The 4DX experience was well suited to “Onward”, with much of the movie involving action like car chases, boat rides, and flying. For those not familiar with 4DX technology, it is a theater with special seats that move up/down, forward/back and tilt. They can also impart vibration and have “ticklers” (I would call them pokers) in the seat and seat back. The theater is also equipped to deliver water, fog, wind, scent and strobe lights (lightning, explosions). This makes watching a film a more immersive, or 4D, experience. Since many readers here are Disney park fans, think of it as Soarin’ meets It’s Tough to Be a Bug.
My wife and I got the chance to experience our first ever movie in 4DX at a recent showing of Disney-Pixar’s “Onward”.
First a few words about ‘Onward’, which I know Jason has already reviewed. I thought it was a nice “coming of age story” with well done characters and a good, well-paced plot. Pixar excels at creating fantasy worlds – in this case populated by mythical creatures – that closely parallel our own. They then populate those worlds with relatable characters and use it to tell emotional stories, in this case of two brothers growing up without a father. In a world of faded magic, the two brothers (voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) embark on a quest to find enough magic to bring their father back for a day. As with most quests, this one is as much about self-discovery and fellowship as the challenges met along the way. Overall “Onward” was a fun movie and an enjoyable world to spend time in.
4DX theaters can show either 2D or 3D movies. In our case we chose 2D as we both wear corrective lenses and find wearing 3D glasses over our normal glasses to be annoying. I don’t think that the experience was any less immersive being in “only” 2D and would probably trade 2D plus 4DX for 3D every time.
The 4DX effects ranged from cool to annoying to so natural I almost forgot about them. In discussion afterward, we decided it is largely a matter of perspective – the effects make sense if you are in first person perspective (seeing from the character’s view) but less sense if you are in third person perspective (watching the action from afar). For example, driving along in a vehicle works well – you feel the road surface and g-forces of turns. It works best when you are supposedly inside the vehicle, less so if you are watching from outside. What both of us both found less effective was watching a fight when someone gets thrown to the ground and the seat pokes you like it was you getting thrown down. That does give you a certain connection to the character (ouch!), but is not realistic. The seat motion, along with the variable levels of wind, also worked really well for flying or floating. As I said above, much of the time it was a cool enhancement of the movie experience. Sometimes it was annoying and I am not sure if that was because of the perspective issue I talked about or if it was someone trying too hard to bring motion to o scene, too much motion in a scene or something else. I would need to see this movie more than once in 4DX and probably a couple other films to really understand why. However, as I also mentioned, now and then I found myself just going along for the ride like it was a natural way to experience (I almost said “see”, but it is more than that) a movie.
The other effects are less critical than seat motion, but they do add to the overall effect. I was especially pleased that the water effect uses a very fine spray that does not make spots on your glasses or leave you dripping wet. They only used the scent once or twice in the movie that we noticed and it was effective. The strobe lights and smoke/fog were used sparingly and added to the scenes they were used with.
It is understandable that the exhibition industry is looking for ways to get folks out of their family rooms and into theaters by offering experiences you cannot have at home. 4DX is a good approach. I would say this is not for everyday – it is not appropriate for all movies (seems like a waste for a romantic comedy). It would be great for making going to the movies a really special event. There were kids all around us and they seemed to have a really great time. It certainly increases the level of immersion in the movie – though I can imagine after three hours of “Avengers: Endgame” that you might come out physically exhausted. Some folks might find the seats a bit stiff – more like sports car seats than family room lounge chairs.
Again, for Disney park fans this is noting new, but it is the first time I have been to a theater that had a warning notice and height and age requirements (3 1/2 feet tall and 4 years of age). The warnings were for motion enabled chairs that create strong vibrations and sensations, as well as environmental controls for simulated weather, flashing lights, and strong scents which might aggravate existing medical conditions or cause a loss of equilibrium or balance, headaches or dizziness. 4DX is not suggested for folks that are elderly, pregnant or have high blood pressure, heart conditions, allergies, neck or back conditions or epilepsy. Also, they warn you not to bring in hot liquids and to keep all cold liquids in a closed container (since the seat movement can spill drinks) as well as to not eat and drink during action scenes with lots of movement.
At the theater we attended the 4DX experience was $8 per ticket more than the standard ticket. That seems like a reasonable premium for a novel experience or to make an action film even more immersive and fun.