What’s 1 Better Than 3D? 4D Movies Soon to Make Their U.S. Premiere

Screen grab from a 4DX promo reel
Screen grab from a 4DX promo reel

Regal Cinemas’ L.A. Live Stadium 14 multiplex is slated to feature the first “4D” movie theater in the United States. Regal inked a deal last month with the Seoul, Korea-based CJ 4DPlex to install the company’s first Stateside 4DX system at the downtown Los Angeles site.

4D is the latest theatrical innovation designed to lure audiences away from competing streaming and DVD/Blu-ray entertainment platforms.

Theaters today are under pressure to compete with a broadening array of home entertainment delivery systems – like the DVD/Blu-ray-based Redbox, and popular streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Redbox Instant, Hulu, and others. Smart TVs and inexpensive hardware devices designed to enable HML- and HDMI-port equipped standard televisions to wirelessly stream online content have made it increasingly convenient for viewers to stay at home and away from the cineplex. Newest among these devices are the $35 Google Chromecast Streaming Media Player, $49 Roku Streaming Stick, and $99 Amazon Fire TV. The latter was just announced Wednesday. Netflix and Amazon have further upped the ante over the last few years by creating their own exclusive content.

CJ 4DPlex answers the challenge with their 4DX system. Their aim is to make movies a more immersive and total sensory experience, one no longer limited to visual and audio appeal but now augmenting those with movement, tactile sensation, and smell. Per last Sunday’s Fandango.com article, movie audiences can now appreciate the cinematic medium with added “motion, wind, strobe, fog, mist, rain and ‘scent-based’ effects.” The sensations are delivered via air and mist blasts, seat bladders that expand and contract, seat vibrators and low-frequency speakers, seat tilt mechanisms, pneumatic leg and neck “ticklers”, lightning and strobe effects, and scent dispensers. While the theater industry has experimented with similar technologies since the 1980s – primarily in theme park venues — the goal of CJ 4DPlex and a handful of similar integrators is to bring the 4D process to standard multiplex cinemas.

4DX theater seats
4DX theater seats

The 4DX process was demonstrated this week in Las Vegas at CinemaCon, an annual film industry exhibition for studios, distribution companies, and theater owners. Ironically, in their study released at CinemaCon on Tuesday, the Motion Picture Association of America showed frequent moviegoing attendance of 18-24 year-olds dropping in 2013 by a precipitous 17%. The age group has been a key target audience of Hollywood studios for decades. The same study showed frequent 12-24 year-old filmgoers are likely spending much of what was previously their time at the movies instead watching content on a variety of other screens.

Clearly, theaters have a challenge – one not unfamiliar. The 4D process has precedent.

In the 1950s, movie studios developed and popularized unique film- and cinema-based experiences to compete with the then-new innovation of television — experiences that couldn’t be replicated at the time on TV. Among these were the original 3D film process, and a variety of widescreen film and projection technologies that used anamorphic lenses and/or deeply curved screens and multiple synchronized projectors to yield a bigger-screen and more captivating moviegoing experience. Today’s 3D processes and IMAX screens are modern versions of these, and have become popular for a similar reason – to draw viewers who might otherwise favor the breadth of programing available online and the convenience of watching that content without leaving home, whether on their TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

So will 4D get those viewers into theaters?

One can’t help to be reminded of William Castle. The producer of several late-1950s/early ’60s thriller, horror, and science-fiction B-movie cult favorites was known for enhancing his screenings with gimmicks intended to startle audiences at his movies’ key points. In 1959’s House on the Haunted Hill, when a skeleton rises from a vat of acid, Castle flew a skeleton on a wire over the audience. In the same year’s The Tingler, when the titular sci-fi creatures terrorize an onscreen theater, motors attached to real theater patrons’ seats vibrated beneath them. In 1960’s 13 Ghosts, moviegoers brave enough to withstand the shock could view the movie’s ghosts only by looking through red cellophane glasses provided by Castle.

Then there’s the short-lived 1970’s Sensurround. Originally employed in 1974’s disaster spectacle Earthquake, the process employed specially-made audio speakers during the movie’s ground-shaking sequences to amplify low-frequency sounds that were more felt than heard.

Does 4DX sound like the same sort of gimmick?

To-date, 58 titles have been mastered in the new format, including Hollywood blockbusters Noah, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Gravity, Frozen, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. While the United States is new territory, CJ 4DPlex already has installations in 91 theaters throughout 23 countries, including China, Chile, Hungary, Japan, Vietnam, and India. The company is currently planning other U.S. installations.

Regal Cinemas hasn’t yet announced what the surcharge will be for 4D screenings, but American moviegoers will have the chance to sample this latest movie sensation this Summer. The 100-seat L.A. Live Stadium 14 theater is expected to be ready for audiences by late June/early July.

In the meantime, here’s a 4DX promotional video:

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8 Replies to “What’s 1 Better Than 3D? 4D Movies Soon to Make Their U.S. Premiere”

  1. This wont be popular with the tea thugs and the fundies, but America is WAY behind Asia when it comes to movies, new buildings, fun parks and attractions. Seriously far behind. The infrastructure here is crumbling and all our leaders care about is making sure the rich are rich.

    Whats the word bitch bachmann uses? exceptionalism? Yes, its in Asia.

    Wait, this probably IS popular with the tea bags and fundies. They dont want you having fun while you should be on your knees

  2. Yes, Disney, Universal, and other theme parks have had similar systems since the 1980s. But the intent of CJ 4DPlex and other integrators is to bring 4D installations to multiplex cinemas (see the article’s 4th paragraph), making 4D a standard theater option – much like what IMAX and 3D have become.

  3. I already avoid 3D movies because I find that few movies are at all improved by 3D technology. Often you can see where scenes are created for the 3D effects rather than the scene being integral to the story.

    The latest Star Trek movie’s use of 3D was simply irritating with people and objects at the periphery of the shot turning into shapeless, indistinct 3D blobs. Since reacting to things coming up in our peripheral vision is a prime survival instinct it was hard not to flinch.

    Yesterday I went to “Captain America: The Winter Solder”. I deliberately chose 2D.

    I think 4D will have a limited audience. Some will not be willing to pay the high ticket prices (the prices of 3D are high…I can imagine 4D will be on another level entirely). Others will get motion sick while watching the film. And some will want good stories uncluttered with technological effects.

    I could see this one going down to expensive failure.

  4. What does wanting lower taxes have to do with being anti-technology?

    You sound like a pretty crazed left-wing politico that is just trying to connect anything in the world you see as negative to right-wing politicos.

    Will Republicans and whatever tea thing you want to make up be responsible for your runny nose next? Maybe they will be to blame for losing your belt tomorrow morning? Maybe next time you sneeze or cough you can mutter “darn tea publican scum” under your breath?

    If anything at all stops the adoption of new technologies in the US it is government regulation, which the tea people oppose. Get your head out of the left wing hole it is trapped in.

    I have to admit the Republican party isn’t the pinnacle of intelligence or good governance, but they are no worse than the Democrats.

  5. If you wanted lower taxes you would be pushing with all you have to make the upper class in this country pay the same share as you do. Your taxes are lower right now then they have been in a long time. If you are making the mistake of equating the tea party with lower taxes, you are way behind the times. Its a ruse to lower the governments ability to function so your real masters the 1% can own it. And of course you fall for it. They are in the religion business now, leaving people like you to still chant taxes

    Crazed? I sound crazed for remarking that we are way behind Asian countrys? No, I think not. Thanks for being so hilarious

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