The night before we were to leave Bangkok for northern Thailand, we got wind of a 4D movie theater in town. No, they don’t give you mind-altering drugs when you enter, and it doesn’t involve a rip in the space-time continuum. The 4th “D” entails sensory inputs like water spraying in your face, wind, perfumed air, and shaking seats while you’re watching a 3D movie. Despite having an early morning the next day, we headed out to Bangkok’s Siam Paragon (the Siam stop on the BTS Sky Train) and bought tickets for one of the two movies playing in 4D, Star Trek: Into Darkness. (The other choice was Fast & Furious 6, and since I read that one of the scents they can spray smells like burnt rubber, I thought better of my sinuses and went with Star Trek. As if there were any danger of me seeing F&F6 under any circumstances whatsoever, anyways).
Before we go any further, the proper name for this technology is 4DX, and it was created by a South Korean company, first used in 2009 for Avatar. As of right now there are only a handful on these theaters in the world, and none in the U.S. In essence, it’s a movie and a ride (of sorts) all in one. Theaters are equipped for seat motion & vibration, jets of air or water coming out of the seat in front of you, strobe lighting, smoke, and scents. Sounds really futuristic, right? In theory.
OK, so here’s the deal. We definitely enjoyed having this experience for the novelty of it, but we both agreed that we expected this technology to have advanced a bit more since the Body Wars ride at Epcot in 1989. I think the best usage of the technology was for the car commercials before the actual movie–wind in your face and seats tilting side to side as to car on screen turns corners; it was a great introduction. The advertisement for food & popcorn before the film included a little alien creature that sneezed onscreen, causing a pretty powerful squirt of water to hit you square in the face (and your 3D glasses, unfortunately. I clean eyeglasses enough in every day life, I shouldn’t have to do it at the movies).
There are speakers behind each of your ears on your seat; while I didn’t notice any sounds coming from them in this film, they did occasionally burst out a jet of air at top speeds. I know it was supposed to replicate something whizzing by your head, but it only succeeded in scaring the crap out of me unnecessarily. Every. Single. Time. This effect really demonstrates what this system is lacking–any subtlety whatsoever.
The 4DX claimed to have a thousand scents to go along with scenes in the movie; my only question is, why do the interior of a volcano, deep space, and Kronos, the Klingon home planet, all have the same scent (and that is, like terrible Walgreens perfume)?? That was the only scent utilized during the entire movie (and I know it wasn’t the woman seated next to me, as she was rocking her own B.O. scent system). Some of the seat “vibrations” were like child-sized fists feebly punching you in the kidneys, and the smoke that occasionally came out under the screen seemed to be pretty haphazard. The motion of the seats was heavily used (and probably more so in this movie, particularly) and we both felt like we got our asses kicked at the end of the show. I have trouble with 3D movies anyways, so between the 3D and the movement, I left the theater with a headache, a stiff neck, and the fear of having gale-force wind pumped into my ears at any time.
That said, should you experience it if you get the opportunity? Absolutely. Just have reasonable expectations; perhaps by the time they roll out in America, it’ll be a bit more nuanced and less like a guy with a squirtgun shaking your chair.