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Some like it hot: 4DX films arouse the five senses

South China Morning Post (February 4, 2014)

Have you ever wondered what Gollum from Lord of the Rings smells like? Or wanted to feel a powerful whoosh of wind as Superman takes off? Such sensory experiences are no longer a sci-fi fantasy, thanks to 4DX technology that literally puts "motion" - amongst other things - into the pictures.

Close to 100 multiplexes in 24 countries have been adopting 4DX, which promises an immersive viewing experience. Developed in South Korea by CJ 4DPlex, a subsidiary of Asia`s largest multiplex chain CJ CGV, 4DX works by rousing more of the viewers` senses. When the technology debuted in Seoul in 2010, audiences were treated to motion chairs, strobe lights, wind machines as well as generators of "mist" and "rain" during a screening of James Cameron`s epic science fiction action film Avatar.

Last year, 56 films were shown in 4DX-enabled cinemas across Asia. Most of theses were Hollywood productions, such as Iron Man 3 and Gravity, but movies such as Pee Mak in Thailand and Sadako 2 in Japan were shown in 4DX cinemas. While film industry magazine Variety recently reported that 3-D viewing is slowing across much of the region, senior vice-president of CJ 4DXPlex Bruce Greenberg - who is also a member of the International 3-D Society - says it is "certainly not going away".

However, he acknowledges that in 4DX the world has already found a better technology for enhancing cinema-going experiences. "When you think about it, we have now multiple ways to tell a story. We`re finding additional neuro-pathways to describe a story," says Greenberg, who is putting Hong Kong on his radar for 4DX. The technology has yet to hit this city. The Los Angeles-based entertainment industry veteran is lobbying filmmakers to avoid using 4DX as an afterthought. He is approaching "the studio partners and creatives" - including members of the influential Directors Guild of America - before a film is made. "We`re dealing with getting ourselves involved in the production side in the same way that IMAX is involved a film`s production," he says. "In the pre-production process, a director and producer can realise a sequence that would be better served in 4DX by planning it out with us." Greenberg believes that his close communication with filmmakers before the finished product gets into 4DX-equipped cinemas is already paying off. He gives an example: "There`s a great trailer out now for How to Train Your Dragon 2. "What`s great about it is that you really get a sense of flying ... because there are POV [point of view] shots in it that are long enough to give out that sense." Rather than rest on his laurels, Greenberg is also targeting the increased use of the olfactory system to enhance the cinema-going experience. "You know that smell is one of the most important senses you have," he says. "People remember the smell of coffee, the smell of their favourite holiday meal, or the smell of their parent cooking. These are things that are with them the rest of their life. "I think the use of smell is a natural progression for us as we learn to use 4DX to its greater power." A tempting whiff of cocoa while watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might not be far off.