These days it seems as though cinemas will do anything to try and get you through the front door and into a seat to watch a film. Most of them are financial incentives, with things like two-for-one ticket offers, unlimited access subscriptions, or making all their tickets as cheap as humanly possible. Presumably the logic is that once you're there you're more likely to spend money on the overpriced snacks and drinks. Cineworld's 4DX takes things in a different direction, though, and I got to check it out while watching DC's latest release, Shazam!.
4DX is no new thing, of course, and has been around in other parts of the world since 2009, and it's been in the UK since 2015. But over the past four years it's spread out a lot, with 21 Cineworld cinemas offering what basically amounts to a theme park ride while you watch the latest 4DX-supported blockbusters. The seats move while you get blasted with air, light, and other things that seem designed to try and make you forget you're sitting in a cinema watching the guy from Chuck run around in a padded red suit. Here's a cheesy promo from Cineworld itself:
Most of the big cities are covered, including London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, as well as the more unlikely places like, erm, Bracknell and Didsbury. The downside is that tickets aren't cheap. Unless you live in Cardiff, where adults seem to pay the same £10.50 ticket price as children. Prices vary from location to location, but you're looking at paying between £15 and £23 for a ticket. Naturally three of the four London locations are the most expensive, but not by as much as you might think. Provided you're not comparing to Cardiff, of course. Is it worth the extra markup? I'm not so sure.
The big thing about 4DX is that it's almost identical to the 4D films you can watch at theme parks, like the old Honey I Shrunk the Audience that used to play in Disney parks across the world. It's not really a ride, since you're not on a moving track or anything quite so complicated, but the seats do move around a fair bit throughout the course of the film – most noticeably during action sequences that come as a result of superhero battles.
I can be quite prone to motion sickness, which was a concern while I sat in the chair, but thankfully things weren't too bad. The chair movements could be quite sudden, and violent enough that I'd have been a lot happier with some sort of seatbelt, but it was never enough to get my stomach turning. Nor did I come close to falling out for that matter, so obviously there was no need to throw a seatbelt into the mix because I felt strange.
Here's a 360-degree video of the thing in action:
As you can see the system also includes various vents that blow air from various places, and an optional system that will spray a mist of water in your face at certain intervals. Two of those points exist in Shazam!, and after the first one I quickly turned it off. Not that it helped much, mind, because the second time I ended up getting sprayed by both chairs on either side of me. It wasn't quite as bad, but you're going to get a little bit damp. Thankfully I wasn't there to see Aquaman, otherwise I might have ended up feeling like I got hit by an indoor rainstorm. There's also strobe lighting, particularly when Bill says "shazam" and turns into his adult form, alongside force feedback in the back of your chair. Sadly this often felt like there was a kid in the row behind that won't stop kicking your seat.
Of course there's also air blowing around you, which was quite pleasant at times. A bit like the breeze you get in the London Underground when a train rolls into the station, which will no doubt be even nicer in the warmer summer months. It also proved a bit shocking when a gunshot onscreen came at the exact same time as a short blast of air at the back of my head. That was the most immersive part of the experience in my opinion, and it's kind of a shame the rest of the 4DX effects didn't quite match up.
For me the biggest downside to the 4DX experience is that the films are shown in 3D, rather than the much more appealing 2D. That's a given really, since you can't have a fourth 'D' without the third being thrown into the mix. Unfortunately 3D films haven't really improved since I last saw one several years ago, and those bastard glasses still give me one hell of a headache. Include the possibility of motion sickness from the moving seat and I opted to skip the glasses and watch a very blurry version of the film. Not everyone is going to go to similar extremes, but if you've hated 3D films in the past then throwing a fourth dimension into the mix isn't going to do anything to change that.
Of course, there's still fun to be had with 4DX, and I imagine it's going to be a lot more appealing if you have kids. There's more space for one thing, the chairs are slightly more comfortable than you'd find in your average cinema, and as I've mentioned before you're basically on a theme park ride. Just without having to pay however many dozens of pounds it costs to go to a proper theme park. Just make sure you read all the onscreen disclaimers, and keep the lid on your oversized jug of Coke. The seats may not have been violent enough to throw you out of your chair, but they will soak you with any unsecured drinks in the vicinity.
Shazam! itself is also a pretty kid-friendly film. Sure it's got some scary bits worthy of the 12A rating, but it's basically Big with superpowers. Couple that with the moving seats and your kid will no doubt be the envy of all the kids on the playground.