The first thing you’ll notice that’s way out of the ordinary, when you buy a ticket for Regal Stonecrest’s brand-new 4DX-equipped movie theater, is an illuminated button next to the words “Water On” and “Water Off” on the armrest of your chair.
Actually, hold up — that’s not entirely true. The first thing you’ll notice that’s way out of the ordinary, when you buy your ticket, is the price of that ticket.
But before we get into the wallet issues (or the dilemma about whether or not to hit the button that deactivates the water feature), here’s Regal’s description of the technology, which debuted at Stonecrest last Friday as the company’s first 4DX auditorium in North Carolina:
“(It) enhances the on-screen visuals of action-packed blockbusters, transcending the traditional cinema experience through special effects including motion-synchronized seats, wind, fog, rain, lightning, snow, bubbles, vibration and scents.”
Having experienced it myself — I attended a screening of “Captain Marvel” on Wednesday morning — I can report back that if you think all of this sounds awesome, you will almost certainly find it to be awesome; if you think it sounds novel and worth a try, you will almost certainly find it to be novel and having been worth a try; and if you think it sounds like something you’ll hate ... uh-huh, yeah, I’d be willing to bet you’ll detest pretty much every minute of it.
Because, I mean, it is what it is. Regal’s description is an accurate one.
As soon as the film opens with the Marvel Studios’ logo animation, the chair starts vibrating to give you your first hint of what’s to come, then it reclines slightly and wiggles a little. A few minutes later, Jude Law’s character is teaching Brie Larson’s how to fight, and it’s on: The chair shakes around spastically, and by the time their sparring session is over, you absolutely should have a clear sense of whether or not you spent your money wisely.
How much money, exactly?
With tax included, adults will pay $23.57 per seat to see “Captain Marvel” in 4DX, while a child admission is $20.35. That’s more than double the price of the standard adult fare and closer to three times the amount of a kid’s ticket for a traditional “2D” film. (Note: 4DX showings of “Captain Marvel” also use 3D glasses, but not all 4DX films are in 3D; non-3D 4DX admission prices will be slightly lower. And good grief, yes, that’s a lot of Ds.)
So, if you want to take your family of four to see “Captain Marvel” in 4DX, that’ll be just shy of $88, please. Add one pony keg of soda and a small wheelbarrow full of popcorn and you’re looking at more than a C-note.
That amusement park feel
Anyway, some more examples of what you’ll get when you pay for it:
Whenever a character in “Captain Marvel” is using a mode of transportation, your chair will be in motion, whether it’s careening wildly during a dogfight between spaceships, jostling you around during a car chase (an effect that, to give you an idea, feels almost exactly like more-violent patches of turbulence on airplanes), or simply rumbling as the hero rolls down a city street on a motorcycle.
Oftentimes during those scenes, blasts of air will attempt to make it feel like wind is rushing past your head, with varying degrees of success. And a couple of those rides end with spectacular crashes into bodies of water, at which point your decision about that “Water On/Water Off” button finally comes into play.
To be honest, that part is a little over-hyped.
They’re very light droplets of water, evaporating off your skin or clothes within a minute or two; and while a drenching seems uncalled for — especially if it’s date night — I was expecting (and, frankly, hoping for) more, given the fact that the button makes it seem like such a dramatic choice.
The two other notable effects in this particular film were the back “ticklers,” employed sparingly during fight scenes, that essentially feel like someone’s kicking your seat; and the “lightning” that flashes from the upper sides of the room via strobe lights, which I thought needed to be bigger and/or more plentiful to truly add impact.
(A few notes: A Regal spokesperson also told me there was a scent used at one point, of flowering trees, although I managed not to notice it. There were no instances of fog, bubbles or snow. And a fellow patron was right: Blasts of cool air were, well, cool, but blasts of warm air — to coincide with, say, on-screen fires or explosions — would be a no-brainer of an addition in the future.)
Generally, this experience should feel somewhat familiar to anyone who’s been on 4D amusement-park rides, such as the Harry Potter 4D ride at one of Universal’s theme parks, or the old SpongeBob SquarePants 4D ride at Carowinds (it closed seven years ago). These also had seats that moved to enhance on-screen action, and bonus features like mist sprayed at riders.
I’d say that’s the most apt way to characterize what it felt like to watch “Captain Marvel” in 4DX: It’s an amusement-park ride stretched out across two-plus hours.
And if you’re still reading at this point, though, who knows? Maybe it’ll become your new thing. (While “Captain Marvel” is the only flick you can see right now in 4DX at Stonecrest, “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aladdin” and “Godzilla: King of Monsters” are among at least a dozen and a half other titles due to be released in the format in 2019.)
It becoming lots of people’s new thing certainly is what Regal is banking on. Although the Stonecrest theater is just the 14th in the U.S. with 4DX capability, Regal parent company Cineworld Group has plans to build more than 70 just like it in the coming years.
But I’m not so sure it’ll be mine.
I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a history for falling for gimmicky technology.
I bought an Oculus Go virtual-reality headset this past Christmas Eve because I had to see what all the fuss was about, and a few days later I couldn’t wait to “play” the “Black Mirror” choose-your-own-adventure episode, “Bandersnatch.”
But I also have a history of moving on pretty quickly. The Oculus Go has basically just been sitting on the charger since a two-hour Christmas Day session, and although I originally anticipated that I might keep going back through “Bandersnatch” till I’d seen every ending, I wound up just taking a few minutes to read about the other ones online.
I suspect the same will hold true for me when it comes to 4DX:
That, while I’m really glad I satisfied my curiosity — and I highly recommend you do the same if you’re a fan of amusement-park rides and action movies — I think I’m cool with going back to simply watching my movies on a big screen sans the jostling and the flashing lights and the wind blowing through what little hair I have left.