BUSAN, South Korea — Some of you may or may not be aware of a “new” cinema technology in North America known as the D-Box, and it is with this recent move to “theme park” embellishments on the movie experience that cinephiles are starting to feel a bit alienated.
Here in South Korea, the technology is alive and well in the form of something known as 4D. The large theater companies in Korea, such as CGV, are no stranger to the superficial joy that audiences seem to derive from being tossed about in their seats, with even wind, laser lights, light water spray, and other such elements being thrown into the soulless mix. The term “soulless” is appropriate in this case because that’s just the kind of effect this type of technology has on film purists; the heart and soul of true cinematic vision fades into a footnote as these 3D and 4D technologies take hold.
This 4D, or D-Box, experience hearkens back to a theme-park “ride” that was featured at Paramount Canada’s Wonderland in Ontario roughly 15 years ago called the Days of Thunder ride. People were ushered into what looked like a conventional movie theater, except that the seats had guard rails and seat-belts to fasten you in. A film would start playing, approximately 10 minutes in length, which was essentially footage of a first-person view from a stock car at a NASCAR race. The seats in the theater would rumble, bank left or right, or gyrate in unison with the movements of the race car on screen. This, of course, was to generate the illusion of being in the driver’s seat. So, as one can see, this technology is hardly anything new or “revolutionary” (a bounty on the head of anyone who says so). If only I could travel back in time and slap my 15-year-old self for paying money for such a ridiculous thing.
While the inflated 3D and 4D ticket prices aren’t quite as high in South Korea as they are in North America, at 13,000 Korean won (approximately $12 US) for a 3D screening, and 16,000 Korean won (approximately $15 US) for a 4D screening, they’re quite unappealing to those who simply want to see a good story unfold on the silver screen. Films resonate emotionally because of their ability to project onto us the trials and tribulations of empathetic characters. Identifiable human traits, or visually fascinating and discernible images, are not enhanced with a 3D image. If it’s a good film, these elements are perfectly capable of holding up on their own without the gimmicks.
What would Bogart have to say about all of this? Probably something unprintable in a family publication.
Mainstream audiences seem to have forgotten this with the latest 3D craze, and it behooves me to think that staunch supporters of the technology with as much film-making clout as James Cameron are somewhat daft and directionless in their sellout approach to the film industry as of late. What on Earth is that man thinking? He’s the Hollywood equivalent of a drug dealer peddling an innovative new formula for LSD.
Thankfully we have filmmakers on the opposite end of the spectrum, such as Quentin Tarantino, who continue to uphold the integrity of the independent and “grindhouse” theaters of old. It’s also soothing to put the recent decline in box office receipts for 3D into perspective, because it suggests that audiences recognize a fad (and an expensive one to boot) when they see one.
Perhaps it would be too hasty and harsh to pass final judgment on general mainstream audiences at the moment, as maybe they aren’t so eager to consume entertainment on such a shallow, ADD level. It’s not a stretch dismiss these D-Box and 4D equipped theaters as just that, rooms for people with the attention span of a child. So who better to sell those tickets to than children, right? The more seats left for them the better, so they can talk and cheer and squeal with all of the vitality they would have reserved for an amusement park ride. So long as it doesn’t intrude on the preferred theater-going experience of cinephiles, we can all tolerate the fad for as long as it’s around, though we most certainly should be celebrating when it dies. Expect the funeral reception at my place.
You can check out more of Thomas' writing on film here.