This weekend, I was invited to screen Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw in 4DX format and write about my experience. Can do!, I thought. This will be interesting.
First, you might be asking, “4DX? What the hell is that?” I know – so many emerging theater technologies to keep track of. You might also hear the phrase “D-Box” get tossed around from time to time, and while they’re similar, they’re not quite the same. D-Box technology (originating with a Canadian company) is the tech that creates chairs that vibrate, swing around, and move on an axis as you watch a movie. 4DX (created by a South Korean-based company) is that, plus more augmentation utilizing the other senses. It has all the seat movement but also mimics wind, rain, lightning, bubbles, scents, and other effects. It’s meant to create a much more immersive experience for moviegoers, particularly with big, bang-up blockbusters.
So what was the experience like? Did seeing Hobbs & Shaw in 4DX live up to the hype of how it was pitched to me?:
Well…yes and no.
Seeing a bonkers action flick like Hobbs & Shaw in 4DX is an entertaining experience that hits you with unexpected elements that are prime for creating a sense of fun. In the Act I scene where Jason Statham drops a bottle of champagne, for example, a mist sprayed across my face as the bottle shattered. My friend and I turned to each other in surprise, laughing with delight. It’s not something meant to be experienced quietly – all around my theater, people were yelling and yelping, laughing aloud and having verbal reactions to the experience. Seeing an entire theater of adults turned into little kids again was admittedly pretty great. Surprisingly, there were only a few kids in my screening, but it’s the sort of experience that is especially primed for kids and energetic groups of teenagers. It’s definitely worth experiencing at least once, because it is truly fun, especially with the right audience. I’m just not sure that pricey ticket is worth paying for on a regular basis for a few reasons…
Unfortunately, the technology isn’t quite there yet to fully live up to its promise of being an integrated, immersive experience. Before the movie began, they played a small ad for 4DX technology to give audiences a taste of what they could expect for the movie. It was incredible and it got me and my friend hyped for the movie itself. But therein lay the difference between the two: The commercial was shot entirely with 4DX in mind; the pitches and rolls of the seat were timed perfectly with the ad itself. Not so much the movie. Seats tipped forward during car acceleration scenes when they should have tipped back, a character would receive a punch or kick to the chest or stomach and one of the seat pistons would instead hit you in the back or shoulder blade. The limitations of a technology that is simply a programmed track laid down atop an already completed movie really showed at certain times. I liken it to when the next wave of 3D was emerging five to ten years ago. Seeing a 3D movie back then could be a weird, headache-inducing experience as movies weren’t shot in the format but simply converted to 3D in post. Now, 3D tech has advanced for movies to be shot in 3D from beginning to end, meaning the technology is integrated and it makes for a much smoother, immersive experience. 4DX technology feels like it’s where 3D technology was a few years ago before it truly caught on and movies were made with the 3D format in mind. There’s a ton of potential there, but it’s not quite there yet.
But it was that potential that was most exciting to me. No, the technology isn’t there – yet. But it eventually will be, and that is worth getting excited about. Imagine this: Seeing a movie on a full-dome screen with chairs that have 360 pivoting abilities or run on tracks, a movie that has been purposefully made with 4DX as an end-goal format rather than an add-on. Imagine the technology paired with VR headsets. With theaters currently battling Netflix and other streaming services for viewers’ attention, movie theater technology will have to evolve, fast, and offer an experience audiences can’t possibly replicate at home. The sad truth is that eventually, just seeing a movie on a larger screen and with other people won’t be enough to entice people to get out and part with their money. Seeing a movie in a theater will have to be a truly immersive experience. 4DX has the potential to be at the forefront of that, turning the act of seeing movies into an experience you can’t get anywhere else. For a glimpse into that exciting future, seeing Hobbs & Shaw in 4DX was worth it.