First Introduced: 1974
The Concept: Initially developed for the disaster epic Earthquake, Sensurround was a sound-effects technology that promised to deliver “effects such as might be experienced in an actual earthquake.” Filmgoers were warned—with a bit of William Castle-like flair—that “Management bears no responsibility for the physical or emotional reactions of the individual viewer.”
How It Works: The heart of the technology was an array of large speakers capable of creating powerful low-frequency sounds. Installing these “woofers” often required the removal of several seats in a theater’s front row and were rented for about $500 a month.
Was It Successful? As a demonstration of acoustic principles, most definitely. Those disclaimers were grounded in reality: more than a few moviegoers were sickened to the point of vomiting, others complained of headaches. The sound waves from these speakers also caused structural damage (they loosened plaster in the ceiling of Grauman’s Chinese Theater)—and, reportedly, killed a tank of fish in a pet shop that shared a wall with a theater showing Earthquake.
Other Movies That Used This Technology: Besides Earthquake (which, incidentally, won an Oscar for Sound Editing) only three other movies utilized Sensurround: Midway, Rollercoaster, and the brief theatrical release of the pilot for Battlestar Galactica.