This week I attended another screening of The Avengers (Assemble) that offered something called “D-Box” seats. These are seats that move in tandem with the action onscreen – think flight simulators or those various “4D” and “5D” rides at various theme parks*. I’ve tried a few of those experiences: Shrek 4D at Universal Studios, Muppets 4D at Disneyworld, and a few similar rides at Futuroscope back when it was a real novelty. But this is the first time I’ve been to one of these presentations for a proper feature film, and it was an entertaining but…odd experience. I’m sure quite a few of you have already tried it, being early adopters and all, but let’s discuss it.
First of all, I thought it was immense fun. For a movie like Avengers, it works because there are regular little pops of action and huge swathes of movement. The technology is well suited to car chases and Tony Stark’s flight and anything where things are crashing about generally; the final action sequence quite literally has an extra buzz to it. And it’s a novelty that adds to the adrenalin rush of the whole thing. (For comparative purposes, I've seen Avengers twice without the fancy chairs) These particular seats, unlike the Shrek and Mummy theme-park experiences, have moving backs and bases but don't blow air at the back of your legs or anything like that. You can also turn down the intensity if you have a dodgy back (although if you do, I suspect they're not recommended anyway).
But there are a few caveats. This is very much a gimmick, something welded on to the film rather than conceived initially alongside it. As such, it has basically no narrative value. If you were making a film for motion use like this, you’d make something like the tourist board effort they used to have at Futuroscope (something about a guy trying to catch a train to…his wedding maybe?). Anyway, the hero of that film used all forms of transport from cars to balloons to motorbikes to get across Aquitaine (I think? It was a while ago) and the seats kept up with the whole thing in a sort of first-person adventure, giving you the impression that you really were (sort of) motorbiking through central France. But that, of course, is something tied into the entire premise of the film, and you're following one character throughout, so you can vaguely pretend you're involved.
Let's face it: there's still a low limit to the illusion here. You're still sitting down, basically still; still a passive consumer of the story. You're not getting the experience of being an action hero - this isn't Lawnmower Man or virtual reality (probably a good thing) - or getting involved in proceedings. You're just watching with bells on.
And in this case, of course, the movement isn’t connected to any one person or thing onscreen. You feel it when something explodes even if there’s nobody around, which probably answers some interesting philosophical questions about whether a tree in the forest being smashed by Iron Man makes a noise even if he’s not still around to hear it. The chairs even reacted when Loki changed costumes, with a little whirr through the back - and I'm still not sure what the thinking was there. Fashion commentary perhaps? Thankfully it doesn’t react to every crashing scene change and loud noise - a crash-cut to Loki's allies running down a corridor happily doesn't get a matching jump - but it’s very much more about matching the visuals and noises rather than the narrative.
That’s fine to a point; I still had fun crashing about every time Hulk smashed. But it’s not really a tool for storytelling, as things stand. It’s another silly enticement to leave the house and the flat screen and head to a cinema (unless, I suppose, you have one of those interactive game chairs at home). If this took off massively, I guess it’s conceivable that all this might change, that films might be designed for this to become a part of the storytelling – but right now it’s a toy. An expensive one, given the £15.70 cost when I went (plus 80p for 3D glasses), but a toy all the same. I enjoyed it, but I didn't really need it.
I will say that I do see potential in this. It worked great for stuff like car chases (Fast & Furious 6! Book it now!) and could be great for anything with earthquakes (could this have redeemed 2012? Well, no; nothing could. But it might have helped).
But they could go further. They should offer two options for kids films or Transformers: motion technology as currently on offer for the kids / robot fans; AND an alternate option to turn it into a straight-up massage chair for the parents / other halves. Full massage function could kick in during all the noisiest bits. Now THAT would make it essential. Takings would go through the roof.
*Technically, the 5D should involve some sort of extra-dimensional quantum physics thing. You might expect it of CERN, but there it is at the London Dungeon. Go figure.
tobesm Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 12:27
I saw Avengers with a D-Box screening last week. I thought it was fun and that it worked great for stuff like Iron Man flying. And it wasn't as distracting as I thought it could have potentially been (you can adjust the settings so that it shakes more/less). Unfortunately, I don't think it added massively to my enjoyment of the film. And with an extra £5.50 to pay I really think it should have. So unless the price comes down I don't think i'll be doing it again.
Y2Neildotcom Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 13:07
Does the chair actually swing and sway or is it just rumblings?
