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L.A. Live's New '4DX' Theater Has a Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

The Hollywood Reporter (June 30, 2014)

THR got a firsthand look at the new theater at Regal L.A. Live Stadium 14 - which has moving seats, plus wind, water and fog effects ? and examined the business model behind the interactive venture.

This weekend, Regal L.A. Live Stadium 14 in downtown Los Angeles opened its first "4DX" theater, from the Seoul-headquartered 4D company CJ 4DPlex.

The theater is currently playing Transformers: Age of Extinction in the 4D format, meaning that in addition to a RealD 3D theater installation, each seat in the 104-seat auditorium is designed to tilt, shake and vibrate, in time with what is happening onscreen. The system also is designed to spray you with water, blow air in your face, and even release fog and scents to create a "4D" experience. (For anyone who doesn`t want to have to keep drying their 3D glasses, there is a water on/off button at each seat.)

During a press presentation June 26, a screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided the audience with the sensation of being at sea during a scene that takes place on a ship, with the seats suddenly jerking during the action sequences, and, among the more subtle uses of the movement, a gentle seat tilt that followed a tilting camera move.

It`s effectively a mix between a moviegoing experience and a ride at a theme park. Many will no doubt find the 4D experience to be a lot of fun ? and signaling early interest, the first three presentations of Transfomers sold out, Fandango reported on the theater’s opening day. Still, anyone easily affected by motion sickness might think twice, especially when considering a film longer than two hours.

CJ began opening 4D theaters three years ago, and today, its 4DX systems have been installed in more than 16,000 seats in 109 theaters in 26 countries. The biggest markets are China, Korea and Mexico. The site at L.A. Live marks CJ’s first in the U.S., which it sees as a key market as it currently is in negotiations to add more theaters. Ticket prices for the presentation of Transformers carry an $8 premium ? at L.A. Live, a general admission ticket for 3D movie like Transformers shown in the 4D format is $26.80.

CJ said it recommends that any children attending be age 6 years and older, and at least 4 feet tall. It also warns of strobing (used to create "lightning") for those who might be affected. But it relies on audience members to use their judgment, and claimed there have not been any incidents related to the systems at its currently operating 4D theaters.

Will this be perceived as a short-term gimmick? CJ aims to overcome that way of thinking by supporting a wide range of genres. “It doesn’t have to been action-oriented; it’s about immersion," chief marketing officer Brandon Choi said, citing as an example the slow seat movement that was used to create the sensation of floating in space for the recent 4DX release of Gravity.

When asked how they would handle a traditional drama like Casablanca, Choi admitted that he couldn’t provide an example, saying that CJ has a chief creative director and creative team that work with the filmmakers on the approach, and the filmmakers/studio have final approval on the version that goes to theaters. Which also raises the question of whether more serious filmmakers will want to allow their movies to be given this theme park-like treatment?

Recent titles that have been released in international markets for CJ`s 4D format include the aforementioned Captain America and Gravity, as well as Noah and How to Train Your Dragon 2.
As to the revenue model, Choi reported that the $8 premium is split between CJ, L.A. Live-owner AEG and the studio providing the movie. He added that a 4DX theater installation could range anywhere from $800 to $2 million, depending on the size and scale of the construction. CJ shares the installation cost with the client.

More moviegoers will soon have the opportunity to experience this new type of theater for themselves. There are two additional 4D cinema companies that are aiming to bring their technology to U.S. theaters: MediaMation, which opened its first 4D theater in the U.S. this weekend at Oxnard Plaza Stadium 14; and D-Box.