Today is Wednesday, 18th of December 2019. I’m a few hours removed from an advanced screening of Jumanji: The Next Level in Event Cinemas Chermside’s new 4DX cinema. A few hours after writing this, it will open officially with the midnight release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, as will new 4DX cinemas at Event Pacific Fair on the Gold Coast in QLD and Event Parramatta in NSW. They will join the existing ones at Event George Street, Sydney and Village Cinemas Century City in Melbourne as the only 4DX cinemas in Australia. But what is 4DX and what place could it have in the marketplace?
4DX is a film format and an experience developed and launched by CJ 4DPlex, a subsidiary of the South Korean cinema chain CJ CGV, in 2009. The basic idea is that you’ll be able to experience the movie, not just view it. Played in a custom-built theatre, a system of high-tech moving seats and environmental effects, like fog, wind and water, work in sync with the action taking place in the movie to create a unique experience. CJ’s licenced technology has now expanded to over 650 cinemas in 65 countries through partnerships with major cinema chains across the world.
Going in, I was pretty skeptical. I’ve been to theme parks that have played short films that spray water at you and blow wind in your face. The first thing you notice when you walk into the cinema is the chairs. They are straight and arranged in groups of four with a gap between them. The seats are slightly raised with a footrest on the bottom and there is a button on the armrest that turns on and off the water effects. A series of fans are visible along the walls but other than that, it seems like your regular cinema.
As Jumanji starts playing, my skepticism only grew as my seat would vibrate in time with a character’s phone vibrating. The seat would also tilt back when the camera would dolly out. It is when the action started that 4DX made sense to me. In Jumanji: The Next Level there is a dune buggy sequence where the heroes are being chased by a flock of ostriches. The seat would jostle around in time with the action on the screen. As an ostrich pecked at the dune buggy, I could almost feel it thanks to bursts of wind coming out of the seat near your head. The other environmental effects were implemented throughout the film in ways that felt like they enhanced the experience. The only one I don’t recall experiencing was a scent, but for a movie set in the jungle that might have been for the best. Overall, I had a good time and even came to like the seat tilting back for dolly shots.
Now do I think that this is the future of cinema. No. It is a fun experience but it is something that is limited to big blockbuster films or at least films with a fair bit of action. Future films slated for 4DX include Bad Boys for Life, Dolittle, Midway and Birds of Prey. Some of the most successful 4DX films worldwide this year are Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, The Lion King and Aladdin. While there could potentially be a use for this technology for less action-filled films, I wouldn’t expect Marriage Story or The Farewell in 4DX anytime soon.