I've experienced Shrek 4D and the Mummy ride in Florida and they were OK, but the rumblings and tickles on the back of the leg can easily become tiresome.
I went to the Sealife Center in Birmingham a few months ago, and whilst I understand this is in no way a comparison, they had a "4D" showing of Happy Feet 2. This was terrible. The seats rumbled louder than the audio track and the feel was like I was being poked by a taser on very low battery. Terrible experience.
If these D-Box chairs aren't kept up to scratch, could they afford the same fate?
Plus the cost is just ridiculous. I may be an old fuddyduddy but can we not just go back to the day of the simple cinema?
Swedle Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 17:03
at my local Cineworld, there's a couple that you can sit on to try it out, and honestly I think I forgot what trailer they had on it because of how distracting the seats were! It's like going to the cinema with your boyfriend and having to slap him away because you'd rather watch the film, i.e. bloody annoying!
Helen OHara Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 17:19
Neil, this doesn't have the leg tickling, thank goodness: it's the seat base and back that do the dancing. One can only hope this lot will be maintained and keep working well.
Swedle, I enjoyed it overall but I can see how that might be the case. Give it a go though if you get the chance.
Vantage Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 19:07
Ooooh, could be a good idea for a revolution in the porn industry. As the prostitutes get it on on screen, all off a sudden theres a dildo shoved up your vag or a robotic arm grabs your cock. Sounds fun to me!!!
7eke Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 19:21
GIMMICK GIMMICK GIMMICK
gsharpe Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 19:31
Remember when films used to be about experiencing a brilliant, well-made piece of storytelling - and none of this other crap used to matter?
It took all the way until Hugo before 3D became interesting (and I'm still unconvinced). For my money, the most involving cinematic experience is IMAX. Proper IMAX.
Saw MI: Ghost Protocol & The Dark Knight Rises 5-min teaser in IMAX Glasgow, and it was simply stunning. One particular wide angle shot as you fly over the Burj Khalifa actually makes you feel as if you're flying *right* over.
I think the simple truth that these gimmicks are used as a way of keeping an audience in the cinema, but I think movie studios need to find other ways of doing so. Look at the experience provided by the large cinema chains - where is the long-lost romanticism & ritual of going to the movies? Capture that, bottle it, and the audience is yours.
Imrahill Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 19:38
You can buy these seats for your home cinema in the states and a few imported blu-rays that i have support it.However i think its more of a gimmick especially as it will only suit certain types of films and as previous people have said most"innovations" at the cinema these days seem to involve more expensive tickets rather than greatly increasing the viewing pleasure.
Popidol68900 Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 19:55
Saw it on Saturday as the 02 Cineworld is my local. I was very skeptical but bloody loved it. Was fun and def suited to the summer blockbuster type of movie. However I still prefer IMAX (Waterloo) for a great cinema experience.
andy2000x Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 20:38
I havn't tried it on a full length film but my local which is installing them soon has a demo unit running it along the avengers trailer. It was Ok and seems good for a films that will make genuine use of it but seems expensive for what it is.
My biggest concern was, and remains, the experience for users not in the chairs as the movement of the audience seems likley to be something of a distraction from the screen even if it is just in corner of your eye. My local has told me they are installing them at the sides of the sections rather than having a row of them at the front (see the Prince of Persia screening video from DBox's own youtube channel) for this very reason but I'll have to see.
beebs_ Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 20:45
I'm interested in giving this a go. Can I book D-Box on my cineworld card? That's the question. Also I wonder if they'll D-Box Spidey. He's very swingy. Would that work?
I remember that film from Futuroscope... so many years ago...
andy2000x Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 20:51
Cineworld unlimited have to pay the markup so it's about £5-00 and an extra bit for 3D on top. My local (Crawley) will have DBox and an IMAX but truth be told, the IMAX will be cheaper, doesn't have a 3D surcharge and seems a more attractive proposition
beebs_ Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 22:20
Thanks for the info andy2000x!
I'll go see something soon.
Ethanial Posted on Tuesday May 8, 2012, 23:08
I really enjoyed the D-Box last week, felt it was a far more suited addition than the lame post-converted 3D we had to also watch in order to use the seats. Felt mightily organic to the proceedings, and hope that upcoming films also abuse this for me. I just wish D-Box was around for Shame's release.
thisiscarlijn Posted on Wednesday May 9, 2012, 11:57
Just another gimmick, though it could be really fun for kids! I must agree with the comment about IMAX. That really is the best (and most beautiful) way to experience a movie. They should definitely make more movies for IMAX (without 3D, fun as it might be).
