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[Part 1] 4DX takes cinema to another dimension

Joongang Daily (July 9th, 2014)

In 2010, when “Avatar” was re-released in 4-D, Korean filmgoers rushed back to the cinema.

Although the blockbuster was shown just a year prior in 3-D, the temptation to experience it in an enhanced format was just too much.
For the first time, through CJ Group subsidiary 4DPlex’s 4DX technology, viewers could feel a breeze blowing in their faces and the tremors of the Pandora plains, all from the comfort of an air-conditioned room.

Since then, the viewing experience that was conceived for theme parks has gained a following across theaters in Asia, South America and parts of Europe.

With some 108 4DX cinemas in 25 countries, countless Hollywood hits have been given the 4DX treatment by CJ’s 4-D enterprise, and in Korea, 4DX has surpassed the popularity of IMAX.

But the fact remains that the “big markets” - namely the United States and Western Europe - remain unsold on the viewing experience.

Until now, that is. With its first 4DX screening room installed at Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles last month, 4DPlex is hopeful that the technology will catch on.

The 4-D Treatment

“Because of the name, people think that it should look like another dimension added onto 3-D and can’t get their head around it,” said Choi Byung-hwan, CEO of 4DPlex. “But 4-D, simply put, is 3-D enhanced.”

In its conversion lab in Los Angeles, 4DPlex adapted 58 films last year, of which 42 were from Hollywood. The modifications work by aligning aspects of the film to the cinema’s custom-built chairs and room effects.

The motion chairs come in three different movements - heave, roll and pitch - while features such as bubbles, lightning and fog emulate an environmental experience or add to anything else that’s unfolding on the big screen.

And with around 1,000 scents in the archive, there is hardly a smell that 4DX can’t replicate.
The screenings work as a joint venture between the cinema, the distributor and CJ.

This means a converted film has to get the all-clear from each party before it screens, and the profits are split three ways. It’s a long and winding road, as Choi exemplified in the case of “Need for Speed.”

“The producers were, of course, the biggest car enthusiasts, and they’d tell us that the vibration of a Lamborghini should be different than that of a Bentley,” said Choi.

After around nine tune-ups, the film got the green light from the producers and screened with varying degrees of vibration.

Currently, 4DPlex’s Los Angeles studio receives visits from movie producers, directors and actors on a regular basis. “They are interested to see how their film is converted,” said Choi.

Among fans of 4DX is “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron, who said he wished he’d known about the technology sooner while professing his admiration for the job done on his film.

Fine-tuning the technology

The critic believes that 4DX may stunt creativity by inhibiting viewers from tapping into their imagination.
One of the biggest hurdles that 4DX faces is mediating between a film experience and an immersion that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The line between a simulation ride and a film is a thin one.

“In Mexico, they actually ask us to put in more movements so that it’s more like a ride,” said Choi.

“But we are also mindful of complaints, it can be annoying wearing the glasses, having things sprayed onto you, and sometimes the effects don’t reach everyone in the cinema.”

4DPlex is taking note of feedback. For example, the company has installed on-and-off buttons into the chair for the water spray feature.

And because each country has its own preferences, effects for movies are developed differently by region, making 4DX a very personal experience.