How Many Ds Does It Take to Satisfy You?

So how many Ds does it take? And when I say D, of course I’m speaking about the four Ds I experimented with recently when I attended a 4DX viewing for the first time.

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For those unfamiliar with the technology, 4D is 3D plus one because, in addition to 3D images, there is an added physical dimension. Seats move, water sprays, lights flash, smoke rises, chairs poke, air bursts, and odours waft around the viewer in clouds.

(And if 4D is 3D +1, then why the ‘X’ in ‘4DX’? I’d imagine it stands for ‘experience’ and not the MPAA rating, although a 4DXXX film might open up entirely new avenues of sensations.)

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I could’ve easily titled this piece, ‘Why I Saw King of the Monsters Twice‘… especially after reviewing the 2D version by saying, “Like watching the neighbours fight, there’s a lot of action and some of it is interesting, but in the end you don’t feel like it involves you.”

What I disliked under that tent-pole, however, made it perfect viewing in 4D. On my first cinematographic watch, the excessive monster fights with no story for consistency felt like eating sweet & sour pork with no sour… or pork. But my second viewing taught me that 4D is absolutely the best way to serve eye candy.

When dialogue is moot and the narrative arc is sunk, only the action is left to grab the viewer and in that case, why not literally grab the viewer?

Let me explain.

I entered the cinema, noticeably smaller than an IMAX, and found my reserved place. The first thing I noticed was that each row is divided into four groups of four chairs on a riser, because it’s obviously easier to move four seats at once than sixteen.

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There were two holes in the back of my chair and two nozzles facing me from the seat in front of me. I also had my clip-on 3D lenses (an option for those of us who find wearing 3D glasses over our regular glasses weigh heavily on our noses).

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After a brief disclaimer (no children under 4, no people under a certain height, no pregnant women, no people with injuries, no epileptics, no hot drinks, no open cold drinks, no people sensitive to water [although, we are told, the water is purified], no moisture-sensitive electronics…) and a short action film that demonstrates all of the physical effects we’re about to experience, the film begins.

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Here’s what happened:

  • During the aerial shots the seats move as though we’re flying. This effect is one of the strongest in the film, to the point we literally feel like we’re aloft. It’s used in every flying scene, be it monster, airplane, helicopter…
  • The seats vibrate when monsters walk or collide when fighting.
  • The ‘floating’ and vibrating seat effects are combined frequently for helicopter and plane flights.
  • In violent plane turbulence or while driving over rough terrain, the seats move so jerkily we’re thrown off balance.
  • Anytime there’s a blast of water (splashes, spray while flying over the ocean, Mothra’s web…), water squirts in our faces. The effect is entertaining at the outset, but quickly becomes annoying because the water mists up our 3D glasses to the point we have to remove them and wipe them off. (There is an off/on button for the water on the armrest.)

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  • In addition to the spray, there are sprinklers at ceiling level which are used to simulate rain.
  • Bursts of air shoot past our heads from our seat backs and is meant to feel like bullets whizzing past, though the fact that they’re going away from us rather than at us is a little distracting. We’re reminded of this every time there’s gun play.
  • Whenever a monster takes a punch or a human is thrown against a wall, we feel a jab in our sides which at first feels like someone behind us is kicking our seat.
  • For large explosions and lightning flashes, spotlights attached to the ceiling illuminate the entire theatre.
  • For the largest explosions, puffs of smoke rise from beside the screen like at a rock concert.
  • The odour effect was so weak I forgot it was part of the experience until I began research on this article, and I think that stinks.

Is the viewing truly immersive? Not in the sense that I forgot I was in the cinema and believed I was actually standing in the Boston ruins watching Titans go at it like fighters in an MMA free-for-all. The sensation is quite the opposite, in fact. When I see a 2D film, I’m able to forget I’m in a cinema and I enter a sort of meditative state of nirvana (not even kidding — this explains why I see a different film in the cinema every day). On the other hand, the sensory stimuli received when watching King of the Monsters only served as a constant reminder that I was in a theatre seat in a shopping mall in the north of the city.

Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. It just means the 4D experience is not a ‘cinema-going’ experience but is more akin to a ride in a theme park, like a 2-hour attraction at Universal Studios (though certainly more fun). I actually laughed out loud a couple of times during the film (and not because the jokes were funny–the jokes in King of the Monsters fall flatter than a compact car after Godzilla steps on it), but simply out of sheer joy.

In short, King of the Monsters is the ideal film for 4D. While I rated the traditional film 6/10, I’d give the 4DX version a 9 because it utilizes all of the elements (rain, planes, jeeps, explosions, spray, wrecks, fights, earthquakes…) the 4D track contains.

The ticket price, obviously, is a little steeper. Which begs the question, is a 4DX film worth the $25 price tag (23 bucks for the ticket, 2 for the clip-on 3D glasses)? (Silly question, true cinephiles never look at the price!)

But enough about me and my movie going life! What about you? Have you seen a film in 4D? What did you see and what did you think? What movie would you like to see get the 4D treatment? I’ll start, I think Mad Max: Fury Road would be an amazing 4D trip, but my dream choice would be Apocalypse Now. And you?