As someone who had found the movie IT to be quite a frightening movie the first time I had seen it, I was quite excited at the chance to see it a second time in the L.A. Live Regal Cinema’s 4DX screen.
4DX is a technology that has been developed by the South Korean CJ Group to enhance the movie theater experience. With a growing number of theatres equipped with this technology around the world, 4DX allows for a theatrical experience that has multiple additional factors beyond simply visuals and sound.
These factors include seats that move and tilt, wind and rain effects, bubbles, scents, lightning effects and even devices that can press into your back in the seat or tickle your feet. A special extra track is added to the film to essentially ‘score’ the movie so that what happens to you in the theatre is matched to what is happening within the film. Those who have experienced 3-D films at theme parks such as Disney or Universal will have some idea of what I am talking about in the 4DX theatres.
In fact, I had been to the 4DX screen at L.A. Live before, so I thought I understood what I was going to be getting into while watching this horror movie. Boy, was I wrong.
This time, the theatre’s effects were far more elaborate. The beginning of the film shows poor Georgie Denbrough dying in that rainstorm thanks to a certain clown. To my utter surprise, when it was raining on Georgie, I was also sitting in a patter of water falling from…somewhere. As the boat floated down the gutter, the chair I was sitting in was also floating in space, shifting up and down, tilting back and forth.
It was quite exhilarating.
As the movie moved on, I found that the effects were sometimes quite strong such as when smells would suddenly surface during some of the more pungent scenes or when blood splattered on the screen and I suddenly got a blast of water mist sprayed in my face. Given that this is a horror movie with a significant amount of jump scenes, the additional physical additions of the experience worked quite well in those moments.
But I found the subtle effects being created around me far more effective. As the story began to play out of these poor children and their fears, I realized that the seat I was in was almost never still. The movie also includes quite a few scenes where the children have an almost hallucinatory experience as Pennywise attempts to capture them. During those scenes, the seats were subtly shifting to help increase my tension levels. Was the scene a little strange visually? The chairs would tilt slowly to the right or back or begin to bob up and down—never strong, but just enough that my perspective of the movie was constantly being altered. Was the tension increasing in the scene as it neared its most terrifying moment? The seats would slowly tilt forward—not enough that I fell out, but just putting me that little bit closer to what was about to scare me to pieces. In fact, in the slide machine scene (the single most terrifying moment in the film for me), I actually found myself trying to crawl backwards into the seat so that I wasn’t leaning forward.
Think about that for just a moment. The seat leaned forward just enough that I tried to fight back against it, even as I wasn’t consciously aware at that moment that the seat was moving. That’s a pretty subtle addition to a movie that adds a creative new level to what I was already experiencing. I find it quite impressive.
In fact, that’s where I think the 4DX technology really shines. In action films, or racing films or shocking horror movies, the 4DX additions can easily add to the jump scare or adrenaline rush we get from those types of movies. But when the 4DX can make a tiny, subtle alteration of effect that hits us subconsciously, that’s when it becomes much more than a simple gimmick.
That’s when 4DX adds a level of effect that draws you even deeper into the film experience. As a creator myself, I can envision an almost unlimited palette of additions I could make to a film by helping to build the 4DX track myself and even, perhaps, shooting the film with those additions already in mind.
After all, in 2018 we are all looking for new and better ways to experience our entertainment. And while I think 4DX right now is more of a gimmick than a fully integrated part of the entertainment, I think its potential is massive. And I, for one, cannot wait to see that one movie where the 4DX version is the preferred edition. It’s only a matter of time.