Are 3-D movies starting to leave you feeling flat? Maybe what you need is to be shaken around in your seat, as thunder and lightning crashes over your head and your eyes tear from the winds blowing in your face.
Welcome to 4-D, the latest technological leap in the evolution of movie theaters. The format employs a barrage of sensory effects to create a more immersive movie-going experience. Rumbling chairs simulate explosions. Giant fans produce gusts of wind. Strobe lights create electrical storm effects. There's even a water spray that mists the audience. And it all happens in tandem with the onscreen action of a 3-D movie, blurring the line between cinematic experience and theme-park ride.
Although it may sound like a throwaway gag from The Jetsons, the 4-D movie experience could be coming to a theater near you sooner than you think, according to the South Korean conglomerate CJ Group (Kosdaq: 035760), owner of Asia's largest theater chain. The company recently set up a laboratory near Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre to test what it calls 4DX, its brand of 4-D cinema. CJ Group is in the process of finalizing a deal to create around 200 4-D theaters in the United States over the next five years.
For some, the technology couldn't come fast enough. News of cinema's next frontier comes amid growing industry concerns the staying power of 3-D movies. Attendance for 3-D films, which began to slip last year, reached a record low this summer with Pixar's Brave, which took in only 32 percent of its ticket sales from 3-D theaters.
That's a different picture that the one painted a few years ago, when 3-D was being touted as a brave new world that could potentially save what ails the movie business -- namely, lackluster attendance. Supporters of 3-D believed that by creating an experience people can't get at home, audiences would rediscover their love of going to the cinema.
And for a while it worked. Getting a boost from high-profile early adopters such as James Cameron, 3-D was looking like the white knight that many in the industry hoped it would be. Cameron's 2009 3-D epic, Avatar, took in 83 percent of its domestic gross from 3-D theaters, a feat many saw as proof that the format had finally arrived. However, this summer's sagging numbers for 3-D theaters suggest that audiences have either cooled on the format or that they are less willing to shell out the additional cost of seeing a 3-D film, which can boost a ticket price by up to $4.
The 4-D format will boost ticket prices even more -- an additional $4 by some estimates. In cities like New York, where 3-D tickets already average $17, the cost of all that thunder and lightning might stretch the limits of what consumers are willing to pay to see a movie.
But CJ Group thinks the format is worth the cost. The company, which already operates 4-D theaters in South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil and China, told the Los Angeles Times that it believes 4-D will reverse the decline of movie attendance in the United States.
The first 4DX theater scheduled to open in Los Angeles, New York and other major cities later this year. Watch a 4DX video trailer here: