The boast that cinema repeatedly makes is that nothing gets you closer to the action in a film than watching it on the big screen.
This may have been true almost a decade ago, but modern home entertainment systems can go some way towards replicating a big screen experience – the IMAX notwithstanding -- not to mention the promise of virtual reality headsets. With modern surround sound, TV sets the size of ping-pong tables and 3D available in the living room, punters have less and less reason to shell out for a pair of movie tickets – and you don’t have to put up with anyone nattering through the main feature to boot.
In order to get bums back on cinema seats, cineplexes need to up the ante. Cineworld in Milton Keynes has just opened its new 4DX cinema, probably with the hope in mind that it’ll give cinema the edge it needs to encourage even the most tricked out tech-fiends to queue up for popcorn. So far, so good, it seems; all of the 4DX screenings for this weekend are booked out completely.
The reason for this is that 4DX isn’t an experience you can replicate at home – at least not yet. The experience offered here isn’t just audio and visual. It also incorporates smells, motion and bursts of air and water. As the action unfolds on the screen, chairs rock from left to right, the cushions sending vibrations through the viewer’s body. Gunshots are accompanied by bursts of air that whistle past the viewer’s ears from the seat headrests. Watching a movie in 4DX is more like a ride at a theme park than a trip to the cinema.
Take the intro of The Guardians Of The Galaxy; as Quinn… er, Starlord explores some ancient catacombs kicking his way through a bunch of puddle, faint water droplets splash against your face. When he deploys his boot-jets to cross a chasm, your seat rumbles. And when he has a gunfight with a trio of ne’er-do-wells and escapes by flying through a wall, your seat rocks from side to side as and rumble-filters in the seatback send judders through your spine. Onscreen explosions even cause puffs of smoke to billow out from under the screen.
The control room for all of this magic in Cineworld in Milton Keynes is at the top of a dank flight of stairs. Once inside, one can see the amount of options the technicians have at their disposal; in a steampunk-stylee cabinet there are valves they can use to pump a variety of scents into the movie house including Coffee, Roses and something called ‘Pacific Breeze’. There’s even the option to pipe the smell of Burning Rubber into the cinema, which will probably play heavily when the next Fast & Furious movie goes on release.
It all sounds really impressive, but obviously the 4DX experience isn’t going to compliment every single film. After all, would you like the scents from the scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins’ character escapes from the prison by crawling through a long sewer pipe? And don’t even get us started on the idea of creating the sort of smell that would emanate from the Bog Of Eternal Stench in Labyrinth. How about the stench of the jungle in Apocalypse Now wafting through your nostrils? Maybe if it was napalm, in the morning, you actually would.
You also have to wonder whether 4DX is a road to success or just a passing fad. While some of the 4DX augmentation features for the film on the night, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was enjoyable, there were moments when it pulled you out of the film – such as when the seats rolled back to compliment an upwards panning shot.
Still, you can’t argue with a sell-out show and Cineworld in Milton Keynes has two days of those for its 4DX screenings. I’ve never needed the scent of coffee to sell me on the idea that a pair of actors on a set are actually two characters shooting the breeze in a coffee shop. But even I wouldn't say no to getting a whiff of Wonka's chocolate factory. As for tickling your taste buds? Well, you've got a box of popcorn and a bottomless coke for that, right?