• You can tell this is a promotional image for 4DX as nobody in this picture has popcorn bits all over their shirt. (Event Cinemas)Source: Event Cinemas
Sitting in a robot chair with water splashed at my face as I watched Venom, it became less a film and more a theme park attraction... and it was glorious.
Dan Barrett

11 Oct 2018 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2018 - 10:29 AM

I had zero interest in seeing Venom on the big screen at the cinema.

Reviews haven't been very positive (at time of writing, it is 30% at Rotten Tomatoes). But when given the opportunity to watch the film with a 4DX experience, I jumped. My general thinking is that big blockbuster films are now designed to feel like theme park spectacle - why not embrace it and take it to its next practical evolution?

Having now experienced 4DX, I can see the potential for 4DX to be a game-changer. Yeah, it's a ridiculous gimmick. but it also gave me one of the most fun experiences I've had at the cinema in some time. And I can't imagine many patrons saying that after watching Venom.

Explain '4DX' to me

The 4DX experience, coding, software, and system is developed by CJ 4DPLEX, a company based in Korea. The 4DX system runs alongside normal digital cinema systems to synchronise specially-designed motion seats and environmental effects with the action taking place on the cinema screen.

Think of 4DX as an extension to 3D cinema, but in addition to watching a 3D film, you are also able to 'feel' the movie. It is supposed to stimulate all five of your senses with a range of effects including wind, fog, water, and scents that are intended to synchronise with the action.

Your chair is on a hydrolic and moves along with the action on the screen. During a car chase, your chair moves up, down, and around along with the action on screen. If it starts raining during the movie, you can feel the water sprinkled on your face. During an action scene you may feel wind hitting your body. And when big special effects monster Venom is fighting enemies with guns, you can feel the bullets whizzing past you thanks to bursts of wind beside your face.

Is this the future of cinema?

My one experience with 4DX proved it is a silly novelty that also did a lot to liven up the movie. I loved it.

If I had sat in a regular theater watching Venom, I don't think I'd have had all that great a time. The film is certainly watchable, but as is often the case with big budget films that prize spectacle above all-else, it was an incredibly hollow experience. Outside of a few notable and obvious examples, most big budget films are the visual equivalent of a theme-park ride. 4DX is really just taking it that step further and turning it into a theme-park style attraction.

What 4DX accomplishes is giving the audience a reason to leave the house. It isn't an experience that can easily be recreated at home. Today, cinemas struggle with the fact that the home viewing experience has a lot going for it. If you want to see the world's best movies and TV shows, they're readily available at the click of a button through services like SBS On Demand and Netflix.

Add to that the actual viewing experience at home is getting considerably better. 65 inch televisions are quickly becoming the standard in Australian homes and in an average-sized lounge-room, that is an impressive substitute for a cinema screen.

In the next few years when Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality go mainstream, it will be very easy to bring cinema-like experiences to the home. Cinemas need to future-proof themselves and maybe 4DX can play a role in that.

For Venom, I cannot imagine anyone in a regular theatre having as much fun with it as anyone in the 4DX theater. However, could the same be said for a film that is genuinely a thrilling watch on the big screen. Would 4DX have made Mission: Impossible - Fallout, for example, a better movie? 4DX would have been a thrill, but it probably wouldn't be additive. I'd likely be inclined to want to see the film on a big screen with big sound for the first time I see it and then embrace the gimmickry for a later viewing.

The experience

When you walk into the cinema, the first thing you'll notice is the chairs. The chairs are higher-up than a standard cinema seat, with a full back. As you sit into it, you'll notice that your feet aren't on the ground, but rather they're resting on a small platform attached to the chair. Between your legs, you'll notice a long drinking straw-like stick that rests just above your ankles.

Above you to the left and right of the cinema are a row of small industrial-looking fans. The seats in front of you also have some small vents in the back.

As the lights go down, you put on your 3D glasses.

A lot of what you experience throughout the film is based off the haptic vibrations you feel through the chair. For people familiar with playing video games, the sensation is a more elaborate experience of the vibrations one gets from modern game controllers.

Sometimes the feeling in the chair is quite extreme during an action sequence, but it's during the quieter moments in a film that the experience is actually nicely heightened. During Venom, there were a few moments where I could feel the chair subtly shifting to aid in the creation of tension in a scene, building a sense of unease. 

Being a big action superhero film, there were a few moments where there was a large amount of smoke and gas on screen. Accompanying that on screen was some smoke coming up from the vents at the front of the theater.

A moment of rain on screen came with it the sensation of rain in the cinema. While that was a fun feeling at first, it was outdone later in the film by the moisture that splashes across the viewers face when the Venom monster appears on screen with his massive tongue waving about. Cinema patrons were treated to some of Venom's saliva hitting their faces, along with a similar gross sensation timed for a moment in the film when Venom literally chewed an enemies head off.

The most thrilling part of the film came from an elaborate chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco. We've all seen that executed in films before (yet, I NEVER tire of it), but this time I could really feel it with intense blasts of air hitting me as Tom Hardy flew down the streets on a motorcycle. 

Artistically, the 4D experience is a little muddled in that it is never quite clear whether the sensations are supposed to heighten the emotion of what is happening on the screen or if it is just to give you a physical representation of what your eyes are seeing. It never quite feels authentic, but I suspect that might be overthinking the theme-park experience of this.

For patrons in wheelchairs, dedicated spaces are available. For those customers who cannot move out of their wheelchair, they will still be able to experience the environmental effects, but will not be able to get the full experience with the motion seats.

Should you try 4DX

Enjoyment with this really is going to vary depending on the cinema attendee. For those who prize the theatrical experience and consider a cinema to be hallowed ground, 4DX is going to be sacrilege. Others may find that this is all gimmick without the substance to back it up. Ultimately, 4DX feels like the first step into an interesting immersive experience. Right now, it's best used to amplify the experience of films you may not be very invested in, but the potential is there for this to become an integrated part of the theatrical experience. 

You can experience 4DX in Sydney at the George Street Event Cinemas and in Melbourne at Village Cinemas Century City.

More at SBS:
How Bart Layton combines truth and fiction in the real-life heist film 'American Animals'
The director explains how he seamlessly blends drama and documentary to add new depth to a genre movie.
TV Movie Guide Highlights: 8 - 14 October
When it comes to movies, there's something for everybody on SBS, SBS VICELAND, NITV and SBS On Demand. Find out what's screening where and when.
Some glare over the rainbow: director Panos Cosmatos talks 'Mandy'
From imagining rich worlds behind the VHS he wasn’t allowed to watch to choreographing Nic Cage’s bathroom breakdown, Canadian director Panos Cosmatos talks ;Mandy'.
From boybands to bi-curious girls: Queer Screen Film Fest 2018
Packed with star power, this year’s Queer Screen Film Fest features pop king George Michael and Brazilian star and proud trans woman Linn da Quebrada.
'The Nightingale's' Jennifer Kent, Venice Film Festival react to insult at press screening
The world premiere of Jennifer Kent's film has been marred by a misogynistic sledge from a journalist at the Venice Film Festival.