4 Stars or 4D?
The decision: Rise of the Planet of the Apes at 2pm or Captain America at 5pm. A trip to the movies is always part of my Bangkok ritual. Even though Phnom Penh now has a proper cinema of its own, going to Bangkok still means a trip to Siam Paragon (as well as a Big Mac). So, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I have loved the original Planet of the Apes pentalogy (my first time ever using that word) since that fateful day a long time ago when USA network played them all back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I have not been a fan of remakes, Planet of the Apes, Rollerball, etc. But I heard good things about the new one. Then there was Captain America. I had heard that it was terrible. Really bad. And I would also have to wait around an extra 3 hours to watch it. Ah, easy decision, Planet… wait a minute…
- How could I resist?
Captain America is in 4D. What the hell is 4D? I stared at my hands for a while. I squinted and blinked but in no way could I see them as having a 4th dimension. Wandering around the cinema lobby I found a tv screen playing a preview of 4D. It looks like 3D plus a moving seat, wind, smells and, I don’t care what else, I don’t care, I don’t care. I want to do it. The last time I saw a movie in Bangkok I saw Tron in their IMAX. This seemed like another great opportunity to go to a movie to experience effects and ignore the plot. I had two choices for my ticket. Peripheral seats for 400 baht (like USD13) or a badass center seat for 500 baht (like USD17). Duh. If Captain America pukes, I want to be hit directly.
Looking for the Fourth D in a 3D room
I grabbed a couple beers and wandered in. We were handed our 3D glasses and we found our places (anyone else remember using the old red-and-blues by the way?). Big seats with a couple extra “features.” The room was equipped with fans. Other that that, not much out of the ordinary. Except for me of course. I was the annoying tourist taking pictures in the movie theater. Apologies to the rest of the audience.
- The wind is made by fans. It’s not real wind.
4Dynamic or 4Disappointing?
The previews began, we stood for the king of Thailand making the grass grow, and then we were off. Gametime. The Paramount Pictures intro came on (it looks kinda like this if you forget). The stars fell into place around the mountain and then they flew off the screen towards us. As each one left the screen we felt a puff of air in our right ears. “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” I said. Much like when I saw a manta ray for the first time. Wow, that was cool. That was just the intro. I can only imaging what other madness the magical movie people have in store for us!
- The 4D Seat. Check out the speakers and the “blow in my ear” holes.
The moving chair was kinda cool. Sometimes it would change angles when perspective was changing on the screen, contributing to the effect of reorientation. The theater also had the “cold and windy” effect down. When there was a chase scene on the screen and we would be expected to feel the wind in our faces we felt it. Pretty sweet. And if the setting of a scene was outdoors somewhere cold, we felt cold. Right on.
Soon we realized, though, that the effects were limited and were often used at inappropriate times. The wind in the face was used for any explosion, and it was still cold. And when we were supposed to be feeling a flame thrower in the face? Cold wind again. I mean, I have never been shot at anyone with a flamethrower, but I’m guessing that it doesn’t feel like a cold wind. And whenever something flies by us, we feel that puff of air in our ear. Same direction of air every time, no matter the angle of the projectile. Finally, the seat. While I appreciate its ability to move and shift, the crash effects are very lacking. The seat did little more than shake. It was like sitting on a Playstation 360 controller, where a similar shake could mean any of a whole range of collisions or impacts. It got a little old.
What I really wanted was some smell-o-vision. I wanted to smell Captain America fart. I am not sure if there were any olfactory effects. I thought I smelled some cologne when one character would appear, but that could have just been the fragrance of the guy next to me. Lame.
So who am I?
When we watch movies we are viewers. While this stands as a truism, the 4D experience changes what this “viewing” entails. The new 3D makes the images on the screen more like we see in the non-movie world. But we are still watching. We may empathize with the characters, but that is the limit of our participation in the story.
The 4th D changes how we engage with the movie. If we are in the arctic we feel the cold. When we are in a car, we feel the movement. But who is thewe? Sometimes, we would be observers, watching what is happening with the clarity of 3D, but feeling the conditions in the scene as well. We are just off screen. The member of the search team who walks around, has no particular job to do, but gets to be privy to all private conversations. How did I get this job which includes no power, no responsibilities, but unlimited access to all information?
Sometimes, though, the 4D effects place the audience not as close observers but as characters. The bullet flies by a character’s ear and you feel the (misdirected) wind. Our seat shakes when the car crashes. In these cases we participate in the action on screen. But not as one particular character. As different characters have different sensations, we in the audience end up with a confused sample of their experiences, whether we want it or not.
So the 4D experience no longer allows us to pick our characters to love and hate, forcing us instead to experience physical representations of all of their ordeals. As the technology catches up with the expectations, the 4D experience will be both exhilerating and provide a space for new artistic experimentation in film production. Nonetheless, those who say that modern movies have substituted effects for plot and character development will have more evidence to work with as the viewer becomes even less intellectually involved with the movies and more physically so.