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Watching movies in four dimensions

Jakarta Post(May 10, 2015)

You’re running across the dilapidated rooftops of downtown Los Angeles with Liam Neeson. A squad of police officers are gaining on you with every pounding footstep. You feel a thump on your back and bullets whizzing over your shoulder. Well, almost.

This is Taken 3 experienced through 4DX cinema. It’s an immersive movie-watching experience that is quickly expanding in Indonesia and across the globe.

“You feel like you’re entering everything that’s happening around you,” said Shareene Awwad, a cinema-goer who had just exited from a 4DX cinema in Jakarta. “It was a very nice experience.”

While CJ 4DPLEX recently opened its first flagship 4D cinema in the UK, the South Korean company’s technology has been operating in Indonesia since mid-2013.

“We invested in 4DX cinema because our vision is of movies and beyond,” said Dian Sunardi, the marketing director for Blitzmegaplex, which operates four 4DX cinemas in Indonesia.

The technology goes beyond the visual and aural by appealing to all five senses.

Chairs are equipped to heave up and down, pitch left and right and roll backwards and forwards. Other environmental effects include fog, bubbles, wind, scents and lightning.

Another recent 4DX release, Seventh Son offered viewers an equally immersive experience. Throughout the film, Thomas, the young hero, takes on a range of terrifying mythical creatures. Seats trembled intensely and rocked in synchronisation with every encounter.

Although 4DX works best for fight scenes, the technology was also delightful during the most scenic moments of the film.

As Thomas runs through a forest on screen, for example, the audience could feel his footsteps negotiating the uneven ground ? and could even smell the pine trees.

In another scene, Thomas climbs into a wooden boat and pushes off from a rocky shore into a lake. A strong wind blew through the auditorium and the audience’s seats rocked back and forth in sync with the boat. The 4DX technology also has scents, said Dian. “If you see a house that burns, then you can smell the burn ? and the [auditorium] temperature is a bit high.”

Not every film is well suited to the 4DX experience, however.

“The response has been great, but then again it really depends on the film,” said Dian. “The effects are best for some genres like action, like Captain America, or animation ? but less for slow moving films like Interstellar.”

Sometimes the immersive experience can be taken too far.

In Taken 3, for example, an already graphic water-boarding scene is made worse when your seat pulses in time with the villain struggling to breathe.

“I think if we’d seen a horror movie, I would need medical assistance outside for CPR,” said Nazeeh Hasan, after watching Taken 3 in 4DX at Grand Indonesia.

Safety restrictions apply for children under the age of seven, pregnant women, the elderly and those with existing health issues.

“We didn’t put in seat belts, like in an amusement park ? but we put up special house rules before the movie plays,” Dian said.

A team of editors working in CJ 4DPLEX’s i-Studio in South Korea adapts films to 4DX technology, according to Rosa Choi, the firm’s marketing and PR manager.

“Once the 4DX screening is approved by studio HQ, 4D-editing experts start planning effects at least 16 days before the launch,” Choi said.

“They decide which parts of the scenes [will have effects] and create the codes for water, wind, scents, movement and vibrations, and many other environmental effects.”

Code refers to timecode, where every frame is given a unique identifier that allows effects to start and stop in sync with what happens on the screen.

“It’s not difficult running 4DX,” said Yudho Rahutomo, a project engineer and 4DX Specialist for Blitzmegaplex. “The system is already integrated with our cinema system. It’s only click and play, so you just click the button.”

The films screened in 4DX are typically come from Hollywood or Korea. Blockbusters from the US comprise 170 of the 220 films screened in 4DX across the world since the technology was launched in 2010.

There are already 150 4DX auditoriums operating in 30 different countries and CJ 4DPLEX said that it wants to have 300 cinemas globally by the first half of 2016.