Forget 3D, Is 4D Set For Our Cinema Screens?


True 3D may well still be settling into mainstream cinema – the likes of Prometheus, Avengers Assemble and The Amazing Spider-Man continue to push the format forward – but the cinematic big-screen experience may not stop there. Because according to the LA Times, the format known as ‘4-D’ may just be around the corner and it’s going to be big.

Whereas 2D and 3D films rely on theatre-enveloping surround sound and the latest in projection technology to deliver a visual experience quite unmatched anywhere else, 4D instead brings its audience a more sensory experience; ticking the boxes of all sight, sound smell and touch. The technology isWhile we've been fawning over Titanic in 3D, Asian markets have been treated to a 4DX conversion. You'll literally feel the ice-cold water of the Atlantic Ocean... currently attracting huge attention in South Korea where the conglomerate CJ Group (operator of Asia’s largest theatre chain) has brought mainstream audiences Hollywood’s finest in dramatic 4D fashion, with the likes of Prometheus, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Titanic and Avatar all screening.

Whether it is the appropriately-named “back-ticklers” in the seats thumping asynchronous to an on-screen character’s heavy landing; the whole cinema floor and seating writhing and vibrating to simulate an earthquake or city-toppling explosion or, thanks to tiny nozzles installed around the cinema, experiencing the spray of water as the film’s lead takes a thoughtful walk along the beach, CJ Group is promising a much “richer” movie-going experience quite unlike anything we have seen before.

However, the company behind it insists the technology is far from an added gimmick designed to fleece us of even more money at the movie theatre. For one, it takes a team of artists around 16-20 days to program 4D effects into a movie, a painstaking remastering in which each scene has to be carefully analysed to make sure the correct effects 'fit'.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' mermaid attack on Cap'n Jack's row boats featured the rocking of seats back and forth to simulate the movement of the boats, whilst a fan delivered a gentle breeze, SFX fog worked its way into the room, and the faint scent of ocean water filled the air around its audience.

Though 4D cinema screens do exist in certain corners of the country already (we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it for ourselves), this is the first time mainstream cinema chains have taken the technology more seriously. CJ Group has now set up a 'laboratory' in Hollywood to demonstrate and market its '4DX' system, and have plans to install the system in cities across major American markets this year, at a cost of $2 million per screen conversion. If the trials are successful and it makes financial sense to prospective markets, the UK could shortly follow.

Now, how about that Star Wars 4D remake, Mr Lucas? Go on, fleece us one more time...

Richard Birkett