Thursday, November 10, 2016

4D Cinema Now in Canada!

This past weekend I went to the cinema see Dr. Strange with my wife and daughter. Nothing strange about that as I love superhero films and we pretty much see ever one at the cinema. The experience was particularly special as it was the first time I have ever seen a feature length film in 4D.

It wasn't special just for us, but rather for Canada - as this is our first 4D cinema in Canada and it opened only a few days ago. The cinema opened with Dr. Strange so we were among the first to view cinematic event. The 4D cinema is at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas - read more about it their website.

4D is a marketing term to entail movies that go beyond just 3D to offer assorted special effects to bring elements of the film into the real world. There is no consistency in how the term is used so it can include many different types of things. It can run the gamut from adding one new sensory experience (such as scent or seat buzzers) to a fully moving ride with multisensory experiences. Here's a great timeline of 4D cinema.

Granted, this wasn't our first 4D experience. It seems like most A list amusement parks have them. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios that have made 4D experiences a thrill. My first such one was as a teenager with Muppets (which is the only such show I've seen to combine animatronics and costumed actors in the cinema).

But even Ontario has had some 4D short films at Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls and the dearly-departed Ontario Place in Toronto. Also, a few years ago we saw Spy Kids 4 with scratch-and-sniff cards to add odour experiences at key moments (some more effective than not).

This, however, is the first permanent location to show 4D feature length films in Canada and it's in my hometown!

The ad for the cinema claims that 4D offers the potential for the following real-life sensory experiences:
  • motion - chairs can vibrate and move up, down, left and right and fairly fast too - but motion seems limited to about 10 cm
  • seat "ticklers" - that are more like "hitters", they push at your lower back and legs
  • air - vents near your head blow wind past your ears, apparently the cinema has wind machines too
  • snow and fog - at the front of cinema only - apparently bubbles too but I didn't experience this
  • rain - all over cinema and with the Dr. strange quite a bit of it (not soaking but did make my 3D glasses spotty) - there is an off switch for this, but of course no one pushed it
  • strobe lights - to simulate lightning
  • scent
All other 4D films I've seen used these effects as a gimmick. Except for Ontario tourism film I saw at Ontario that used it to give film moments a unique sense of place.

Dr. Strange in 4D was definitely gimmicky at times and to such an extent that it was a distraction. But it also advanced my sensory connection to the film and helped draw one into the experience of the character's world or identify with the character.

There's a scene in the film where the lead character was driving really fast on a winding road and then had an accident which was accompanied by corresponding seat motions that really added to my enjoyment of the scene. Fight scenes were similarly enhanced by seat motion and gusts of wind. I also enjoyed a scene on a snow-blown mountain top when actual snow started to fill the theatre.

When it doesn't work is when there is an effect just to do something (presumably so people feel they are getting their money's worth). For instance, the seats moved too much generally as sometimes motion was used when anything on screen movies. Motion works great when it the protagonist is also in motion, but doesn't make sense when an inanimate object is moved.

I think scent would be a great addition - and Dr. Strange had lots of times when it could be used effectively. I've heard that we were supposed to smell incense at the temple Dr. Strange visits, but all I ever smelled throughout the film was Windex. My wife and daughter only ever smelled lemon (but they said they liked it).

My young daughter loved the experience and said there was nothing she disliked. Here's her review:
I really like how the chairs moved and the rain.  I liked how during the movie when Dr. Strange was on the mountain there was snow and wind in the cinema. I like 4D because it realty brings a movie to life, as what's happening in the movie is happening in the theatre. Some movies would be good in 4D, but some it wouldn't be quite as good. I think it is better for action movies - Star Wars would be neat. Sometimes it shook you too much or punched you in the back, but that only bothered me the tiniest little bit. But it might bother others. I thought it was really fun and cool!
It is people like my daughter that this type of experience is geared towards. It's possible at some point that 4D effects could be used only to serve the art of filmmaking. Dr. Strange was a good film but it's not high art - films like this are meant to give the audience a good time. And 4D does really enhance that. It's not something I'd want with all my films, but for these blockbuster action and fantasy films, I think it is a really fun addition.

It will be interesting to see how this technology and corresponding use by filmmakers develops.

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