I don't actually think there are any D-Box thingies in the Netherlands, come to think of it.
Also: I remember Futuroscope. That park was great back when it was supernew and all. I've been there twice. First time: super impressive. Second time: I just got nauseous in every ride. You're right though Helen, the man is trying to get to his wedding! And along the way he meets this tree-guy and thanks to his magic the guy can fly etc. Oh the French....
Nicky C Posted on Wednesday May 9, 2012, 17:09
Moving pictures themselves a gimmick. They said that would never last and look where we are. The whole history of cinema is built on spectacle so I find it impossible to be cynical about anything that's supposed to be fun. 3D? Heck yes! Moving seats? Why not?! Turn up the DTS while you're at it and if there's an IMAX print then let's go see that. Life is short and mostly boring, so give me Transformers 4 in 3D IMAX, rumbling-seat smellovision and make me go 'whoah!' I'll be back next week to watch the new Michael Haneke as well, because variety is the spice of life, but I think you have to be quite dead inside to insist that gimmicks are a 'bad thing'. So, in that spirit I shall be finding my nearest D-Box screening this very weekend!
AD/AM HURRY Posted on Wednesday May 9, 2012, 22:36
MY GOD ITS AWESOME, a gimmick sure BUT STILL AWESOME! ITS LIKE THE SPIDERMAN RIDE AT UNIVERSAL a dated example but you get it THIS SOUNDS LIEK SOOO MUCH FUN, MAYBE NOT TO GO SEE IT FOR THE FIRST TIME cos it can be distracting still LOVING THE SOUND OF THAT!
Whistler Posted on Thursday May 10, 2012, 11:57
I don't really fancy sitting in a moving chair while watching a film. Because I've never tried it I can't say it sucks, but I can't imagine enjoying it.
Garden Robot Posted on Thursday May 10, 2012, 13:01
Would this just prevent anyone who suffers from motion sickness from buying cinema tickets. To be honest, I think it'll end up like IMAX at best. Some will enjoy it enough to travel and pay extra for the experience but most local cinemas will leave it well alone
chris kilby Posted on Thursday May 10, 2012, 15:03
So motion sickness is the future of cinema now, is it? And I thought 3D was a desperate gimmick/rip-off - Grud only knows what Mark Kermode must make of this! What next? Chucking buckets of water over the audience at screenings of Titanic 4D? Must be great during the latest Mike Leigh epic.
I've had a go on the D-TOX (sorry, D-BOX - D-TOX would be taking the piss!) demo in the foyer of the Glasgow Cineworld and can't help wondering what an auditorium full of the damn things would sound like. But look on the bright side - at least they would drown out the sound of fuckwits' phones going off.
Cineworld's definitely on to something here, though. Although I'd prefer ejector seats meself. Or if they wired the seats up to the mains and if anyone's phone went off or they started talking - ZAP!
oz_p Posted on Friday May 11, 2012, 10:59
hmm so what happens when the seat bumps you in the air and your popcorn/drink goes flying!?!?
gambit21 Posted on Friday May 11, 2012, 14:25
What happens when you are watching the ejector seat scene in Bond? Does everyone end up half-way through the ceiling?
FlyingKiwi2012 Posted on Friday May 11, 2012, 17:05
I am visiting Seoul in South Korea and went to see The Avengers in 4D+3D (as opposed to 4D+2D). They have whole theaters to watch some of the latest movies in 4D and it seems popular.
I found it fun and a good experience. At the same time it a little distracting as you ended up hanging onto your seat and you were thrown around in the action scenes. But still the times of using smell and air movement added to the whole experience. I would recommend people try it out (with an action films).
Spaldron Posted on Friday May 11, 2012, 18:13
No doubt this'll get rolled out across the country in time for Avatar 2 giving cinemas another excuse to charge a small fortune to watch a film. 2D is the future!
timboduk Posted on Saturday May 12, 2012, 15:35
Gimmick? - Yes; New? - No. I'm old enough to remember 'Rollercoaster', 'Earthquake', the 'Battle of Midway' and, Yes, the cinematic release of 'Battlestar Galactica' in 'Sensurround'. It was a short-lived bit of fun then and it will be again.
MartinHeron Posted on Sunday May 13, 2012, 17:58
It could be a fun gimmick if it didn't cost an extra fiver on top of the already-ridiculous ticket price.