4-D Movies: Experience for the Entire Body Coming to U.S. Theaters?

A South Korean company hopes to outfit 200 U.S. theaters with equipment that will move seats, emit scents — and change movie-going forever

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Chinese young girls wear special glasses at the 4D theater in a Beijing movie theater

The next wave of movie theater experiences contains actual smells, mists and vibrations. South Korean’s CJ Group is planning to bring 4D movies into North American theaters, giving audiences more than 1,000 sensations as they watch the big screen.

To fully envelope the audience into the movie-watching experience, the 4DX system, as CJ Group dubs it, adds in movements, smells and tactile experiences into what would normally be considered a typical 3D experience.

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To mimic a splash into the ocean, tiny nozzles in the seats can spray out a mist of water. To put you in the perfect location, those same nozzles can spurt out a smell—think gunpowder, roses or burning rubber for a car chase. In the specially equipped theaters the seats can actually move, offering crash landings and car chases in real sway. Even earthquakes have their place, with seat rumbling capabilities.

CJ Group already has theaters in South Korea, Thailand and Mexico playing the latest blockbusters, according to the Los Angeles Times. Executives say its 4-D venues already draw sellout crowds. The group hopes to venture into about 200 U.S. theaters over the next four years, starting in Los Angeles and New York.

For the extra movie engagement, expect to spill about another $8 for your ticket, but executives are betting that full immersion is worth the price. While CJ Group is quick to tell the L.A. Times that the experiences they offer are more movie-theater appropriate than special-effect theme park, the options they offer may make you wonder.

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Those all-important little nozzles will have about 1,000 options for you, everything from bubbles and mists to smells and stenches. With plenty of extras built in around the seats, such as massive lights for huge flashes and large fans to push smells or replicate wind, programming in a 4D experience can take nearly a month, depending on the complexity of the job. For director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi movie Prometheus, a programmer studied the “point of view” of the alien ship before deciding how to insert effects. (Should the seats rock side to side or sway back and forth to simulate the ship’s fall? When should the gunpowder smell be released?)

Some of these movie-theater gimmicks have been seen before—even back in the 1970s—but never all at once. Putting the experiences together, programmers can mimic life on the movie screen. In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, for example, the seats gently oscillate to put people in a rowboat, a fan’s push sends a soft breeze into the room, and a slight fog fills the air. The smell of the ocean lifts from the seats and a spray of water signifies the shooting of seaweed. The entire experience leaves you waiting for the next wave.

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