Captain America slams down the clutch on his motorcycle and speeds forward as the Winter Soldier closes in on him. Your body's jolted to the left, and then the right, just in time to clear both bullets shot from behind. The seat shakes as you speed across the bridge and then, oh shit! Was that water? Your face is misted as the motorcycle drives by an ambulance explosion and fog effects cause your vision to go hazy.
If you thought 3-D films were entertaining, think again. The new “4DX” theater experience, created by the Korean company CJ 4DPlex, puts you in a character's shoes, and at the mercy of over 20 special effects that interact with the audience.
The United States' first 4DX theater opened yesterday afternoon at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14. The press and select members of the public, who had won tickets on Facebook, experienced 4DX during a viewing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This week the theater begins offering the experience for the newly-opened Transformers: Age of Extinction. (Another similarly immersive movie theater experience from MediaMation – with the confusingly similar name “X4D” – is also scheduled to open this weekend, at the Oxnard Plaza Stadium 14.)
Beware: this cinematic adventure is not one for viewers in search of a relaxing afternoon. Prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.]
For most moviegoers, after deciding on the evening's flick, the only tough decision left to make is ordering a cherry or Coca-Cola flavored Slurpee. I didn't realize that I would also be given the choice of whether I could have water effects during the film. After confidently hitting the “Water On” button on my seat rest, I sat back with my large Diet Coke, having decided Slurpees were a little juvenile for a movie premiere, and prepared myself for the real deal.
There have been similar effects in theaters before, including motion seats and the notorious 1950s-era Smell-O-Vision. But CJ 4DPlex and MediaMation say that their creations are the first fully-immersive experiences available for feature films.
CJ 4DPlex, headquartered in Seoul and led by CEO Byung Hwan Choi, is part of the massive Korean entertainment company CJ Group (its CGV theater chain has a branch in Koreatown). It debuted 4DX with screenings of Avatar in Korea in 2009. The concept interacts with all five senses, using water, air, movement and even scents. The effects are now featured in 109 theaters throughout 26 countries, including Brazil, Hungary and Indonesia.
A little late to the party, the U.S. was introduced to “4DX” last March at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, when CJ 4DPlex made a deal with L.A. Live owner AEG to debut the experience here. “Los Angeles was the natural choice for the first U.S. location to carry 4DX,” said Choi in a recent press release.
Before the screening, CJ E&M America's chief marketing officer, Angela Killoren, gave us some insight on this new technology, deeming it the “best choice for the future.” CJ 4DPlex has a studio lab in Los Angeles where the team meets with filmmakers and post-production assistants to transform their films into 4DX experiences, explained Killoren. She said they usually have about three weeks to go through the original film scene by scene and shot by shot. They can choose from “giant palette of effects,” Killoren said, and eventually screen a rough cut of 4DX film for the filmmakers.
“When they come in they're usually like 'Wow!' and then they settle down like 'this and that could be better,'” said Killoren in an interview following the premiere. “Then there is an interactivity to finalize the film with them to their standards.”
Although 4DX effects work well with action films like Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Iron Man 3, they are not restricted to them. In 2013 the two most successful 4DX films were Frozen, with 550,000 people experiencing the 4DX version, and Gravity, with 531,000.
As I donned my 3-D frames for the all-immersive Captain America, my seat began to tremble and I was off to an interactive world. The motions felt like those of a roller coaster simulator you could find in a mall, minus the nausea, plus the forward and backward jerks. The sensations would switch within seconds – from the intense vibrations of riding a motorcycle to the subtle hovering of a plane. Wind rocketing from small holes in the head rest and a light mist from in front made the action feel realistic. (Even with the “water on” button, I stayed pretty dry.) Strobe lights and fog enhanced the explosions as Steve Rogers took on Bucky Barnes.
The lady to my left hooted and hollered, while the guy to my right adjusted himself continuously, and it wasn't until the credits that we all sat in stillness. I'll admit, the jolting of the seat with every kick or punch felt unnecessary and I was even concerned it might spill my drink. By the end I was exhausted and half annoyed. But I still enjoyed the feeling of wind as a bullet whizzed past my head, and the smell of burning metal when it connected with the oncoming plane.
The experience isn't cheap – theatergoers have to pay $8 on top of the theater's original prices. Killoren said it costs between $800,000 and $2 billion for a theater to invest in the 4DX package.
“It has really been successful in all of the other countries we've had it in. There is a double fold increase because not only are the theaters more full, but also, due to the upcharge, the theatre owners are making more money,” said Killoren in our interview. “We are as excited as anyone else to find out where our next opening will be.”
Transformers: Age of Extinction is now available in 4DX at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14. For showtimes and to purchase tickets visit lalive.com/4dx.
Correction: Due to an error in a press release, the original version of this article said that 4DX was in 105 theaters in 24 countries. It's actually in 109 theaters in 26 countries.
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