4DX technology has begun to appear in more theaters across the country. Developed by CJ 4DPLEX, 4DX is meant to immerse the audience in a film through appealing to multiple senses. It includes motion seats, environmental elements such as scent and other special effects. Regal Cinemas leads the implementation of this technology in U.S. theaters.
4DX first made an appearance in South Korea in 2009. However, as of 2020, only 32 theaters throughout the U.S. have 4DX capabilities. Dr. Melissa Croteau, professor of film studies, said that, although theaters are beginning to install the technology, she has yet to see people begin to favor 4DX as a film viewing option.
“I have not seen that they have been super popular, although they were fairly recent when we went into the lockdown,” Croteau said. “I have not heard anyone walk around saying, ‘I cannot wait until those 4D seats are in there.’”
Croteau said that, in addition to concerns viewers might have about feeling physical effects for the entire length of a film, one of the chief reasons she believes 4DX might not become as popular as some might have thought is that the motion chairs and special effects could distract the audience.
“I think that it can be more distracting from your involvement in the story,” Croteau said. “We go to movies for lots of different reasons, and it is not all based on the story, but the story is extremely important. It is the thread that holds the film together. Watching film is always an embodied experience. You are always in your body, and there is a sort of identification with people on screen. When your own flesh actually feels something, a rumble, a jerk you could be pulled out of the story world rather quickly.”
Croteau also said that if theaters continue to install 4DX technology, they will most likely have to continue offering options such as 2D and 3D experiences to appeal to all viewers.
“Not everyone likes the sensation of 3D technology,” Croteau said. “There are illnesses, specifically illnesses of balance like vertigo, that do not respond well to 3D. Now, looking at 4D, you are looking at the same situation. If studios spend the time and money to program and communicate these films to theaters in order for them to have these experiences, is it going to be worth the money when you have two rows of these 4D seats in the back of some of your theaters?”
Esther Logan, freshman worship arts and ministry major, has seen movies in 4DX. While she enjoyed the experience, she acknowledges downsides and questions how long popularity of 4DX would last.
“It felt like being on an amusement park ride,” Logan said. “It also made you feel like you were a part of the action and inside the movie, which was also super exciting. I think bringing those aspects into film would both draw people in and entertain them immensely, as well as somewhat isolate the group of people whose sensors are easily overloaded. It would give and take to both crowds.”
4DX requires additions to the film production process because the experience must be programmed and communicated to theaters. In addition, it costs about $1 million to install a 200-seat 4DX movie theater. Croteau said there would potentially be insurance and health costs and concerns involved, as well. As a result, 4DX will require a sizable investment from theaters and studios.
“I think it would attract more people to go back to watching movies in theaters, but also would be more expensive,” said Ana Guinto, sophomore studio production major. “I think it has potential to be popular, but it’s going to take some time.”
Audiences will have to embrace 4DX viewing methods to make it economically worthwhile for theaters and studios.
“At this point, do I think it will make a huge impact in changing the film industry?” Croteau said. “No, I don’t. I don’t think there are enough people who want it, but it is an idea that has promise.”
Although Croteau expressed concerns about economic viability, more films are coming out with 4DX versions, including Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Films coming out soon in 4DX include “No Time to Die” and “Dune.” Theaters that offer 4DX in southern California include Regal LA Live, Cinépolis Pico Rivera and Regal Irvine.