to the format.  On the other hand, I will never consider 4DX for a Russos film again, and imagine I'd want to stay away from this format for films by Paul Greengrass, Michael Bay, and Edgar Wright.

Also, you'll want to be okay with sitting in seats that are wired up.
JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
4DX: Is it worth it? 4DX: Is it worth it? Reviewed by JL Franke on Monday, June 18, 2018 Rating: 5
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